Lately, I’ve been rewriting the old story of Sleeping Beauty. Mostly as an exercise in revision and partially out of curiosity to see how humor will work with the tale. It’s been a slow task due to being rather sick over the last few months. Life! It happens, doesn’t it?
One interesting thing I’ve noticed about the writing process is the difficulty I’m having, as a man, writing a story from the first-person perspective of a woman (Sleeping Beauty herself). I never imagined that that would be the single most difficult aspect of this project. It requires a great deal of focus to maintain her voice in a proper literary register. At least, I hope I’m hitting the right register with her.
I’ve written female characters before in my other books (notably, Levoreth Callas, Giverny, Fen and Sibb in the Tormay books). However, those characters existed in a wider setting of other male characters and great swaths of prose. As such, I never found them difficult to write (perhaps due to the leavening effect of the other characters, etc?).
With this observation in mind, I noticed something interesting several days ago when I read Madeline L’Engle’s Ring of Endless Light. I’ve read the book several times before when I was much younger, and I’ve always admired the story and her writing. L’Engle is a fantastic writer in general (usually–I’m not fond of some of her later books); stories like Swiftly Turning Planet, Young Unicorns, Wrinkle in Time, etc., are superbly written. In Ring of Endless Light, though, I noticed that her two main romantic male characters, Adam and Zachary, felt rather labored. As I considered it further, I realized what the problem was. They were both somewhat female in perspective. It was as if they were the female ideal of what a romantic male should be, rather than allowing them to be male and assert themselves naturally.
The more I thought about this, the more I started to realize that every single new romance that I’ve sampled over the last year on Kindle (sampled out of curiosity to see why and how someone is selling well, etc) is plagued with this same weakness. The romantic male leads come across as more female than male. They’re creations fashioned in the likeness of their creators (women writers), despite their tattoos and torn jeans and leather boots. It’s a fascinating pitfall to observe, and it’s one that I’m desperately trying to avoid myself as I write the character of Sleeping Beauty.
While it might be nice to imagine, if you’re a woman, a romantic male lead that is sensitive and patient with small talk and remembers flowers and talks with adverbial modifiers such as gently, wistfully, softly, etc., you might stop and consider letting a bit more of the real world form your Edward. I only hope I can achieve such distance and dispassionate approach with Rosamonde Baden-Lennox (the real, historical Sleeping Beauty who, if you must know, is not at all impressed by the legends that have grown up around her story).