The standard advice for new writers — “Write what you know” — is good advice for all writers. When you write about what you know first hand, you have your own experiences to draw on. You can fill in all those details from your own life to make your characters, their emotions, and the situations they find themselves in believable. It’s not surprising that most of the stories we publish in Stone Soup by girl authors have girls as the main characters. And most of our boy authors write about boys.
But every once in a while, we find a great story where the author has managed to create believable characters of the opposite sex. In our November/December 2015 issue, we have not one but two such stories! In “Face Your Fears,” 12-year-old author Jem Burch, a boy from California, writes about two sisters who were abandoned by their parents when they were very young. Flash forward eight years, and the sisters are living what should be a happy life with their loving adoptive mom, Amber. But older sister Katherine can’t get past the trauma of losing her parents. It’s younger sister Lily who finally helps Katherine face her fears and snap out of her depression.
“Thank You, Mr. Huffington,” by 10-year-old Nadia Suben of New York, shows us a young boy who is also dealing with loss. Josh misses his dad terribly. He reluctantly joins the school band. He likes the band teacher, Mr. Huffington, but he doesn’t practice his trumpet. Then there’s a pivotal scene where Mr. Huffington confronts Josh, and Josh confides, “My dad… he was a jazz musician.” Josh starts to cry, and Mr. Huffington, great guy that he is, knows just what to do. He puts his arm around Josh to comfort him. He helps Josh see that music can help him cope with a tough situation. Josh will never forget Mr. Huffington’s advice, or his kindness.
Both of our young authors show a deep understanding of their characters. Both make us believe that these are real people. We are moved by them. We feel what they feel. How do Jem and Nadia do it? How do they put themselves in the minds of a character of the opposite sex? Perhaps Jem has a sister he knows really well. Perhaps Nadia has a brother. I bet both authors read a lot and get ideas for their own work by paying close attention to what they read.
While it may not be the obvious choice for a boy to write about girls, or vice-versa, why not give it a try? Start by thinking about the stories Jem and Nadia wrote. Then think about your favorite kids’ books by adults. Harry Potter comes to mind, of course. Give yourself a challenge and try writing a story from a point of view that is very different from your own, but still believable.