Writing From Opposite Genders / By LS Hawker

Writing From The Opposite Gender

 by LS Hawker

Jackie: How do you write women so well?

Melvin Udall: I think of a man. And I take away reason and accountability.

As Good As It Gets, 1997

I remember watching this movie when it came out, and Jack Nicholson’s character said the above line in response to a woman who asked him how he wrote women so well. It got a huge laugh.

I’ve been asked how I write men so well many times, but I’ll get to that in a second. The truth is complicated. But let me back up.

I started writing fiction when I was eight and wrote my first novel at 14, a god-awful, steaming pile called THE LAST RUN with a female protagonist my age. Among the myriad of problems was that protag—she was one-dimensional and wholly unbelievable.

It took a few more stabs at female MCs before I discovered what the problem was: my female characters were me, only prettier, cooler, taller, smarter. I couldn’t seem to craft a female protagonist who was not somehow a better version of me. So I decided if I would ever be able to stop Mary Sueing my main characters, I needed to write from a male perspective.

In my second novel, I did just that. It was a YA with a high school baseball-playing protagonist who falls in love with an older, ugly girl, and the resulting consequences in his rigid, rule-bound jock world. The very first place I sent it off to was the Delacorte Press First Young Adult Novel contest, and I was a finalist, right out of the gate. I realized I was on to something.

Writing in the male POV got me out of my own head, freeing me to stop thinking about how to make myself (ahem, I mean my character) look cool. I thought instead about how the character felt. What he thought about. What he did and said.

It worked so well that I wrote male protagonists exclusively until 2013, what my friend Marc called “Dick Lit” as opposed to Chick Lit. That year I decided to try out a female MC again. That novel was ironically the first one I ever sold, in a three-book deal to HarperCollins Witness Impulse. Imagine my shock when I read in my contract that all three books were required to have female protags. You mean I have to do it again? Twice? The answer was yes, but the curse was broken anyway. THE DROWNING GAME became a USA Today bestseller and ITW Thriller Awards finalist, so I guess I waited long enough to do females again. To be fair, there’s a secondary POV character who’s male, so I cheated just a little.

For my fourth novel, however, I felt the itch to go back to the male POV. In THE THROWAWAYS, which comes out January 22, 2019, we’re introduced to four lifelong friends in their late twenties who become embroiled in a dangerous situation. It’s a thriller, of course, and so there’s lots of action and near-death experiences. But there’s also exploration into the nature of male friendship that is often given short shrift thanks to our culture’s weirdness toward it (and inter-gender friendship, but that’s a topic for another time).

I’ve been lucky to have many close male friends over the years, so instead of just superimposing a portrayal of female friendship over male ciphers, I’m able to address the essence of male relationships from personal experience. This is thanks to my close-knit college group of guy friends, one of whom, John, likes to say that I was Elaine from Seinfeldbefore there was a Seinfeld. I was even invited to one of the guys’ bachelor parties back in the day. (Yes, I went. No, there were no strippers.)

I learned much from hanging out with those guys, and it’s thanks to their transparency and inclusiveness that I was given an insider’s look into the esoteric world of mandom. This group shaped how my male characters speak, think, and behave, and no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, there is a distinct difference between the binary genders. Some of these lessons taught me that, in general, men:

  1. Speak with conviction. They use fewer qualifying words like maybe, possibly, might, may, etc. Right or wrong, they believe what they believe, and you’re going to hear about it.
  2. Say “I think” instead of “I feel.”
  3. Believe they deserve—as we all should—to be heard, to pursue their passions, to exist.
  4. Don’t sit around talking about their feelings when tragedy strikes. They go out and raise hell to take the tragedy-struck’s mind off his troubles.
  5. Think in a linear fashion, i.e., A+B=C, unlike women, whose thought processes more resemble a spiral, seeing connections outside of the lines, thinking and feeling many things at once.
  6. Don’t spend much time thinking about their looks.
  7. Want to fix things. Not think about them, not solicit opinions, but to spring into action, even if that action makes no sense whatsoever.
  8. Often don’t speak directly about difficult subjects, don’t express their feelings verbally, but speak around them or use humor to deflect.

As I said up top, I’ve been asked often how I write men so well, and like my male friends, I prefer to deflect. This is how I answer, by using a variation of Melvin Udall’s line from As Good As It Gets: “I think of a woman. And I add emotional tone-deafness and entitlement.”

It gets a laugh, but the truth is I write men so well because I love to do it. And I have to give credit where it’s due: it wouldn’t be possible without my friends.

LS Hawker is the author of USA Today bestseller and ITW Thriller Awards finalist THE DROWNING GAME, BODY AND BONE, and END OF THE ROAD, published by HarperCollins Witness Impulse. THE THROWAWAYS, her fourth novel, will be released1/22/19 from The Vanishing Point Press. View the book trailers and read about her adventures as a cocktail waitress, traveling Kmart portrait photographer, and witness to basement exorcisms on LSHawker.com.