Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Guest blog with author Sophie Masson: Can women write male characters and vice versa?

By the end of The Last Quarrel, I hope that readers will be debating who is the real hero of the series: is it Fallon, who desperately wanted to be a hero or Bridgit, who wanted nothing of the sort?

Now, while I have always endeavoured to have strong female characters in all of my books, there is an ongoing debate as to whether men can write powerful women, and vice versa. With three sisters, a wife of almost 22 years and a teenage daughter I think I have some  understanding f the female psyche.

My wife may disagree!

But it is still a valid question. One of the UK's greatest fantasy writers, the late David Gemmell, only wrote one book with a woman as his main character, Ironhand's Daughter. It was his least successful and, he admits, his least favourite.

I have invited fellow Momentum Books author Sophie Masson to consider this question ...

If you don't know Sophie Masson then obviously you have been missing out:

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than 60 novels for readers of all ages, published in Australia and many other countries. Her adult novels include the recent Trinity: The Koldun Code (Momentum, 2014) and the popular historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia, 2001), while her most recent YA novel is the fairytale thriller, The Crystal Heart (Random House Australia, 2014).

You can check out all about Sophie online:

Sophie kindly also let me write a guest post for her, about the way books and TV shows have exchanged the way they are being shown - books now episodically and TV shows as an entire series package. Read it here:


And now, here's Sophie's thoughts on the men writing women writing men question ...


The idea that you could only write from the viewpoint of your own age group, background, sex, species, or even experiences, seemed absurd and restrictive to me even as a kid. What room was there for imagination in that? Ignoring this whole notion, I shape-shifted with gusto, writing stories from a multitude of viewpoints, from twin detectives to enchanted frogs, princesses to ghosts, mighty warriors to globe-trotting postage stamps(really!) There was no limit, as far as I was concerned.

Now, though I might have grown up and learned a good deal more about writing, my hackles still rise at the idea that because of my physical self, my imaginative self can't shape-shift. If I feel like writing from the viewpoint of a teenage boy, exiled princess, betrayed soldier, werewolf girl, hunted criminal, spellbound artist or war correspondent, then damnit, that's just what I'm going to do—and in fact have done. And apparently successfully, judging from the reactions of my readers.

Nobody asks how you can possibly write from the viewpoint of say, a werewolf, a sorcerer, or a ghost. It's just assumed the imagination takes over. But when it comes to gender, well-meaning people can sound as though they're think it's a far greater stretch. The idea that a female writer can write from a male viewpoint, successfully, is not as hotly contested as the reverse, but it still hovers there.

So I thought it might be interesting, rather than just talking in generalities, to look at an actual recent experience of writing from the viewpoint of a male character in my recent novel, Trinity: The Koldun Code, first in the Trinity series.

The story is basically told from the viewpoint of two characters: Helen Clement, a 22 year old Londoner in Russia for the first time; and Maxim Serebrov, a disillusioned, divorced Moscow homicide detective in his late thirties. Maxim does not appear in the first few chapters of the book, and he is not, so to speak, the 'hero' of the story(who is young, brave and handsome Alexey Makarov), but as soon as Maxim made his presence known to me, I knew both that he was a very important character—and that I wanted to write some of the story from his viewpoint. Though I had to research his professional environment—such as how police ranks work in Russia, how an investigation is conducted there, the relationship between different police units etc—somehow writing from within Maxim felt very natural to me. I saw the family he'd come from; I saw the flat he lived in(I've been to Moscow twice); I understood his sceptical stoicism and contradictory open-minded generosity; I felt the sweetness and bitterness in him, the harshness and the hope. Seeing events from his eyes was a deeply satisfying experience; in fact sometimes, and contrary to received wisdom, it felt easier to write from his viewpoint than from Helen's. And readers, both male and female, seem to really respond to him too.

And so, in the second book in the series, which I'm writing now, Maxim has even more of a presence, alongside Helen, but so does another important male voice, a character whose unexpected appearance changes everything for everybody, including Maxim, and Helen herself. And he is a very different sort of person—secretive, unreliable and difficult to read, he is someone I have to write slowly, carefully, unpeeling his layers, for he is not someone I warmed to straight away, as I did with Maxim. Yet he is proving more and more interesting to write as he changes not only everything but also himself.

1 comment:

  1. Gawd, I hope so - because my book-in-progress is full of female characters...

    One thing I've been conscious of - having written a book that has so many female characters - is that I've made sure most of my Beta readers are women, so that they can catch anything that doesn't feel right about my female characters...

    So far, I've been doing OK - the only major change was to a rape scene where it was pointed out - and quite rightly - I had the power-dynamic all wrong... being a white middled-aged man of privilege, I can see how I got that wrong...

    I think there's been a long history of writers writing about opposite genders.... and history has shown that it is possible...