You can’t write or act like a man, Laura Lee writes, just as a person.
“The mountain is nothing but itself. It does not speak. It has no message, and yet it is the great metaphor maker.”—opening line of the novel Angel.
I often see aspiring writers in various forums posting variants on this question: “How do you, as a female author, write from the male perspective?”
Speaking as a female author who has written a novel with two male central characters I will tell you this: you can’t.
Now let me explain.
When you are sitting in front of your computer thinking, “What would a man do in this situation?” you are already a step removed from the character. Your character is not a representative of mankind, thinking man thoughts in a manly way. He’s Paul, and there are many unique things about him. Yes, his maleness is one, but he has a lot of notable personality quirks, any one of which may be much more defining in the given situation. He is introspective, spiritual; he shuts down when his emotions get too much for him; he doesn’t like spicy foods, and so on.
It’s like when I was first dating. I didn’t know what the whole thing was about, and I wanted to be better at it. So I got all these books that claimed they would help me figure men out. You know the ones, Mars and Venus and so on. You know what? They didn’t help because I wasn’t dating “men.” I was dating a specific man and the best way to relate to him was not to learn about males as a class and then extrapolate to him as an individual.
It turns out that contrary to what Men are from Mars says, I am much more likely to go into my “man cave” and avoid talking about my emotions than my partners have been. My current partner loves to shop, and I can’t wait to get out of the store. We get along quite well without giving a great deal of thought to what the boy and the girl are supposed to be doing in a relationship. We just relate.
The same is true for relating to your fictional characters. They have to be individual and particular. They’re not metaphors for their race, gender, religion or class. This is as true, incidentally, when the character is similar to you. A writer who is an Indian woman should not have to write about “ethnic” characters, but if she does, they should not be taken as the voice of all Indian women.
The Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, in her excellent TED talk, put it this way:
The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
Don’t worry so much about what men, or Christians, or farmers, or Mexicans, or bisexuals are like. Get to know what your character is like inside and out, and you should get it just about right.