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Good Writers are Good Listeners

Posted on Nov 25, 2014 by in The Scrawl |

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Yesterday I posted a query in a Reddit thread asking what male writers got wrong when writing female characters. The thread exploded, more or less, with tons of interesting thoughts and and tons of great suggestions for male writers to be able to accurately write outside their own gender. And I am not going to spend this post trying to answer each comment or to give you much more than the summation that I agree with anyway. (Confirmation bias FTW)

Good writers are good listeners. Ergo, bad writers are often bad listeners.

The top comment, as of this writing, is from user octoberyellow:

Conversations. Spend time in your local coffee shop eavesdropping on women. Notice how often they laugh. And how few times you see the whole ‘mean girl’ thing going on. Women speaking with women almost never happens in a book (where there’s a good chance she’s a token in a group of men), yet women speak to women all the time in real life.

I believe that good writers perceive the world around them and then convey that perception back through words in a way that nearly anyone can grasp onto and experience. They are lenses, in other words, that others might see the world through. So the key to writing female characters for a male, can likely be summed up in the same way a female might write male characters: listen. Listen to their fears, their hurts, their experiences, their biases, their whole being and then try to recreate what you hear and see.

When I write women I find myself drawing on conversations I’ve been a part of or overheard. Now, I don’t try to listen, in a coffee shop or other public location, to conversations that I am not a part of, but I will say that I often try to observe body language of conversants to notice what the conversational tone might be. I think that the best writers are ones who listen to the tiny nuances in voices, in events, and in details that fit together, later, into something rich and complex.

As a writer and just as a human being, it can be a humbling experience to ask someone whether they think you’re a good listener or not. But it’s just as crucial to your humanity as it is to your craft. If you don’t listen, if you don’t perceive, you will never be able to convincingly recreate it. You can’t tell a good story if you don’t know how to receive a good story.