Tuesday, February 28

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8 comments

Today I welcome a special guest, author Jennifer R. Hubbard, whose second novel, Try Not to Breathe, released in January. I've read it in both draft and published form, and friends, it is a great read. It has some of the best insights into adolescent depression I've ever read, a well-balanced mix of seriousness and humor, and my favorite kind of romance--one based on friendship and trust built over time.

I asked Jenn to share some insights about writing opposite-sex narrators. Take it away, Jenn...

Try Not to Breathe is my second book written with a male narrator, and people often ask how I write from the opposite-sex point of view, or whether it gives me any problems.

Writing as a male character wasn’t something that struck me as unusual until people started asking me this question, after my first book (The Secret Year) came out. I wrote short stories for years, and some of them had male main characters and some had female main characters. I thought of myself as a person and my characters as people, without dwelling much on which of us were male or female. So much of what we experience in life—the taste of a tomato, the feel of rain on our skin, the pain of a toothache—has nothing to do with whether we’re male or female.

Nevertheless, there are real cultural differences. In our world, for example, aggression is still encouraged, or at least tolerated, far more in boys than in girls. On the other hand, talking about emotions is expected more of girls.

One advantage a writer has in writing across gender lines, which may not be the case when writing across lines of race or religion or ethnic group, is that we spend so much time with each other. Chances are very high that we have family members of the opposite sex, that at some point we live with people of the opposite sex. We have father-daughter, mother-son, brother-sister relationships. We may have aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. We may have classmates, teachers, or coaches of the opposite sex. We see each other at the grocery store, on the bus, at concerts.

I grew up having male friends and relatives, male teachers. I grew up reading books by male authors. I think that’s why some of the characters in my head speak with “male voices.” One good test, for anyone who’s having difficulty writing a male character, is to think of the guys you know. Ask yourself: Can I imagine any guy I know delivering this line I just wrote? Not a guy on a movie screen, saying what I wish he’d say, but a real-life guy?

You can also solicit the opinion of male readers. However, not all guys are alike, so don’t assume that any one person can speak for a whole gender. Dick Cheney is a guy. So is Justin Bieber. So is Chris Rock. So is the Pope. But they’re all different people with different worldviews and experiences, and they would all speak and think differently.


Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of the contemporary young-adult novel Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012), in which the 16-year-old survivor of a suicide attempt befriends a girl who is trying to understand her father's suicide. Hubbard's first book is the The Secret Year (Viking, 2010).

For more information about Jenn's books, including links to purchase copies, go to http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/p/publications.html.

Have you ever attempted an opposite-sex narrator? What excites or intimidates you about it? Any other questions for Jenn?


  1. Congratulations on your book release, Jennifer! This is one of the best posts I've read about writing in male POV. Wonderful tips and advice, Jennifer. When I write in male POV, I like to have my husband read through it and tell me what works and what doesn't. But you make an insightful point to be careful about getting one male's opinion because each boy or man is so different.

    Have a wonderful week, Laurel and Jennifer!

    1. Thank you, Laura! (And Laurel, for hosting me!)

    2. Laura: I especially like Jenn's "real life guy" test for dialogue. That's helpful even for non-narrator male characters.

    3. Jenn: thanks for the fantastic guest post!

  2. Great post about writing from a male point of view. I can't wait to read Try Not to Breathe!

    1. Hope we've whetted your appetite, Cynthia. I really enjoyed it.

  3. I like how Jennifer referred to the "cultural" differences between males and females. I never thought about it that way before, but it's very true. Although, I do think it depends on the family you're raised in. We have a bunch of girls and one boy, and I don't let my boy get away with any aggression. If he were in a house full of brothers, I'm sure this would be different!

    This book sounds wonderful. I'd heard of THE SECRET YEAR, but I think I need to add both of these to my TBR pile.

  4. Behaviors that are encouraged and discouraged vary so much from culture to culture. I know in parts of Africa it's normal for men to hold hands with their pals while out on a walk. Russian men are much more apt to cry in public and no one thinks it odd or embarrassing.