April 18th, 2005

sex/kiss-Stage Beauty

The male POV: fiction thoughts

The first novels I wrote--if they could be called novels--were very girly. That's to be expected when you're a 12-to-17-year-old girl, I suppose. They were first-person narrative, from the POV of a girl about my own age, with friends/family/problems about like mine. The guys were sappier than real guys were likely to be, getting romantically emotional and weepy all the time. Even when I branched out into more imaginative situations, around age 17, I still had male characters talking a little too much about their feelings. (In fact, all my characters talked too much about their feelings.) Thing was, I wanted to know what those boys were really thinking. Don't all girls?

First great leap: at age 18, I switched to a male first-person POV. I adored writing this novel. I fell in love with the character and have never fully gotten over it. It was still too sappy and girly, but the idea of writing a love story entirely from the boy's POV had captivated me. (I'm actually rewriting it now, and turning the sappiness, where possible, into sarcasm. Much more lovable.) I also wrote a sequel, in which I switched POV's, taking on a different male character's perspective. Still over-emotional, but considering this guy was having a sexual-preference crisis, it fit a little better. (Hmm, early shades of slash, there.)

Since then, virtually every novel of mine has had some large portion devoted to the male POV. (Tourist Attractions is an exception, being written from a female first-person POV--but I like to think the men in that one do at least speak and behave like actual men.) In Summer Term, the recent chick-lit that may or may not see the light of day one of these years, I spent the whole book in third-person, but a strict third-person: one chapter limited to Paige (our grad-school heroine), the next to Stefan (her professor), the next to Aidan (her student). And repeat in a cycle, till the end of the book. Thus, more or less two-thirds of the novel is from a male POV. And yet I label it "chick-lit."

But isn't this natural? In fiction for women, especially women who love men, don't we want to know what's going on in the man's head? Wouldn't that be more interesting than the same old familiar female neuroses? In a way, I almost feel I'm drawn to the bigger challenge--like Crudup's character in Stage Beauty, who preferred to play women on stage because he didn't think it took any art for a man to portray a man. From my female point of view, men are "the other," and that fascinates me. I want them in my stories. I want to know them. I want them to seem real. When a guy tells me that a male character I've written strikes him as true-to-life, it is one of the highest compliments I can get. (And have gotten, on a few treasured occasions.)

So how come romance novels and chick-lit and books for teen girls almost always lock themselves into the female mind? Sure, I've enjoyed some of those, and it can be therapeutic to know you're not alone in feeling bewildered about your life-as-a-woman. But I also adored Judy Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't--a male coming-of-age first-person. And all you Harry Potter fans, of which it seems about 80% of you are female, seem to be enjoying Harry's mindset well enough. Then there's slash, which is aaaallll about what the men are thinking, generally written by avidly heterosexual women. I'm onto something here, aren't I? We women want to read a realistic male character, don't we, and get inside his head? Or am I in the minority here? Can I sell this kind of thing? Talk to me.

P.S. I do think females, for various societal reasons, get away with writing from a male POV more readily than males get away with writing from a female POV. So at least I have that going for me.
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