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Writing from a Different Perspective: inkTips from Author Heidi Ayarbe

Posted by inkpopbecki on May 13, 2011

Are you looking at this week’s writing challenge and scratching your head. How can you enter the Compulsion Writing Challenge if you don’t know how to write from another perspective? Heidi Ayarbe, author of Compulsion, is here to help. Check out her tips for writing from the point of view of the opposite gender.

Jake, my main character in Compulsion, is the school soccer star, exudes cool dude fumes, and is hiding a debilitating illness. He’s living with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  One of the most common questions I get is, “You’re a girl. So how do you do it? How do you write from a guy’s point of view?” Girls are fascinated I do it, and guys often feel exposed. And they’re ready to pummel the guy who told their secrets.  Generally, when we talk about writing from the opposite sex’s POV, we’re talking about gender identity – where a character falls on the scale between masculinity and femininity. The thing is, writing from the point of view of the opposite sex is something all writers have to know how to do unless you choose to have a one-gender book which, really, would be a bit odd. And, even so, in a “one gender” novel, you’d have a whole bunch of characters and personalities that fall on the masculine/feminine spectrum.  So instead of focusing on gender, focus on characterization – who your characters are

1. Dialogue: Listen to how people speak. How do they phrase their sentences? Do they get straight to the point or circle around it? Language and dialogue is key to creating a believable character. As much as we don’t want to pigeon-hole genders, it’s probably likely a teen male character won’t say, “Oh my!” Socialization, guys. We’re taught from the time we’re little how to speak. Speech patterns help define genders (or where your character falls on the gender identity spectrum). That said, your characters will have their own way of speaking.

2. Non-verbal communication and habits: How does your character move? Does she flop on the couch? Does he sit stiffly in a chair? Do they slouch or stand up straight? If they slouch, why? There are so many ways you can create depth of character by how your character moves. Movement can be graceful, choppy, brusque or smooth. Furrowed brows compared to wrinkled noses.  Fingernails tapping compared to fingers drumming.  Nuance is key.

3. Avoid “gender” stereotypes: Remember we’re talking about characters – people (that come from your head) – with depth and complexities. So writing Rambo guys and weepy, melodramatic girls is, to put it bluntly, boring. Think about your favorite characters in lit and movies, and I can almost guarantee you they’ve surprised you.  Pattyn in Ellen Hopkins’ Burned. Dulcie, the ultra-punk angel in Going Bovine. The tenderness of Rudy Steiner in The Book Thief.

4. Make your character good at something: Whether it be movies, drawing comics, photography, science, mafia obsessions, mechanics, soccer, being a good friend … make sure your character excels in something, something we can admire. This is a wonderful starting point for personality and character development. And this can become the lens through which your character views the world.

The key to writing from the opposite gender is writing great characters. Believable characters. Characters that you want to know, like, hate, admire … characters that surprise us, challenge us. Characters we’ll remember.

One Response to “Writing from a Different Perspective: inkTips from Author Heidi Ayarbe”

  1. Jessica said

    I can’t wait to read this book! It sounds fantastic.

    I’ve found that writing from the opposite gender’s perspective really isn’t difficult once you learn to turn off the “femenine” side. Don’t describe things in a girly way, i.e, “floral” “delicate”, etc.

    I’ve written an entire book from a male’s perspective, as well as a short story. It just takes practice, and I think Ms. Ayarbe had some excellent advice.

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