Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blog Post: A Discourse on Male/Female POVs

The YA world is one that is constantly changing as authors try to escape the norm and experiment with newer ideas. Whether these ideas are of any merit, however, is still up in the air. One of them, the subject of this blog post, is the idea of alternating male/female POVs. Usually, these points of view are from the main characters of the book: the girl saving the world and her love interest, or vice versa. Most times, it's the girl who's saving the world, though (feminists unite!).

The reason for this is that the authors experimenting with this sort of writing are almost always female. I know we've all had those moments reading books from only the female perspective where we wonder what the guy is thinking. I especially had that moment towards the end of Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo, when I was desperate to know what Mal was thinking and whether his feelings towards Alina remained the same, etc. Many authors write for their audiences, and when their audiences are dying to know what the guy is going through in parallel with the girl, they're happy to oblige. Whether they do it well is another thing altogether.

Alternating POVs are a double-edged sword. You want to keep the reader interested, but you don't want their interest to only lie with one character and make the thoughts of the other character obsolete. You also don't want to make your two characters sound the same or throw in a ton of irrelevant stuff that could've easily been covered with just one character. The best alternating perspectives build suspense, and gives each character an individuality that couldn't be seen with just one voice. You wouldn't think it given the frequency with which alternating POVs are popping up in fiction, but they're much, much harder to write than books with one lead. Think about all the effort gone into a main character: their quirks, their flaws, their background, how they're going to develop through the plot, how they react to their circumstances. Now multiply that by two (or three, or four, or God forbid, five like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which actually wasn't a bad book). And that's only having separate characters. If one of the characters is a male, well, the problem is compounded.

While this may be sexist, males and females do have different ways of thinking. Feel free to interpret that however you want, but it's true. They handle their problems in different ways, and if an author writing a male adopts a female perspective, readers will notice. Take Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover, for example. I couldn't connect Will's actions to anything a man of his age and maturity would do. His affection is smothering, he's too desperate, and at one point, he locks himself in his girlfriend's bedroom so she can't kick him out of the house. I know guys don't show all the things they're thinking, but that doesn't mean their brains work the same way that women's do. In Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, Lochan's and Maya's thoughts could easily be mixed and confused for one another, although that detracted nothing from the whirlwind of angst in that book. When women write from male perspectives, the men usually end up being more sentimental. Rarely have I seen success, although Cassius from Anna Dressed in Blood is a pretty good depiction of the average male, who thinks about attractive women but also dedicates a lot of his brain space to killing and other mundane things. And the thing is, after reading the male perspective, do you really respect the lead's love interest the same way? I know after reading Will's POV in Point of Retreat and Perri's in Into the Never Sky that the guy just doesn't hold the same sort of appeal. In Into the Never Sky, I was still interested in Perri's story, but his intrigue was gone. For me, I prefer glimpses, not a full-on striptease of a guy's character, such as it is with Akiva in Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Gansey in The Raven Boys. What I don't like are guys like Sam from Shiver and Day from Legend, who completely overdo the meaning of sensitive. 

In conclusion, I admire authors who can make two completely different characters and alternate stories between them without getting them confused. But I also greatly admire authors who go the normal route and tell a beautiful story from just one perspective. Either way can be successful, but there may be many more pitfalls associated with the former, especially when a writer is experimenting with opposite sexes. Women tend to overdramatize the males they write, although male authors so far don't seem to have this problem with their female main characters. A part of that may be attributed to the fact that the girls in YA fantasy/dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels nowadays need to rely on their strength and handiness with weapons and warfare to survive. But both male and female writers can write bad characters. It comes down to knowing strengths and learning from weakness. A true writer is someone who can put him/herself into the mindset of anyone.

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