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Writing As Your Opposite Gender Can Be Successful

05/26/2015 01:14 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2016

Authors love to tweak the imaginations of our readers; we love to provide those who have spent good money on our books with a little something extra; women writing as a male, men writing as a female. While most writers write main characters in their own gender, many others, quite successfully, cross over and write as their characters in the opposite gender. Anne Rice's Lestat, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, and Alexander McCall Smith's lady detective, Precious Ramotswe, have all been written in the opposing gender of their authors. And while character Mikael Blomkvist is technically the protagonist in author Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, his character of Lisbeth Salander is definitely the female protagonist.

Authors of both genders have consistently used narrators and protagonists of the opposite sex to weave a story and it can work very well. Struck by the number of women writing from male viewpoints, Natasha Walter, a member of a literary judging panel, has been quoted as saying that she was struck by how many female writers were now writing from a male viewpoint. "I'm not trying to make some big generalization out of it ... but if you think back to Virginia Woolf saying that her ideal for women writers is that they shouldn't be seen as women, they should be able to be androgynous... Well, maybe we are getting more towards that."

Almost all of my books have a female protagonist; Cate Harlow in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series, is the latest in my line-up of literary women. There is only one exception to this gallery; Teddy Jameson in Welcome to Hell. I created The Teddy Jameson Chronicles because for a long time I had made up stories in my mind about a man who is sent to Hell on a technicality. The idea of going to Hell because you accidentally broke some type of man-made religious rule was intriguing. I can tell you that he was incredible fun to create and bring to 'life' and, in a sense, he became my male alter-ego.

I enjoyed speaking in Teddy's somewhat sarcastic voice and enjoyed having him slowly come to the realization of where he is and why he is there. Along with his bravado, I did throw in some compassion and caring for others but that's as much a male characteristic as a female one. And while I have no problem whatsoever with my female characters cursing, (Cate can use some very choice words when working a frustrating case), I gave a more colorful vocabulary to my character of Teddy Jameson. It is part of his character and I love writing it that way.

There are some things to remember when writing in your opposite gender voice. Understand that your character is unique and not a metaphor for the entire gender. The same is true when writing about ethnicity, race, religion, or social classes. You're not generalizing about entire segments of society, you're being specific about one character. As far as characters go, it pays to remember that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men.

Truthfully, most authors who create a new story are simply hoping that what we write will grab readers' attention and they will find our characters interesting. The whole point of creating good, readable fiction is to entertain readers and hopefully expand their life experiences through someone or something in your writing; the "ah-ha" moment, the "I'd like to know more" experience.

Some writers will enter into alternate minds better than others, but the success of the attempt will depend upon talent and technique, not gender. Authors are as unique as the characters we create. Have fun with your characters, make them ones readers will enjoy and about whom they will want to read more. Literature abounds with authors who write in a different gender. George R. R. Martin brilliantly writes wonderful, memorable Game of Throne characters, male and female alike. His advice?

"The main thing is empathy and saying ... 'How would I feel?' because, male or female, the character is still a person." - George R.R. Martin

Kristen Houghton is the author of 6 top-selling books including the PI series A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. The first in the series FOR I HAVE SINNED is available where all books are sold.
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