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02:21 pm: Wright’s Writing Corner: Writing for Boys, Writing for Girls


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It is so easy for girls to be mistaken for boys,


the two are nigh indistinguisable.



I have a confession to make. Those Great Idea posts are hard to write. They take thought. If I do them quickly, they come out shallow. If I take the proper time, I can’t seem to get one done in a week.


So, new plan!



I am going to shoot for a Great Idea post at the beginning of each month, and write some other writing post for Wright’s Writing Corner on the other weeks of the month.



That being said, here is this week’s article:


When I was in college, some male friends and I (including the one I married) used to spend time talking about books we liked—science fiction and fantasy, mainly. I discovered that Ursula LeGuin was regarded as equal to the male authors, but all other female authors in the field were regarded as sentimental and of lower quality. Their books were soft and not as admired.



I listened. I took careful note. I determined that I wanted to be like Ursula LeGuin—whose work I loved, not like those other women whose books did not qualify. Some of whose work I also loved—like Anne McCaffrey.



It never occurred to me, not once, that the qualities the men did not like in the books might be considered a virtue by some female readers. I just thought women were mainly too sentimental to write real books, so I would have to learn to write like a man.





When a guy friend told me that he could see signs of this womanish writing style in an early version of my Prospero series, I put the book aside and did not work on it again for about five years.





During those same years, I used to read romance novels. Secretly, of course. You wouldn’t want anyone to know you were reading a romance novel. No one did that! Better to be caught with a girlie magazine than that kind of drivel!





So, you can imagine my surprise when I read that 340-55% of all books sold were romance novels.





The majority of readers nowadays were women. (Guys are apparently off playing video games, except, of course, for any guys reading this article.) The majority of women liked romance. Even more amazing, they didn’t care for all those SF classics my college friends had adored.





This was mind boggling. Took years to really sink in.





Over time, I put the pieces together. I had been brought up to think men and women were the same. That we basically liked the same things, could do the same things, had the same interests.



If that’s so: why do so few women watch sports or play first-person shooter games? Why do so few men read romances?





I watch my sons. They are entering their tween and teen years. They cringe at the slightest whiff of romance, ready to bolt from the room until that scene is over. My daughter, on the other hand, loves romance…so long as it’s not a tearjerker and there’s a bit of magic involved.





That’s rather different.





So, finally, it began to sink in for me that what boys like in a book might be different from what girls like.





When I write, my girlfriends will often ask me: ‘what was your character thinking in this scene? You should tell us how she feels about this.’





No guy has ever asked me what my character was feeling.





Sure, you can write to please both, by throwing in some action and some romance. There are really good books written this way. Look at Harry Potter. that appeals to both groups. But as soon as you do more of what one group likes, you start losing the other.



This is why I believe there is so much more mockery of Twilight than of Harry Potter. Now, don’t get me wrong—I cringe at sparkly vampires as much as the next person, maybe more because I don’t like vampires, period. I have not myself read the Twilight books. But I do understand that they are meant for teenage girls. They contain what it is that a teenage girl wants in a book. And they are VERY GOOD at doing that.





But they are not meant for boys, for adults, or, most specifically, for grown men.





So, of course, when they are read by these groups, they are mocked. Because the audience cannot see what the virtue of the book is. It just seems to be a collation of things they don’t care for.





But the very same overabundance of heartbreak and romantic angst that sends my boys running out of the room screaming is what makes a young girl melt down into her chair and sigh with happy (or wistful) satisfaction.





The very thing that many reviewers decry is what makes them so good.





I don’t know what my college self would have thought had I told her that I am currently writing a series for girls. I think she would have been horrified. It would have been like announcing that I had decided not to try and write a good book. I would have been horrified that I would even consider such a thing.





But I am. I’m writing a story for girls, with heartbreak and angsty romance. Now my story is not just romance. There’s action and adventure and magic. Some stuff boys might like. So, if a few boys end up enjoying it, too—or even refrain from running from the room. That would be grand.



But I’m not going to hold my breath.






Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

[User Picture]
From:annafirtree
Date:March 13th, 2013 11:25 pm (UTC)
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It's interesting that you bring this up now. I was just thinking last night (as I started Judge of Ages) about what it was that led me to enjoy your writing more than your husband's. And as I thought of all the elements of his writing that I would do without, it occurred to me that most or all of those elements are things that guys probably enjoy a good bit more than I do.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 02:03 am (UTC)
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I think you could sum up my revelation as: girl audiences are every bit as worthy of being written to as boy audiences.

That being said...I think there is precious little about what anyone is feeling in John's sf stuff. ;-)

From:tapinger
Date:March 14th, 2013 12:23 am (UTC)
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As a young man, I feel compelled to say that I don't mind a good romance story. Usually that seems to start with a good friendship, though; if two people would never be friends in a million years (no common interests, no common cause), why would they become romantically involved? I think the romance in The Scorpio Races is a good example of the kind I like: it doesn't take over the plot, but after what the characters have been through together it is entirely plausible that they would have feelings for each other. Others are R. J. Anderson's Knife / Faery Rebels and Shannon Hale's River Secrets. (I love and hate that one at the same time, probably a sign she did something right!)

What drives me crazy is the kind of romance where (1) the other person is attractive because the author said so and (2) such and such would die for the other person, not because she loves him, but because she is so selfish she thinks life isn't worth living without him (swap genders and I feel the same, but usually it isn't written that way).

I also think sex out of wedlock is off-putting (implied or not): doesn't anyone think about the fact that they're risking having someone else raise their kids? Not in most novels. (I can only think of one exception in my experience.)

I have a feeling I will come up with more things to say as I continue to think about this, but hopefully this is a good start for discussion.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 02:23 am (UTC)
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You and I are in agreement here. While I think any romance bugs my teen, I think most men of dating age don't mind a good romance...so long as it makes sense and doesn't bog down the story. I'm entirely with you on not caring for bad romances...ones that don't make sense.

I also agree about the wedlock thing. The popular trend right now in Regency romances is to have the unmarried courting couple have sex half-way through the book...usually without any concern for the possibility that children may occur. This drives me batty! I yell at the book each time.

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From:wolflahti
Date:March 14th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
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It isn't the subject matter or "teen girl orientation" I object to in the Twilight series - it's the horrifically bad writing.

All right, that isn't fair. Horrifically bad writing would at least be readable from the perspective of amusement. Meyer's writing is mediocre, which is much worse than horrific. Her crimes against grammar and style are misdemeanors rather than felonies.

I suppose I am a weird male in that I like a broader range of fiction than guys are "supposed" to. But again, I don't read romances because the writing is almost always poor. And I don't read most militaristic sci-fi because the writing is almost always poor. I like Ursuala LeGuin, Anne McCaffery, and Patricia McKillip as much as I despise Robert Jordan, Dan Brown, and David Weber. And in all those cases, it has far more to do with how well they write as distinct from what they write.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 02:25 am (UTC)
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I cannot comment on the writing of Twilight...having never read it.

I can say that when I read Romances years ago, the writing was always poor. When I got back to them in the late 90s, I discovered this was not the case any more. Some of the longer ones...not the cheap Harlequin throwaways...were as well done as anything else I see. I think the quality of the upper-end stuff increased dramatically.
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From:Stephen Barringer
Date:March 14th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
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I have to admit that I seem to be the only post-pubescent male I know who didn't think TWILIGHT was all that bad a book, or thought Bella was all that bland or dull a character; she was willing to lay down her life to save her mother, and managed to outthink an entire family of vampires to get the opportunity to do so. I can't say I was interested enough to go on with the rest of the series (and that may be an even harsher reaction; don't many writers say they'd rather provoke hatred than indifference?), but I rather enjoyed it while I was reading it. And I cannot think of any story I read that it ever occurred to me, "You know, I can tell a woman wrote this for female readers, and if a guy'd written it I'd like it better."

And I have to call challenge on the "male authors don't talk about male protagonists' feelings" note; in my experience male authors take just as much care to make it clear what their male protagonists are feeling, except they generally *imply* it through character action and reaction rather than show it through internal character monologue. Is there ever any doubt what Ned Stark is feeling at any moment he's "onstage" in A GAME OF THRONES?

It may be that there is a different in interest and focus between *action* for male readers and *interaction* for female readers, but I doubt any author of either sex would say you can do without either.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
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>I doubt any author of either sex would say you can do without either.

Except perhaps my husband. ;-) Just kidding, even he does what you indicated...shows us through action and hints. But it wasn't the male authors I thougth were not interested in what people felt, but some of the male readers I know.

I just said male readers for the article, because it was simpler than requalifying every sentence. But I do have guy friends whose reading tastes are more in the middle...they might not care for Love's Savage Passion, but they're perfectly happen to read Twilight.

I read one chapter of Twilight. I thought it was perfectly charming. I didn't keep going just because I don't like vampires, so investing time in a book about them seemed a losing proposition.

Glad you enjoyed it as well.

But I do agree about Ned Stark.
[User Picture]
From:David Marcoe
Date:March 14th, 2013 03:07 am (UTC)
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I think what us male connoisseurs of romance are saying is that there is a difference between the well-written and abysmal, but I would go a step farther and say that the fact that young girls like them, doesn't elevate their quality. We're a culture that's up to our eyeballs in eroticism, but those female fans are starving for something more substantial, so they settle for even thin gruel. In a like manner, how do you explain something like the cultural impact of Star Wars, except in the context of cynical pop culture that was attacking the very notion of heroes? We're seeing something similar today with young girls, and often enough, their grown mothers. A series like "Twilight" succeeds because we don't have any Austens or Brontes on the scene, and as those readers are children who haven't had the time or the opportunity to develop their taste, they consume these things indiscriminately.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 03:29 am (UTC)
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Have you read Twilight? From what little I've read and what I know about it, I think it might be very well done young girl lit. The second thing I ever heard about it was someone complaining that it showed the young girl having to not be the first one to make advances in her relationship with her boyfriend. That sounded like a very good thing to me. (The first thing I heard was from a librarian friend who read it before anyone had heard of it and liked it very much.)

That's what I mean about it growing outside its audience. I'm not sure that it's not fitting the desires of young girls quite nicely.

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From:juliet_winters
Date:March 14th, 2013 03:14 am (UTC)
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The old saying when I was a young adult librarian was that girls would read guy books but guys would not read girl books. I think the publishing industry really and truly believes that---but according to other conventional wisdom, most readers are girls, anyway, so it more than balances out. But... science fiction was considered to be basically boy territory and fantasy was for the girls. Mostly.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC)
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There are overlaps, of course. Harry Potter was originally considered very much boys lit (because boys got in fights.) And Hunger Game is by a woman about a girl and beloved of girls...but boys seem to like it, too.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
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>By contrast, my DEMONSOULED series has a male main character, and I suspect the readers are mostly male. No one ever writes to ask about romance in that series.

This made me laugh. So true.

And I am not surprised you found the romance hard to write...I find it hard to write and I've read a great deal of it over the years.

I think you are right about conventional wisdom.
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From:marycatelli
Date:March 14th, 2013 05:25 pm (UTC)
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When I write, my girlfriends will often ask me: ‘what was your character thinking in this scene? You should tell us how she feels about this.’

No guy has ever asked me what my character was feeling.


Orson Scott Card has an entire section in his book on characters and viewpoints about how very important it is for your characters to have attitudes towards things.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 14th, 2013 05:41 pm (UTC)
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He's entirely right.

But I'm not sure attitudes are the same as feelings. I mean emotional reactions to people and events.
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From:natewinchester.wordpress.com
Date:March 17th, 2013 02:46 am (UTC)
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So, you can imagine my surprise when I read that 340-55% of all books sold were romance novels.


Whoa! 340%? That's like... does that mean they're warping space/time to the point that past books are becoming romance novels now? ;)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 17th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
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LOL Of course!

(Er...sorry about that.)
[User Picture]
From:authordjdavis
Date:April 2nd, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Hello,

I'm a guy and recently signed with Red Sage under D.J. Davis. Yay!

If it's well written and has a good story, I'll read anything. But the emotion and feelings have to be in the right places, regardless. It annoys me when characters bog down scenes with long thoughts about things that don't pertain to what they're doing at the time. I love seeing what's in a character's head, in any genre, but it's gotta fall in the right place. Tense action/combat, for example, is not a place to be going on long memory walks about Bob's smooth pectoral muscles and how his hair shimmers in the breeze or Jane's pale breasts and how they felt in the rain last summer. Nor is being tortured, and your people being tortured, a good place to suddenly be thinking about being amorous with your captor. I swear romance men are masochists. ;) Ofttimes, what's really going through a person's head is (first part courtesy of Wash), Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die. How do I keep us from dying? If I get out of this someone's going to pay. Not, wow, if she hadn't knocked out one of my teeth and wasn't trying to tear out my spleen with a spoon and steal my ship right now I'd totally tap that. ;)

But I like to go for balance in my writing. Something I hope will appeal to all. I can dream anyway, I guess. And yes, I like reading sex scenes. It's like word porn for my visual thinker grey mushy. ;)

I feel as though both get just as much wrong in writing the opposite sex. This is why I'm glad I have an awesome wife that can tell me when I'm doing something stupid in the writing. And she loves sci-fi and fantasy romance with badass female protagonists, so I'm lucky, 'cause I love writing them. :D

Edited at 2013-04-02 07:28 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 2nd, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for dropping by! And for your comment. It makes me curious as to whether 'well written' sex scenes are different from masculine and feminine perspective. ;-)
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