Saturday, April 6, 2013

Guest Post: Travis Heermann

We're so excited to have Travis Heermann on the blog to talk about writing his new book, The Wild Boys, from a female protagonist's point of view! How many of you have tried writing from the opposite gender's point of view? Or have read a book where the author did that? It's interesting, yeah? Well read on to learn about Heermann's trials and tribulations in connecting with his 'inner girl' and writing Mia.

Writing from the other set of chromosomes
by Travis Heermann

Most people have no idea what goes in the minds of the opposite sex. The wreckage left by dating and relationships is ample evidence of that. How many times have you said or heard something like, "I have NO idea what he/she is thinking!" with frustration and chagrin?

Writers are no different. Nevertheless, to write a convincing story, we have to understand the subtleties of the differences between men and women well enough to create convincing characters. Nothing blows a reader out of a story quicker than a character who behaves in a way that feels "wrong," unless that "wrongness" is established and built into the character.

When I started developing The Wild Boys' story, I knew that the main character had to be a teenage girl, which was a great challenge for me, never having been a teenage girl. It was more difficult than I anticipated.

One reader from my early drafts said that she could tell the story was written by a man, which told me that I had some distance to go before I had the voice right for a teenage girl. What did teenage girls think about? I had only a vague idea.

Therefore, I did the only thing I could do: I showed the manuscript to several astute readers who had been teenage girls. Those readers were kind enough to pinpoint areas that didn't feel true, and then I went back and reworked those things.

Some things that I got wrong in early drafts were ideas about body image, height versus figure, the relentless push-pull of the guilt and desire associated with sex, the internal and external social pressures of it, the physical sensations of arousal, and what happens in the mind of a girl with huge crush. That, it turns out, is not all that different from what boys experience, but the way that expresses itself in behavior is somewhat different. Girls are more secretive about such things.

This is all heightened by the fact that the teenage years are such a fragile, sensitive time for everyone, filled with angst, worry, heartbreaks galore, and the occasional triumph.

Boys and girls in Western culture have very different concerns and cultural baggage, particularly with respect to sexuality and gender roles. The things that make girls feel attraction toward someone, compared to boys, are similar in some ways but different in others. We key on different physical and personality traits, although there is also considerable overlap. Girls are also socialized to be much more in tune with emotions, theirs and others', and those emotions must be expressed in the writing, or else the story will not ring true.

So how does a writer do this? The answer is simple but difficult: by study and observation. Part of my study was talking to women and researching social dynamics. I even read a couple of romance novels. The observation is the fun part: quietly watching people and observing how they interact. The writer's job is to watch life unfold around him, store all those observations away, until they can be dredged up by the subconscious mind and incorporated into the narrative to make the story feel real.

And sometimes, fiction is more real than reality. 

Read our review of The Wild Boys, here!

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