Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Post: Mindi Scott on Writing Like A Guy

Okay, I officially now have some kind of writer crush on Mindi Scott, author of the heartwrenching contemporary debut Freefall. Mindi rocks for doing this guest post, and looks so pretty in this picture I found on her website. ;) I had a few suggestions and went with how it was writing a book in first person when you're a girl & your narrator's a guy, which she jumped all over. :)

And so, here's Mindi on writing like a guy.

With a name like “Mindi,” people have zero expectation that I was ever a teenage boy.  However!  Numerous readers have told me that Seth in Freefall was written so convincingly that if my name hadn’t already given it away, they never would have guessed that I’m not a male.

When I first imagined the characters for Freefall, I fully expected that I would tell their story from the girl’s point of view.  After all, I’m a girl and I’d written girl characters before.  But then I had this flash of inspiration and thought: No. I’m going to try to write the boy!

It started out as an experiment, but I now believe that it was the best choice I could have made for my writing. 

On July 14, 2006, I sat down and put these first words into a notebook:

I saw her crying.  Great gulping sobs, tears dripping down her face and plopping on her white blouse.  Her face was bright red and screwed into a mask of misery.  She was very ugly when she cried—which made her even more beautiful to me.

All right.  So, um, that isn’t very good, I know.  A screwed face? What?

If you’ve already read the book, you know that this sounds nothing like Seth.  (You also know that this witnessing-crying thing happens in a scene on pages 98 through 100. La la la.)  If you haven’t read the book, just know, this sounds nothing like Seth!

Somehow, I actually liked what I’d written well enough to keep going.  I thought my boy protagonist was funny and clever and cool.  My husband read my scenes and said, “This is supposed to be a guy?  Maybe you should read aloud what you’ve written here.”

My writing classmates said, “I’m not buying that this is a boy.  Plus, he’s a jerk.”

My instructor said, “You’re not ready for this. You should write this story from the girl’s point of view.”

These comments?  They really upset me.  But I refused to give up. I knew that I could write this kid.  I needed time.  I needed to practice.  I had a long way to go, but this was a challenge from which I refused to back down. I WAS GOING TO SHOW THEM ALL!

I read lots of young adult novels written from male perspectives to determine what worked for me as a reader.  I had my husband check out every scene as I finished writing it so he could point out the lines that stuck out as too feminine.  I focused on what would make Seth sound like a real guy and what would make him sound like his own unique self.  I became best friends with my thesaurus and I used it non-stop to make sure I was finding the right word in each and every sentence instead of ever allowing myself to fall back on my own voice and point of view.  I stayed away from phrases like “mask of misery” because those just weren’t Seth. 

It took a lot of effort to get it right.  Eventually, though, Seth’s voice came naturally to me.  I stopped focusing on boyness and instead paid attention to Sethness.  That was a big deal when I got to that point.

I can honestly say that writing a teenage boy was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever taught myself to do.  And, you know, I never would have expected to say this, but I’m kind of glad that I received such harsh criticisms of my earliest attempts at writing this character.  Had that not been the case, I’m not sure that I would have tried so hard to turn this boy from my imagination into one whom many readers now find to be believable and relatable. And that means that I wouldn't have learned what I needed to learn in order to make all my characters moving forward (I hope) believable and relatable as well.  So, really, it all worked out in the finish!

If you want more of Mindi, you can find her on Twitter, or her website, or just go and read her book Freefall. :)


  1. I'm one of those people who wouldn't have believed Seth wasn't written by a guy had Mindi's name not been printed on Freefall's cover. She did a fabulous job with Seth's story, and I recommend her book to everyone who will listen. Thanks for this great post, Mindi and Lindsay!

  2. Seth's voice is so strong and definitely very authentic. One of my favourite aspects of Freefall was his character. :)