Boys and Girls in Fiction

Last night, I had an interesting discussion with hubby about the difficulties of writing a character of the opposite gender. My thoughts on this were pretty clear, as I had, while in hospital, DNF’d Touch of Power for having bizarre characterisation and dialogue. None of the characters were believably anything but young girls. Even the main character, who was stated to be twenty and female, never seemed any older than sixteen.

This kind of thing is almost always due to dialogue/speech. Both the problems of sounding the wrong age, and the wrong gender. It simply isn’t enough to have a male character professed to be male and have him mention a wife and child. If he talks like a teenage girl, he doesn’t sound like an adult male.

But the way a character talks is just one aspect of this issue. If it’s a viewpoint character, then that aspect bleeds into the narrative. Anywho, the other major factor is what the character does, and how.

Men and women, boys and girls–they are not the same. I wish people would get over this and stop pretending that they are or that they have to be.

We talked about some of the ways that one can write them differently and believably. There are a couple of… not “watchwords”, per se, but a similar concept. Since I wanted to talk about something else related, I’ll just bullet a couple things. I’ll use “boys” and “girls” rather than their older counterparts, as this stuff is most prevalent in YA fiction.

This is all subjective. But still.

  • Girls are detail-orientated. A girl is more likely to describe something, especially in detail. A boy is more likely to simply point out a feature.
  • Embarrassment. Girls externalise, focusing on how others perceive them in their humiliation. Boys internalise, instead focusing on their perception of their humiliation, with only a few external elements seen as important.
  • Girls use more words to express themselves. They meander and include tangential information. Girls dawdle in their speech much more than boys do. Ums, ahs, and other dross of language are more commonly indulged in by girls.
  • Boys do not use “cute” language. Words like tummy, adorable don’t really enter in.
  • They argue very, very differently. A boy is more likely to use facts to win an argument, in a straightforward fashion, while a girl is more likely to use emotional observations. Girls are also much more inclined to employ manipulation.

I could go on, but these were some of the things that struck me in Touch of Power. The male characters, of which there were many in the main cast, spoke and behaved like girls. Most particularly that last point.

In the book, these “men” take the main female character, Avry, away from prison and a death sentence with the intention of having her heal their friend, a prince. Two important factors: doing so will kill her, and this prince is someone whom she knows to be villainous.

That last point is up for debate, and I could never quite manage to care, as it tended to come off as confusing, thanks to the behaviour I’m going to elaborate upon.

Whenever she argues the prince’s villainy, she cites specific incidents. Each citation is met with a rather clumsy explanation for the incident that would presumably exonerate the prince of either malice or responsibility. This could be a boy’s argument, but the way they do it is too unsure. Too slippery and lacking in conviction. As though, rather than explaining to her that she has bad information, they are trying to convince her that she’s wrong.

That’s a girl’s argument.

The other method employed–by all of them, which is just uncomfortable and weird–is to tell her stories of how wonderful their friend is, and the like. Manipulation. There was no straightforward behaviour, not even in displays of stubbornness.

So, to return to my point about this behaviour confusing this issue… The reason is this: Both parties are delivering information to the reader in the manner of hearsay. Both lose credibility, as neither account is more reliable to the reader than the other. The argument begins and remains at a frustrating standstill–the characters are all immobile in their beliefs, and the reader is ill-equipped to choose a side.

Another problem with this book was that the boys all acted like the same girl. I had wondered if the problem might have been ameliorated by varying their personalities more, but this was very clearly attempted. It just wasn’t successful.


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