Writing Characters of a Different Gender: Some Tips, via my Writer's Digest Article

With each of my novels, I try to set myself a new challenge.  While writing my newest, Before We Visit the Goddess, I set myself two: I would write a novel-in-stories, and I would use multiple voices to tell the three-generational tale of Sabitri, Bela, and Tara. Additionally, some of these voices would be male. (So maybe that's three challenges!)

The male voices were difficult. I won't pretend they weren't. Women's voices just come more naturally to me. I understand how they think. How they look at the world. Men – not so much.


But I worked at it, and I worked at it, and I worked at it some more. And I was really quite happy with the result. I learned a lot about writing as I went through the process, and I've put it all together in this article, link below. Take a look. Tell me what you think. And if you have other ideas, please share them with me. Questions are also welcome. 

The Four ‘R’s of Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender

Writing Tip: Ways to Boost Creativity

Some time back, I came across a thought-provoking list at The World's Best Site Ever, titled "Thirty Three Ways to Be Creative." http://www.theworldsbestever.com/2011/06/06/33-ways-to-stay-creative/


We had a lot of fun with it on my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni, noting which ideas people related to most. For me, it was numbers 18 and 2, Carry a Notebook Everywhere, and Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes, in that order. I'll write about Using a Writer's Notebook, which I do in several ways, in another post. But for now, I want to explain why I believe allowing ourselves to make mistakes in our writing is so important.

When we are afraid to make mistakes, it means that the little voice in our head is in control. This is the voice that tells us, This is no good; or, Better do something that's tried and tested that you know works; or, I don't think readers will like/understand/be interested in this; or, What makes you think you can pull this off?or, People will laugh at you for attempting this. (I say "us" hopefully. I sure hope I'm not the only one who hears this subversive voice!)

It's really important to get past this voice, and sometimes to do that we have to consciously push against what we think our limitations are--and this can be a bit frightening. Sometimes it helps to think of what we're writing (this could be a paragraph, a scene, an entire story, a novel) as a game or an experiment.(I often tell myself, If it doesn't work, I'll throw it away & no one needs to even know I tried it).

For instance: Men's voices don't come to me as well as women's, so I forced myself to write a story titled "The Disappearance" (later published in my collection Arranged Marriage),from the point of view of a husband whose wife disappears one day, leaving him to obsess over what might have become of her. It was difficult. I stuttered and came to a stop a couple of times. I began the exercise in the first person, and realized after a while that I needed more distance. After some rewriting, the story ended up in a close third person point of view, and I believe this allowed me to bring out the complexities and ironies in the situation (the man is abusive but doesn't realize it until the very end of the story) far better than if I had told the story from the wife's point of view.

I wrote a big chunk of my first novel Mistress of Spices as a collection of linked poems before I figured out that that was not the right form for this tale of magical realism set in inner-city America. I had to rewrite the entire first part, but I gained several valuable insights from the experiment. Mistress of Spices ended up as my most poetic novel, filled with unconventional verbal leaps, and this elliptical style strengthens the mystery and magic that permeate the story.

mistress of spices.jpg

Which, if any, of these 33 ways appeal to you? Which one might you try? Do you have a different method that works to keep you creative? What is a challenge you would like to push past in your art by allowing yourself to make mistakes?

Please let me know.