Pull Me Inside

Can a man truly understand what a woman experiences in life? Or at least know enough to write a fleshed out female character?

Hollywood sure has a hard time of it.

Writing is difficult. You have to be technically sound with your structure and logic and grammar, while artfully using words to build and submerge your reader into a three dimensional world that feels real, and then do a little thing called evoke powerful emotions. A small task.

I decided to attend a writing group because my current one is still on hiatus, but I was out of it. I wasn't paying much attention. But a discussion about an excerpt that had been read caught my ear.

The writer was male and wrote in third person limited from the perspective of the female main character. That in of itself is a tall order.

My girlfriends had described what having painful periods felt like. Not that I asked. I'd even seen some of them coil into the fetal position from cramps. Migraines thumped the inside of their skulls with ice picks. So a whisper from me was enough to end my life. None of their clothes they had worn the week before fit. The world boiled like a hot plate. But I can confidently say that I'll never truly know what having a period will be like. I'd probably forget to wear pads and ruin countless panties.

So never having had female issues, how could a writer of the male persuasion write from a female perspective? I don't know.

Is it possible?

Yes.

I remember reading Memoirs of a Geisha and completely forgetting that Arthur Golden, a man, had written it. It's been years since I've read it, but I still remember how the geisha hierarchy had created so much drama for Chiyo, the geisha. Details like the flick of her eyes, the color of her lipstick, the lush kimonos still swim in my mind. Everything felt very feminine. Even the experience of having her virginity taken away was horrifyingly memorable.

At this point in the writing group, I had heard about three excerpts from this particular writer in a span of a month. And there were two basic issues with his writing. He hadn't set who the point of view (POV) character was. And the mere mention of her doing something wouldn't work:

  • Marcia set her jacket on the chair.

This doesn't bring us into her mind, her perspective. And this action can be observed by anyone. If a POV character hasn't been set, then it's still vague on who is observing this sequence.

The writer has to pull us in:

  • She remembered...
  • She felt...
  • She found herself...
  • Feeling the cold hard table, she noticed...

These verbs pull the readers in where we see the world from her eyes, her mind, her senses.

The second basic issue could be due to me being exposed to very little of his writing. However, outside of her dialogue, I didn't know what she was thinking. What's rolling around inside that noggin? Telling us what she's thinking would reveal character traits that the reader is starving for. Another writer suggested italicizing her thoughts. But that's not necessary. Let the narrative do the hard work of internal thoughts.

Marcia gazed into the mirror, marveling at how silky her long blonde hair was. Brushing it, she fantasized about this dreamy boy who had passed her by in the hallway. She'd hoped he noticed her because she had washed her hair the night before with a special shampoo that strengthened the individual strands. Breakage during the winter months had always been annoying. Looking at her hair now, she didn't know why he hadn't come and say Hi. Her hair gleamed in the bedroom's light.

Here we know what Marcia is thinking without explicitly indicating that she's thinking.

Just my two thoughts.