Sunday, September 5, 2010

No, boys are NOT just girls with a few anatomical differences

Because my debut novel is a first person coming of age and YA romance written entirely from the male's POV, I am sometimes asked what the differences are in writing with a male vs female protagonist. To  me this goes farther. I wanted not just to write from the guy's point of view, but to be realistic enough to attract male readers while not turning away female readers. Actions, activities and motivations that attract and even captivate a young female reader can completely turn off a young male, making the effort a delicate tight-rope.

First, I had to keep in mind that boys are not just girls. Not even when you take the obvious anatomical differences into consideration. The medical and phsycological experts I spoke to during the research phase of writing PULL left me convinced. Evolution has wired guys differently.  Show don't tell is slightly different when trying to reach a male who is primarily sight-oriented. I was told again and again my young male would not care about differences in smells or textures - and if he even noticed them the male reader would consider him a wimp and lose interest. On the other hand, the female reader would want to know that different perfumes or fashions would effect him. They do--the fashions at least--depending on exactly how much of her they show.  Meaning I had to be careful not to turn the girls off by revealing what guys are REALLY thinking. Girls are still the majority readers and I did not want to risk alienating them in my quest for reality.

I originally intended PULL to be traditional third person with alternating POV's between the hero and heroine. I think the struggle to do the male POV is what changed that decision. It was easier to actually become him doing first person. And suddenly I decided it was important to stay him, and to let readers of both genders see the heroine and her arc through his eyes.

I also had to keep an eye on the basic rules of writing for young adults. Their books need tight writing and strong hooks. The plural is deliberate. You have to hook a younger reader and then hook them again and again. If you want to write for young adult male readers the task is even harder. The hooks have to be stronger and more plentiful, filled with enough tension and action to keep those pages turning.

At a recent conference I heard an editor say that “readers are rude.” This was not meant in a bad way. She was stressing that a reader can, and frequently will, put down our books and never pick them up again. If the pace slows, or characterization isn’t strong, or activity fails to move the story forward, or the action is motiveless or the motive is confusing, or any of a dozen other reasons, a reader will drop you. Especially a young adult reader.

In a way writing for young adults is more difficult than writing for adults. YA’s are less tolerant of pacing and characterization issues and they catch on faster if we’re pretending to understand their world. We aren’t writing down to kids, we have to write as if we were kids. And we have to remember the fast pace of our competitors, the other things that draw on their time and attention. And we have to supply them with a steady stream of “good parts” to keep a reader engaged. Adults may have learned patience and be willing to live with delayed gratification. Our tween and teen readers are likely to demand that ALL parts be good parts.

To complicate things, a young male and young female definitions for good parts may overlap, but will not be identical. As middle graders, both genders have similar likes and dislikes. But as they hit adolescence and beyond, that changes. Fortunately there is still some overlap

Next: What I did to make PULL good for both genders

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