When a Man Writes From a Woman's Viewpointby Lary Crews
The Internet Writing Journal, October 1997
"Veronica was sitting at her desk, half-dressed, eating a bowl of instant oatmeal and trying to punch in her father's number on the phone with the unwanted assistance of Rum Tum Tugger. It was a quarter of ten on Monday morning and she was running late for work at the Don CeSar but she wanted to do something constructive toward clearing David of Angela's murder.
"Hello?" Her father sounded wide-awake.
"Hi, Daddy. How're you feeling?"
"Fine, Ronnie. How's David doing now that he's out of the coma? I saw another story about it on Entertainment Tonight."
"He's still weak and they're planning a bunch of tests but at least he's alive." She put down the cereal bowl, grabbed her brush, and started brushing her hair with her one free hand. "Reason I called, I wanted you to hear it from me before it hits the news today. The police up here think David killed Angela."
"The hell you say!"
"I don't know all the details but it looks like she was killed with his gun."
"Neither do I. I'm trying to find out what really happened so I can get him off the hook."
"That would be best left to a good attorney, Ronnie. I know of a fellow in Tampa who's...."
"No attorneys. At least not yet. I've got to do some digging, first. That's the other reason I called. I wondered if you could come up Saturday and go to Pass-A-Grille with me, snooping around a little at the bars and restaurants."
Archie paused a beat. "Well, honey, I'd like to but I'm afraid Barbara and I have made plans. She has to meet with some out of town people on this CircusLand theme park deal she's doing. She invited me along and... well, we've been planning it for..."
"That's okay, Daddy. I understand." She wondered if he could hear the lie in her voice. "It's okay. I'll figure something else out."
"I'm really sorry, Ronnie, it's just that...."
"No problem. I really understand. Honestly." She felt like checking her nose to see if it was growing. "Look, I'm late for work. I'll call you later in the week."
"Okay. Take care of yourself. Give my love to David."
She hung up the phone and stared at her reflection in the blank screen of her computer. It was a new feeling sharing her father with another woman. A feeling she didn't much like."
That's from my second published mystery novel, "Extreme Close-Up," which sold nearly a hundred thousand copies in the early 90s. I've spoken at lots of writers' conferences and libraries and appeared on many radio and TV talk shows, and one of the most frequent questions asked me is: "Why did you choose to write from a woman's viewpoint?" [The protagonist of my first three published novels is Veronica Slate, a thirtyish female radio talk show host.] The answer is simple and complex.
I like women.
In fact, I love women.
Not in that leering, locker-room way that some men love women. I actually love them for their minds. (Which is, I suppose, why some of my best friends are women I seldom see, like Valerie in Kentucky, Chris in Missouri and Lori in California.) When I decided to write fiction, I knew I couldn't write a "hard-boiled" detective series, because "macho" is a way of life totally alien to me. I was an only child. My dad skipped out before I was born and my mother abandoned me to be raised by my grandmother. I was raised by a woman with no man in sight until I was twenty and I reconciled with my mother and a truly great step-father. So I chose to write about Veronica Slate, who is a human being and an individual first, and a woman, second. Actually, this sort of literary transvestitism is nothing new. Samuel Richardson looked at the world through a woman's eyes in "Pamela," which is generally considered the first English novel.
I write about a woman because I find women more interesting than men and I find their available methods of solving crimes and bringing evildoers to justice more rational and emotional than the average man. I also like the fact that the horror and death Veronica encounters affects her and - often - changes her attitudes.
How do I do it? The first thing I did before I began "Kill Cue," the first book, was to write an extensive 18-page bio of Veronica. I know everything there is to know about her, from where she went to school, why her first marriage failed, what her sign is - Taurus - to her favorite beer, Coors. I gave her a father, Archie Slate, to whom she is closer than ever since the tragic death of her mother. [Elizabeth died in a 1978 car-bombing intended to kill Archie, who was then an FBI agent.]
I provided a male lover, police detective David Parrish, and a few male friends - her talk show producer Max Wilkinson and newspaper reporter Randy Holloway - and two cats, Rum Tum Tugger and Jennyanydots. In short, I created a life for this woman. [Did you notice her best friends are men?] How do I get the more subtle aspects of being a woman into my writing from Veronica's viewpoint? Mostly from hundreds of late night conversations with dozens of female friends over the last three decades and from conscious observation of women. I watch them in malls, in offices, in cars at traffic lights (nothing weird or obvious, don't worry) and try to digest the way they move, the way they speak, the way they dress.
I've also read more than three dozen mysteries featuring female protagonists, by both female and male authors. And I frequently check things out with my wife or my other female friends. "Do you put the pantyhose on one leg at a time or...?" But the most important thing I realized early on was that I cannot create a woman who will resemble every woman who reads my books. I'll never please everyone, so - as the late Ricky Nelson sang - "You've got to please yourself." I created a unique person who is female. I created a woman I love almost as much as my wife. I created a female who basically likes being a woman. We all have male and female sides to our nature. I just tap into my female side.
I suspect that if you write in a woman's voice just because you think it will help you sell books, you'll end up sounding as self-conscious as John Updike did in "S," where he had Sarah refer to her gender so often that she started to sound like a broken record of Helen Reddy singing "I Am Woman."
I write from a woman's viewpoint because it feels absolutely right to me. I think you must discover for yourself which gender provides your most truthful voice, then write from that viewpoint without regard for who you are. (It is no surprise to me that my current book-in-progress, "Father Figure," features a female protagonist.)
"I'm sorry you're being forced into this," Kate said, a bit more harshly than she had intended.
He smiled. "No problem. It's just that I don't know anything about your agency. Look, don't take this wrong," Brian said, "but aren't you afraid you're getting into something you shouldn't mess with?"
She frowned. "You mean something better left to men?"
"Actually, no." He tilted his head to the side. "That's not what I meant at all. It's just that..."
"That it's too dangerous for a woman?"
He ran his damaged right hand through his dark brown hair. "Boy. I get a feeling you've been through this before."
"I have. It is dangerous, but I'm fully qualified on handguns and I hit the range at least once a week. I carry a .38 caliber Ruger Speed Six." She touched her canvas purse on the sideboard by her desk.
Burnam smiled and held up his hands. "I give up. Don't shoot me."
Kate said, "I'm getting a little tired of defending myself..."
"Then stop doing it," he said pleasantly.
Kate went on. "If you don't want to cooperate with me on this case, that's fine. Matthew thought it would be better..." "I'm sorry, Miss Mandolin..." She smiled just a little bit. "Just because I'm disgusted doesn't mean you can't call me Kate." "Yeah. Kate. Look. Just as you're a bit defensive, I'm a bit skeptical. It comes with my territory. I don't mean anything by it. It's merely a reflex. I've only had this gig for two months. I don't want to see another agency march in and take over." He extended his hand over her desk and said, "Can we start over and be friends?" As he grasped her hand in his, something skipped a beat in her throat and she suddenly, irrationally longed for his touch other, more intimate places. She pulled away quickly and reached back to pat his hand. "It's a deal. Friends." "Friends," he agreed. Kate laughed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so defensive. Even before I joined the agency, I tried to get my gold shield in Springfield. For a woman, that's like trying to get elected President."
That's from my current work-in-progress, "Father Figure," the first book in the planned Kate Mandolin series. Basically, remember these points if you are a man writing from a woman's viewpoint:
1. Women are often smarter than us.
2. Women are usually stronger emotionally.
3. A woman is a human being first and a woman second.
4. Remember that women don't think all the time about the fact that they are women any more than men think constantly about being men. The self-conscious reference to gender and physical differences is what ruins most authors when they attempt to write the voice of the opposite sex.
5. Women tend to be more interested in other people than men are.
6. Women often think in terms of relationships where men often think in terms of their own gain or loss.
7. Women do not all have maternal instincts but they do tend to feel the most for people who are downtrodden or hurt or small or alone.
8. Women tend to respond well to honesty from a man, to sincerity from a man and to simple romantic things.
9. Remember that in any conversation in a book between a man and a woman it is likely a woman will talk about feelings and a man will talk about himself.
Like any guy, I have loved my share of women. And I've been married to the most wonderful woman in the world for over 17 years but I learned more from the women who have remained my friends through the years than I did from the ones with whom I was physically intimate. Bottom line: women are human and so are men so write human being characters who happen to be women and it should work.
As I sometimes tell my wife when she is smarter than me (which is often), "I wanted to be a woman, honey, but I couldn't pass the written exam."
To which she usually says, "I'm just glad you couldn't pass the physical."
**Lary Crews is the author of three published mystery
novels -- Kill Cue,Extreme Close-Up, Option
To Die --and his first non-fiction book Novel Secrets: Ten Secrets Novelists Need To Know came out in
March of this year. He has taught 180 workshops and seminars at writers clubs,
conferences and libraries over the last 15 years. He has also
written more than 900 published magazine articles and columns,
and 25 radio news documentaries, including one which won an
Associated Press award in 1976. Since 1993, his popular
Writing The Novel courses on America Online have been completed
by more than 2,000 students in
47 different states. In addition to his writing career, Lary has been a professional
radio announcer for 33 years. Currently, he writes regular columns
for two national magazines, teaches on America Online, and is the
Program Director and afternoon drive deejay on WBRD Radio in Sarasota.
He can be reached by email at
email@example.com, for information about taking his courses.
Novel Secrets: Ten Secrets Novelists Need To Know, is available for $9.95 postage paid (Florida residents please add 7% sales tax for a total of $10.65). Send your order to: Sarasota Bay Publishing, PO Box 5976, Sarasota, FL 34277-5976.