Crossing Over – Writing for an Opposite-Sex Character

Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie remarks that impersonating a woman made him a better man.  I’ve undertaken a similar task that offers the potential for improving my maleness: I write mysteries with a female protagonist.  More than that, I have written my latest books, Downfall and the upcoming Windfall, from a first-person viewpoint, in the actual voice of the character.  There seem to be few mysteries written in this fashion (J.A. Jance’s J.P Beaumont comes to mind).  So far, the results have been good; readers have responded very positively to my character, paraplegic young attorney Pen Wilkinson.  But the question remains: Why do it this way?

I should note that I’ve been here before.  My first book, Bound to Die, was written with a female lead character but in third person.  (My second book, Poised to Kill, featured a male protagonist).  All I can say is that I didn’t set out to feature a female protagonist–that’s just how the character came to me. and despite the obvious challenge, I can’t imagine writing these stories any other way.  In general, I have little conscious awareness of Pen being female.  Occasionally I’ll ask for advice on “girl stuff”–clothes, makeup, etc.  But of course the real challenge comes in formulating and writing a woman’s thoughts, actions, and emotions.  My writing is mostly instinctive, the cumulative product, I suppose, of interaction with female friends, family, and co-workers, as well as the culture.  And I know that if I get it wrong, not only will my wife and daughter let me know, but my readers will, too.

And I’ll be a better man for it.