Does my gender affect my writing?
I think the answer has to be yes, with the qualifier that all different aspects of who I am influence my writing. I’m a mother, an engineer, and a rabid fan of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Does this impact my writing? Yes. I’m a wife, an elected official, and a sucker for deep philosophical issues. Does this impact my writing? Yes.
This great article in Writer’s Digest goes one step further and talks about how men and women write differently. Women tend to write softer, more soothing prose, and [approach stories] from an emotional standpoint. Men tend to write more action, more muscular prose, and tackle stories that “get the job done.”
[I struggled (there it is again) to come up with a softer verb (approach) for this sentence, whereas tackle just rolled off my fingertips. I think I write like a boy.]
These are of course generalizations and don’t apply to every male and female writer.
But we also write what we like to read, so if you want to appeal to both male and female readers, it’s good to understand the differences and apply them critically to your work. I also think understanding this issue is important to writing realistic male and female characters.
One thing I noticed about The Hunger Games was that while Katniss was a girl, she thought and acted like a boy. This is completely believable because her family was dependent on her to “get the job done,” and that facet of her character is part of what allowed her to be the hero(ine) of the story. Part of what made her “think like a boy” was that she rarely considered (at least directly) her feelings about an issue, but rather described the consequences.
An example* of this is when soft-hearted Peeta (a boy) mocks her inability to recognize her own feelings. After Katniss relays a story of conniving to acquire a goat for her younger sister, who adores animals and whose life she saved by volunteering for The Games, he says, “I can see why that day made you happy.” She replies, “Well, I knew that goat would be a little gold mine.” He drily responds, “Yes, of course I was referring to that, not the lasting joy you gave the sister you love so much you took her place in the reaping.” I think this austerity, or perhaps lack of awareness, of feelings (and a whole lot of flying arrows and mayhem) made the story attractive to male readers as well as female readers.
This doesn’t mean that male characters can’t feel plenty of emotion. I like the way Holly Black portrays Cassel, the teen male lead character in White Cat, as having plenty of emotions, but describing them as consequences. When Cassel is stuck on a roof, in danger of slipping and falling off, he doesn’t think this scares the heck out of me or I’ve never been so scared in my life. He thinks, I need to find a way down, preferably one that doesn’t involve dying, while the shaking in his hands makes it tough to keep his grip. You feel the emotion, but it’s action focused, giving it appeal for both boys and girls. This is also simply good SHOW not TELL storytelling.
Evermore is an example of the extreme opposite of this – not only do we know the thoughts of the lead female protagonist, but because she’s psychic, we know the thoughts of everyone around her as well. This leads to a lot of phrases like touch is too revealing, too exhausting and everything was pain, and misery, and stinging wet hurt on my forehead. Even if male readers made it past the cover (unlikely) they wouldn’t last through the first chapter. However, gauging by the popularity of Alyson Noel’s books, female readers are slurping it up.
(it’s important to note the covers here as well – although White Cat has a boy on the cover, he’s fully clothed – down to gloves, which are important in the story – and he’s holding a cat. That’s a cover that both boys and girls can carry. Likewise with Hunger Games, a truly gender-neutral cover. The Evermore cover targets its female audience with a female face and flowers.)
The above examples are taken from young adult lit, mainly because all the breakout middle grade books are written in a way that appeals to both sexes (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket), or are slightly more boy-centric in their writing style (Artemis Fowl, Leviathan). I’ve heard publishers say that girls will read boy-lit but boys will not read girl-lit, but I think this only happens in the extremes of these categories. And girls are as unlikely to enjoy extreme-boy-lit, as boys are to read extreme-girl-lit.
There’s nothing wrong with writing stories that speak directly to the heart of a boy or girl (or man or woman). And stories that target only one gender can get away with using language that only appeals to that gender. But I would love to see more stories for children that appeal to and are accessible to both genders. Stories that have action, but aren’t a barren landscape devoid of emotion. Stories that speak to our hearts, but doesn’t mire us in a lot of navel-gazing introspection. And stories that use language in a way that doesn’t exclude half the children of the world.
The first step is understanding how writing is affected by gender; the second step is intentionally using it in your work as a writer.
Do you think your gender affects your writing? And if so, how?
*I remembered this scene and used the search function on my Nook to find it again. Which kinda rocked.