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.