I write about action, adventure. Don't tell me I write like a man

Even if it's meant as a compliment, it feels as though all my effort has been reduced to the singularity of gender.

 |  4-minute read |   02-11-2016
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I’m told every now and then, that I write action and adventure "like a man".

It is mostly meant as a compliment by readers who’ve thoroughly enjoyed my books and want to let me know it, and over time, I’ve learnt to take it as such.

Still, there is that moment’s hesitation as I vacillate between saying a "thank-you" that I don’t really feel, or meeting the statement head-on to confront a gender inequality issue that isn’t really the issue at hand.

By the time I’ve decided which side of the standing-up-to-misogynist language vs taking-things-too-seriously fence I want to be on, it is too late for witty repartees and so, after an awkward pause and an embarrassed smile, I turn the conversation to the weather, or (hopefully) the starters that have just been served.

All is then well with the universe, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear the same thing again.

If you’re wondering what the big fuss is, I’m going to assume that you haven’t yet had the chance to read one of my books. Which means, you need to take it on faith and faith alone when I say that I’m actually quite good at carnage – writing carnage, that is.

I’m also more than decent at adventure. And I am fairly good at drawing up both gory physical torture sequences and hallucination horror.

My first three books – The Aryavarta Chronicles series - had grand battle-scenes with hundreds of gruesome cadavers. My latest book, Immortal, has some pretty chase sequences, gunfights, explosions, not to mention multiple close combat scenes – all of which I thoroughly enjoyed writing.

I also like to think I put in hard work to make sure things are accurate and believable.

So when I’m told that I write action like a man, it feels as though all that effort has been reduced to the singularity of gender, a simple question: Had I been a man, would I have done a better job?

immortal_110216042918.jpg My latest book, Immortal (Hachette India), has some pretty chase sequences, gunfights, explosions, not to mention multiple close combat scenes. 

Writers are compulsive observers. It’s where we get most of our ideas from. What we cannot observe, we make up for with our (sometimes-overactive) imagination. Personal experience adds to the mix, but even to fully capture her or his own experience, a writer has to step outside the self and watch and notice.

The good thing about this is that I don’t necessarily have to have done or felt all the things that I want my characters to feel. This, thankfully, means that authors don’t need hands-on experience to write about murdering people, hijacking planes, investor fraud and other nefarious deeds, including faking illness to skip office and watch a Rajnikanth movie, first day first show.

Imagine then, if authors were told: "Wow, you write murder mysteries as though you were a serial killer!" The compliment is obvious, as with "writing action like a man".

But where the former seems laughably absurd and is seen as praise by metaphor, the second lays down a literal standard, something that comes along with a corollary that is always implied though it often goes unsaid: that most women writers don’t do a good enough job with gritty adventure and action.

To be fair, it’s not like writers who self-identify as men don’t face similar problems. Male writers are lauded for sensitive handlings of the female experience, their understanding of nuance – the implication being that a woman writer might do it more naturally. But nowhere does this translate into a statement that a male author "writes like a woman", for somehow, that doesn’t quite hold a tone of approval.

I am wary of reading outright assumptions of quality and inequity into the whole issue, but need to put this notion out there: Is "writing like a man" simply supposed to mean better writing, just like the stereotype of "running like a boy" is positive and "throwing like a girl" is not?

Why else would women, historically and in current times, have felt the need to write under male pseudonyms – a trouble I’m told I’ve been spared given my unisex name.

At the same time, for every example from mainstream English writing, I can think of one from regional literature – men writing under female pseudonyms, most often their wife’s name.

Are those gestures merely symbolic, or even acts of condescension? Clearly, there is more to this topic than I can ever hope to cover, especially not if I plan to get any other writing done.

So when a male writer is applauded for writing from a female perspective, or when I am cheered for writing action sequences like a man, my reaction is the one and the same: We’re just doing our jobs. What you really want to tell us is that we’re good at it. And that is a compliment I am always willing to take.

Also read: What visiting a hospital can teach a writer about human condition


Krishna Udayasankar Krishna Udayasankar @krisudayasankar

The writer is author, 'The Aryavarta Chronicles', 'Objects of Affection'.

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