Contest Entry: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes


Entries have begun! 🙂 Here’s a blog by C-C Lester on walking in someone else’s shoes. You can find this post on her blog as well at Elementary Circle.

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WALKING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES

I’ve been meaning to get around to this for some time now.  The theme for ‘Elli Writes’  June contest is ‘A New Pair of Boots’ – writing in someone else’s shoes, and whilst I know the idea of the challenge is to force you to write from someone else’s perspective, the contest has inspired me to write a blog post on the subject of characters and perspectives.

For a start, I’ve discovered I write far quicker in the first person.  Maybe that’s just because I’ve spent over half my life journalling.  Or maybe it’s because you dwell less on description in the first person than you do in the third person (or at least I do!).  The first person allows you to focus solely on one characters thoughts and emotions, whilst the third person is obviously broader.  There’s more to consider,  both character-wise, and also from a lyrical standpoint.  The reason third person writing takes longer, is because sentences written in the third person can normally include more elevated, creative description, and as such, every sentence requires careful thought.  For me, first person writing often becomes a stream of thought.  I don’t know if that means I write better in the first person, or that my writing is lazier in the first person, but that simple initial choice of perspective can completely and utterly change a book.

At the moment I’m writing a novel called ‘Mercury’s Child’, which I’ve now mentioned a couple of times.  It’s my first stab at science fiction, and initially started as a far ‘younger’ project, as compared to my other novels.  The two other ‘children’s’ works I’ve written are teenage fantasy novels.  Teenagers with superpowers.  However, because of the nature of the worlds, the timings of the characters lives, and the necessary naivete of the protagonist, Mercury’s Child is a book about an eleven year-old, and as such I decided to target the book at a younger audience – maybe 11-15 year-olds, as opposed to the 14-19 year-old bracket my other books has been designed primarily for.

Initially I decided to write the book in the first person.  Because I find it easier, quicker … and possibly the lazy option ;)  However, the problem with writing about an 11 year-old in the first person, is that you then need to think like I’m an 11 year-old.  Now, I like to think of myself as a bit of a big kid at heart, and I don’t think I have problems empathizing with teenagers, in fact, in a number of ways I probably still lead a rather teenage life.  I live with my (friend’s) parents, drive someone else’s car, and a mortgage and marriage are both things which are still a long way off!  For those reasons I enjoy writing teenage fiction, because in a lot of ways I simply write how I think.

And whilst I was obviously 11 years old at some point, if I’m honest, I don’t really remember it all too well!  I definitely don’t think like an eleven year-old.  And for that reason, I eventually decided to write the book in the third person.  Because, whilst this perspective might require more careful crafting, and doesn’t allow for stream of thought writing, it also doesn’t require a detailed insight into the mind of your protagonist.  It requires some, but not total empathy.

So, I began writing a book for 11 to 15 year-olds in the third person.  And within a few chapters I noticed something else.  I write way too old for that age-group!  As an author, I genuinely think it’s hard to hide your own voice.  Some might argue that’s all part of the craft, and obviously it is to some degree.  You don’t want to write an autobiography, you want to write fiction.  But fiction, as I’ve said before, is also writing about what you know.  Writing about what you understand.  And as Mercury’s Child took shape in the third person, I realised I wasn’t writing a book for 11 to 15 year-olds.  I was writing about an eleven year old girl and her family, for readers in their late teens and adulthood.  And whilst that might seem like a failure for some, for me, I think it just means I know my target audience.  I know where my talents lie.  And rather than try to force a story into a form I think it ought to take, I’d prefer to leave it in its natural form, and see if it works that way.

Because this is the thing I’ve found about walking in someone else’s shoes … it only really works within certain parameters.  The shoes don’t necessarily have to be your own, but they have to be a reasonably good fit!  Whether you’re writing in the third person, or even more specifically in the first person, you need to know your character.  You need to understand your character.  And you need to understand your reader.  And whilst no one wants to read an autobiography where the names have simply been changed to call it fiction  (apart from maybe The Devil Reads Prada!) that doesnt mean people want to read something completely foreign to a writer.  Good writing comes from the heart.  Your heart.  Not someone else’s.  And so you need to understand your own story.  You need to live your own story.

That’s why Mercury’s Child, in my opinion, works best pitched at older children and adults, and in the third person.  Because, whilst I understand my characters and the worlds I’ve created, I best represent those characters and those worlds in the voice of a teenager/adult.  In a voice rather similar to my own.  That isn’t to say adults can’t write for younger children – as is obvious from almost all children’s literature! – I just know where my voice is strongest.

Following on from this idea of knowledge and understanding, I really struggle with the idea, as a female writer, of writing about a male protagonist.  Ok, from a distanced third person perspective, I might be able to do it.  (It’s something J.K. Rowling obviously nailed!).  But it’s not something I would choose, because I understand girls.  I know them, because I am one!  I don’t think I would ever excel at writing from a male first person standpoint, because, quite simply I don’t know how men think!  Men and women are really different creatures, and I don’t think I could ever be confident enough to establish a credible enough male voice.  Even in the third person, I’ve struggled to write male dialogue, and had male friends criticise the realism of my male-on-male conversations, because quite simply, I don’t know how men converse with one another when they’re on their own.

 

And so for that reason, whilst obviously, as fiction writers, we are always walking in someone else’s shoes, I think those shoes have to be a reasonable fit.  For me, I’d say my current literary fit is a woman’s shoe, aged 15 to 35 years-old in the first person protagonist.  Where the third person is concerned, those requirements are a little bit looser.

 

What do you guys think?  Can male writers write in a convincing female voice, and vice-versa?  How big are the writing shoes you feel confident filling?  Or am I being too conservative with my writing?  Should I step into less comfortable shoes?

C-C xxx

 

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(Interested in entering? Find the details of June’s contest here)

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2 thoughts on “Contest Entry: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

  1. This post caught my attention, not only because I think that everyone struggles with PoV, but also because as I was writing the entry for your contest I realized halfway through the piece that I was writing in 1st person!

    It’s been forever and a day since I’ve done that, and it just seemed to happen as I began. I guess the mind automatically assumes, or mine does at least, that to step into someone else’s shoes you must write as if you -are- that person, and using ‘I’ is definitely a step towards that.

    The character I chose is slightly above my age, but she is female, and I think that makes me comfortable in her ‘shoes’. This was probably the reason it seemed such an easy task to me, but I wonder if the writing would have been better if I had not done it that way?

    You’ve certainly got me thinking about the sizes and strengths, and I couldn’t help but recall my times rping, which I still do now to keep myself writing. I have a great partner who tries to focus on ‘writing’ rather then the loose rping style of our youth.

    But focusing on the sizes, I notice that as an rp-er I’m drawn towards male characters. Why is that? I always wonder. I know, as you were saying, that we have no idea what goes on behind the scenes with males when they are on their own, and it makes me wonder if my characters are far from realistic. They probably are.

    And then I think of J. K. Rowling, who has obviously mastered some sort of human cognition! She successfully carried Harry through his 7 years of Hogwarts and I’ve heard more praise then not, for sure. So, on your question, I think that I feel it’s possible to step out of the shoe that fits us. There’s not a one size fits all, for sure, but there are other shoes, like sandals, and slippers, and boots and heels, etc, that we can also walk in. There are different -types- of shoes, and I think with practicing and research we might be able to wear some of them.

    No one ever gets up on ice-skates the first time around with ease, and I think, even if I feel uncomfortable in them, it wont stop me from pushing. We think ‘I’d love to Ice-Skate, but it’s hard’ [I’d love to write in a male PoV, but it’s hard!’] That doesn’t mean it’s not possible!

    It’s always good to write in what we’re good at, and push forward, but after I while, I would think that if you were really good at something you’d get bored with it. The struggle to write something is hard, but it is rewarding. If my male characters are horrible, that’s okay, because right now I can’t wear those ‘shoes’, but maybe if I keep working at it, I might at least be able to get the laces tied, and then take each step at a time.

    Another thing! This may seem very random, but I’ve noticed this as I’ve moved through my teaching program. If you get a book on Education and Psychology, it will break down the different ages of students, their thinking, cognitive workings, interests, focuses, etc. This is, of course, generalized, but it certainly opened my eyes to some of the specific traits that would be good to have at my side if I were writing, say, for an eleven year old.

    Writing is Hard. It’s Fun. And it can drive you nearly over the wall, not just up it, but I think its the most enjoyable thing in the world in the end.

    There was something I watched a long while ago, it was an Anime, but the imagery has stuck with me. A boy was given expectations that his brothers and family had set for him, and it showed him painting in a frame. No matter how magnificent the painting was, it would still be marred from being better because of the barrier around it. But something happened, and he was able to step out of that frame, and the painting went all along the wall and to the ceiling.

    I like this image, because it says, that just because we are one way, doesn’t mean we cant do more.

    We can wear different shoes -and- walk in them, with a little help.

    Do I think we can wear all shoes? I don’t honestly, there are some things we just won’t be good at, but that doesn’t mean we should’t try, right?

    🙂

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