Before I start, I need to say something first–I’m not going to post links to support everything I’m posting. This is the accumulation of years of reading behavioral articles and observations from throughout my life. Anyone can use google-fu to research the same information I’ve acquired over the years.
With that out of the way, I’ve had something on my mind for a while that has finally materialized into a whole. Granted, there are still some pieces missing, but the overall idea is there to evaluate.
I read a post this morning on The Passive Voice blog that brought everything together. (If you don’t read this blog and are a writer, start reading today. You’ll be glad you started.) Specifically, it sparked the gender differences idea that I’ve been sorting through in terms of story content that appeals to readers. Beware of one caveat to what I’m about to explain–there are exceptions to every “rule”. Okay, that’s said. Sear that into your brain.
While I was doing home daycare (licensed in my state), I had the chance to observe children early in life. As they grew, there came a point where, even though boys and girls played together, their style of play varied. I don’t mean trucks and dolls type different. I mean, imagination different. Science has confirmed what I observed. (I love science, which is probably why I prefer reading and writing science fiction.) What I observed is that around the ages of 3-4, as children gained experience, communication skills, and understood cooperation, big changes occurred. While the girls would make up storylines and situations and pretend the objects were there or substituted on object for another (say a toy block for an airplane or a tree), the boys imagined the toy as more of a model of something larger like it. They tended to be more grounded with an object where the girls didn’t need anything. They were more physical or tangible in the type of play than the completely imaginary or representative play the girls engaged it. It was harder for the boys to engage with the girls in the girls type of play, unless they had actual dolls or props, but the girls had no problem switching around…except they wanted to change what the boys were doing.
Now, this is only from a small group of children, so by no means is it a basis for all people. But science has shown that women tend to be more language proficient (imaginary, intangible) and men more math/science proficient (visual, spatial, logical). That doesn’t mean the two don’t cross. By all means, they are very inclusive. Just because the norm is for one group to be proficient in one aspect doesn’t mean that they don’t also have skills in the other. It simply means that they are typically stronger in one area than another. I’m a woman and love science for its solid reasoning of how things work (a problem solver) but I love writing. I love living in my imagination. And there is a logic to words, but words have connotations and denotations. Women tend to be more sensitive to the various possibilities of the meanings of words and phrases.
Remember, there are exceptions to every “rule”. And I by no means am a practicing psychologist. I just love finding connections and trying to figure out how things work. I tend to be a logical person, and I’ll write more about that to come.
What all this leads to is my observations on what makes writers tick and eventually to what strikes a chord with readers. Everyone is looking for that magic formula that will get them on bestseller lists. I don’t have the answer, but I believe that in studying the basics, one can get closer to understanding the basics. (I’m still going to write what I like, which may or may not have the elements that attract readers in droves, but I can at least use some of what I’ve learned to improve my storylines.)
I write science fiction and fantasy with more action and logical connections in the storylines. Not a typical feminine style. Who are the primary readers of SFF? Men. Why? In my observations–action, logic, and puzzles to solve. I love the fantastical settings, which require thinking about how things connect.
Romance, on the other hand is centered on drama and emotions. Women, in my observations (please don’t hang me on this) tend to prefer emotional connections rather than logical connections. Pick up any romance novel or paranormal romance and what is the focus of the story? Emotions. Drama triggers strong emotions. Women want to feel connected to the emotions of the story, not necessarily the logic of whether something is right or wrong. They simply want the strong emotional lure.
Who are the biggest consumers of books? Women. Is it any wonder that romance is such a HUGE genre? And this goes alone with what I noted above–women seem to more easily dive into imagination than men.
Now, remember there are exceptions to every rule. I’m one of them. I’m a woman but need a puzzle to solve and action not drama. I also need action in my own life along with the emotional connection; hence my equestrian activities. I need an emotional connection to the characters but they better be doing something more that creating drama in their lives. There better be a bigger purpose to their lives than sleeping with and keeping whoever gets their hormones fired up.
I’m not the only woman who feels this way, or women wouldn’t be reading and writing thrillers and science fiction and fantasy. I think you’ll observe, however, that women more naturally incorporate relationships and feelings into their writing than men. This was also observed by Michael A. Stackpole. When my husband and I attended GenCon several years ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend several of his sessions. He noted this observation, that an emotional connection, even going so far as sexual tension, is a far stronger lure to readers than many other aspects of a good story. He even admitted it was more difficult for men to incorporate into their writing than for women, who come by it more naturally.
A friend and I were discussing this subject a while ago. She writes romance and has a more difficult time trying to write SF, while I’m the opposite. We both noted that romance doesn’t have much going on as far as external setting and action, while SF is much stronger in setting and action. She noticed, and I’ve read reviews of my work commenting on, that even in my attempts for romance, my worldbuilding is a very prominent aspect of my writing, which is not typical in romance. I’m glad I attempted to write stories more character-centered; pushing past one’s comfort zone is always a good practice in expanding one’s talents. It has improved my writing. However, I will always be more focused on the worldbuilding and events outside the characters.
This is all just a wordy way to say that, for the typical majority, men prefer action and logical storylines while women prefer emotional attachments and rollercoaster rides. To have a mass appeal, a writer must consider what the majority mindset is and add the other elements that make that story appealing. There are formulas that work in each genre, whether SFF, thrillers, romance, or young adult, but a story doesn’t need to be a bestseller to be good.
More than ever, there is the blending of both worlds. This a great age to be a reader and a writer.