Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
One of the most popular posts on this blog is one called “Drawing Eve: Can male authors write female characters?” In it I explain my approach to the book I’ve been working on, whose protagonist is a woman approaching the reader in first-person. Pretty risky, especially when the author is a middle-aged man. For a long time, there’s been a consensus in the cloud that guys just don’t get girls. The nuances of female psychology are beyond us, because even if we are Sensitive Author Men we don’t have the special goggles needed to see inside the mysterious Lady Head.
My position is that everything revolves around character and that the character’s gender is simply part of a constellation of factors that go into the creation of a three-dimensional figure. Still, there are plenty of readers out there who believe that a man attempts to create a convincing female character at his own peril.
Interestingly, you seldom hear the issue tackled from the other direction. That is, can a female author write convincing male characters? I’m tempted to say that 90% of us would say sure, why not? But that begs the question, What’s different about female versus male writers? In other words, is there some fundamental difference in the way men and women look at their characters?
Or considered another way, are men just not all that complicated?
I have a confession to make right up front. For the life of me, I can’t think of a novel in the last thirty years that’s famous for a male protagonist created by a woman. Maybe I should say, I haven’t read such a novel. I know Donna Tartt’s The Secret History might qualify, and the newer The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman. I don’t know how successful these books were at drawing a convincing male protagonist in the eyes of male readers. The female authors who do it best to my mind generally use male points of view in the context of multi-character narration, writers like Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler. It’s more of a challenge when the male character has to carry all the weight.
Somewhere recently I read a blog post where a man criticized a female author for having her male protagonist cry three times in the first twenty pages. I’m inclined to agree that this seems, let’s say, inauthentic. Likewise, men who spill their guts at the drop of a hat, men too eager to talk about feelings, or men who understand this whole thing about candles — you might want to rethink if your male characters fall into these categories.
So I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite book written by a woman that features a major male character with point-of-view duties (either first or third)? Did the character’s gender really matter that much? Were there any false notes in the characterization? Or can a writer mask small flaws or gender misunderstandings with the overall story?
Or even more interesting, is it a matter of the readership that a book is aimed at? If more female authors are intentionally writing for a female readership, does the depiction of the male protagonist have to be spot-on? (And the same would apply to men writing for men.) Maybe it just has to satisfy the expectations of the intended reader.
Fascinating stuff, so hit me with some titles. And gentlemen — if you’ve read any of the books women mention in the comments, let us know what you thought of the male protagonists.