Monday, January 17, 2011

In Which We Discuss POV And Gender Language

If you remember, last week we had some fun discussions regarding critiques, and I gave a few examples of what my critiquer "Jane" said to me that got me all riled up.

She actually said quite a lot of stuff, but here were some things that left me confused and then concerned.






So, I have some questions for all y'all

1. Does the gender of the MC designate the gender of the audience in YA?

Specifically, my novel is from Pier's POV. Pier is a 16 year old boy. Critiquer "Jane" at one point said "since you main character is a boy, your novel is targeted at boys."

Is this true? Because I didn't write it with boys particularly in mind. Not necessarily girls either, but it's probably slanted that way a bit. If I was aiming only at boys, I would have had less kissing, angst and more action.

I know there's a school of thought that young boys won't read books with female MCs, but that's a different issue she brought up here, which is, since my MC is a boy, I should write the book so it's targeted at boys.

2. Do specific words have Gender correlations?

This is related to the last question. Because, as she said, my book is "targeted at boys" I needed to use less feminine language. Examples she listed were:

Sauntered (which she said, in her opinion, reminded her of girls and runway models)

Lacerations (which she stated was feminine language and also too advanced for the 12-15 aged boys who my book is "targeted at")

Two of the characters (Lani and Nemmy) have names that end in "ee" sounds. She said "ee" sounds are kind of girly (and again, this is an issue for her because she feels the books is targeted at young boys)


So these things made me wonder. I used laceration because Pier and his younger sister spend a lot of time at a friend's house, who's dad is a vet. They would use the word laceration and know what it means.
And saunter, well as far as I ever knew, just refers to a leisurely walk.
The "ee" names are nicknames for both the characters. In high school, almost all my friends had nicknames, they often ended in "ee" sounds, and the guys as well as the girls in the clique used them.

Again, I didn't want to just toss out the whole crit because she her crits actually helped me figure out how to increase the pace in the first three chapters which I needed and had other good comments.

I just want to make sure that I'm not making a huge mistake and having a male MC appeal to female YA readers as well. And if I should go through and examine pretty much every word.

Thoughts?

33 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: MC should target sex of reader

I seriously doubt that. The story is the thing. While we as readers might be drawn to one sex over the other as MC, that doesn't mean the reader will ignore a good premise because it's not the sex we prefer.


Ref: language

Again it depends on the story. An 18th century duke might saunter. A kid could saunter, but would the narrator use that word? That depends on the kid--and the story.

Lacerations: This makes total sense to me. There is no reason any kid couldn't use this word. I'm always surprised at the vocabulary of my littlest nieces and nephews. They pick up words fast. I imagine an older child is even faster.

EE sounding names: If this is what the kids grow up using, then what's the beef? We tend to hybridize the names of our friends anyway.

On the other hand, you need to be careful not to use it too often only because it might confuse the reader with similar sounding names.

My advice is to listen to your gut.

Summer Frey said...

I agree with Maria.

For me, saunter connotes a sort of dandy walk, but it's not really girly-language. No language, in my mind, is male or female--that's the beauty of English, right?

I'm offended that she didn't think a 12-15 year old wouldn't know the word lacerations. Um, ever heard of a dictionary? Ever heard of book are how we LEARN? Also, I knew that word at age 12.

EE-names...Bobby? Jamie? Charlie? Donny? Jeffrey? Henry? All EE-names, all guy names. That's just preposterous, in my opinion. But like Maria said, shouldn't have too many names that are similar in sound.

Finally, I have a hard time believing a girl wouldn't read a YA book with a boy MC. Vice versa, maybe, but we ladies are pretty broad spectrum readers.

Lola Sharp said...

I agree with Maria and Summer...every word.

BUT, I will say, that critique was very thorough...she put a lot of time and thought to a lot of details most don't take the time to do. I appreciate the time and thought she took for your WiP.

Get more critiques to compare feedback. And, as Maria said, go with your gut.

Dominique said...

It is my understanding that a Male MC will have more Male Readers than a book with a Female MC. However, Female Readers are also known for being more willing to do gender crossover with MCs than Male Readers. So, no, your book is not definitely targeted to guys.

Also, I see nothing overly feminine about the word laceration. Also, I think the "ee" in the name thing's a bit weird. Sounds a bit hokus-pokus to me.

I think there are some "Male" and "Female" sorts of descriptions, but what you've said in the post seems okay. If you've got your MC's voice, you might have already nailed it.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Maria - thanks. I was really surprised by the whole laceration bit since it was the first time someone had ever mentioned "femenin language" to me and i was worried i may be missing out on something

Summer - that is a damn good point about all those boy names. I didn't even think about that until now. And Lani and Nemmy (who sometimes is even shortened more to Nem) are the only 'ee' sounding names except for maybe a dolphin

Lola - this was actually over three separate critiques so it looks like a lot, but you are completely correct. The things she helped me with were right on and i really appreciated, which is why i was concerned about some of these things. She had a track record of being spot on, and way off, and i was just confused about some of this gray area stuff

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Dominique - thanks. I was really worried about the POV gender since my YA reading is not yet as comprehensive as i would like

Anne said...

OT: i like that you added a video game thing on your side bar

Mac said...

Dominique summarized my opinion perfectly. . . .

aspiring_x said...

a bunch of the same here...

saunter makes me think of a cowboy headed for a showdown- not feminine at all to me

laceration feels clinical- medical- professional- intelligent... i have no idea why that would limit it down to female

EE names... well, then my son Sammy is in trouble...

your other commenters have said pretty much all i have to say about readership- for examples see percy jackson, harry potter, the replacement, break, and i'm sure many more...

Hannah Kincade said...

I'm extremely unoriginal and agree with the first three comments.

That's actually one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. LOL!

Always remember, you don't have to take 100% of the critique...especially the crappy parts. ;P

Tony Benson said...

A recent critique of some of my work raised some interesting issues that were not gender related but with which I didn't agree. The test for me was a simple one. For each of the comments I didn't agree with I put it to the test: I made the best change I could to fix it and then I read it back. If it changed the flow or feel of the writing in a way I didn't like then I tossed the change and if I preferred the result I kept it.

Sometimes a critique comment can be technically correct, but fixing it would spoil the feel of the writing. In my experience it's best to go with your instincts on that. I'm not saying that the comments you're referring to are somehow correct, but that your instincts and judgement are important too.

Margo Benson said...

I also agree with lots of the above. I read loads of books with a male MC and I'm very girly - crumbs! I'd miss out of most of my favourite Whodunnits (Poirot?)

I believe anyone can saunter, from bodices and bustles in a park, to a playboy in a nightclub.

Laceration is a terrific word and if it's new to the target audience, well they can look it up and learn it - isn't that how most of us learn vocabulary?

To help with the gender thing, maybe you could give an excerpt of your piece to some young adults, male and female and see what they think.
Wishing you all the best with it.

Emily White said...

I've read a lot of books with a male MC. I don't think there's an issue there at all.

As far as sauntering goes, that can be attributed to either guys or girls.

And I realize I'm echoing everyone ahead of me, but it's always nice to get as many like-minded opinions as possible. :)

Teebore said...

I read very little YA, so I can't speak to any of this from any position of authority or experience, but I can say that none of those critiques would have ever occurred to me.

I mean, I noted a few word choices here and there throughout your story, but nothing like "your MC is a boy and thus boys read this and thus this word is inappropriate", but more would this character know that word kind of stuff.

I mean, saunter=runway models? Maybe for that reader, but that's about as far removed from the definition of the word as you can get. Runway models do not saunter.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some words are very genre specific and some more masculine than others.
As far as the point of view, just as many women have read my book, which is entirely from a man's perspective. I think it matters less for women than it does for men.

Matthew Rush said...

Most of that sounds like BS to me. No offense Jane. The one thing I do agree with is that sauntering is not a very masculine word or action. If someone claimed I was sauntering I would have to punch them in the face, because I'm studly like that.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Anne - yesterday? Saturday? Some day this weekend

Mac - the first three comments were indeed quite badass

aspiring - thanks! That's how i think of saunter as well, and in this case i used it to refer to a bully walking away after a fight.

Hannah - well the stuff that i new was BS i could just throw out, but this stuff actually made me wonder if i was wrong in my understanding of a few things

Tony - thanks. I should probably just stick to my instincts more, but since writing YA is a bit new for me, i just get worried sometimes

Holly Ruggiero said...

1. No and there are tons of articles and forums threads that agree with me.
2. Uh, laceration is medical terminology. What’s feminine about that? Yes, a vets kid would use that term. I’ve read grown-up books written by men with male MC that use the would saunter – oopise was I not suppose to read that book?

Okay, your crit person has officially riled me up!

Linda Leszczuk said...

I don't read a lot of YA but I have a YA reader in the family and he does not limit himself to books with male MCs.

Re the specific words, I don't think the issue is as much with gender as age. Males definitely saunter. I think goes with their 'macho cool'. But whether the narrator would choose that word depends a lot on his age. I have no problen with using laceration, assuming the story is set in current time. Any kid who watches crime drama would be familiar with similar terminology.

storytreasury said...

Personally, I don't think a male MC means the book is aimed at boys. Though I have teacher who once said that male characters are more gender neutral, since girls (grown and otherwise) are as likely to read books with male MCs as books with female MCs. She believed boys(grown and otherwise) were less likely to read books with female MCs.

Not sure about saunter - I've always thought it was a sexy, causal and confident walk.

Hart Johnson said...

1) GIRLS are not as picky as boys. They will read MCs of either gender. BOYS won't. I have a bookstore working friend who said Hunger Games is the first time she's seen huge crossover of boys reading a female MC. (but i think with a male MC you are safe)

Saunter DOES seem a little like a female assessment (boys DO IT--if it is narrator describing, I think you are okay, if MC is using, maybe not)... and lacerate doesn't seem gendered, but it DOES seem mature (though hanging out with that vet TOTALLY explains it, as it is a preferred medical term for a cut.)

I have been editing my 15-Y-O ghost from the 50s and find a LOT of this 'language choice'--I changed from 3rd to 1st person and words that were FINE with me telling her story no longer work with her telling it. I have to be simpler, younger...

Your NAMES remind me of Island names (Hawaiian letters and such) which is consistent to me with your sea tale.

I would maybe find a male reader or two if you are concerned about your MCs voice being too female.

Mary Vaughn said...

I really don't think girls care if the MC is male or female. Boys are more apt to choose a male.
12-15 r. old boys are much brighter than "Jane" realizes. If they find facts and vocabulary challenging they can be quite clever about discerning the meanings.
Keep "Jane" she's talented but you should add a male and a female of the age you target. Most high school can put you in touch with Advanced English students who would love to do this sort of thing.

Colene Murphy said...

Okay, I seriously think you got the perfect answers (I read Marias and Summers and they said it best. Then skimmed the rest and it seems to be all just what I was going to say) So I won't repeat myself. But just congratulate you on getting your answers! ;)

Kelly Dexter said...

I really disagree with the notion that the gender of the MC designates the gender of your target audience. I hate to pull out the Big Guns, but if that were true, Harry Potter would only be half the success it's proved to be. Story is what matters, and that's what will entice readers.

In regards to specific words have gender correlations, I think it depends on the character. Each character has their own mannerisms and eccentricities, and those -not gender- are what dictate their descriptors.

Nicole MacDonald said...

No the gender of the MC doesn't matter (The Belgarid series by David Eddings is a good example). Your explanation for lacerations is fine and works. The name Lani does sound feminine to me but in context could work fine :)

If it's any consolation I had a critiquer tell me I couldn't use centaurs cause they are in Narnia... it's amazing what some people think when you ASK them to think about it. Theres a good chance it would never have occured to them otherwise ;p

If you'd like a speedy critique I'd be happy to give it a shot :)

The Arrival, on Amazon NOW!
www.damselinadirtydress.com

yokohamamama said...

Does the gender of the MC matter? *cough* Harry Potter *cough*...I should think not!

yokohamamama said...

Sorry for the double comment--but... don't use the word "laceration"? J.K. Rowling made jokes in Latin, for crying out loud--she did *not* talk down in any way to her intended audience. And they loved it--ate it up in fact, and asked for more.

Use whatever "big" words you want--kids will appreciate that you think they're smart enough to understand. If I may say so, really good YA fiction doesn't dumb down for it's audience (or, at least, not much). There's a difference, I think, between fiction whose main characters are YA, and in which said characters are in situations that young adults commonly are in... and dumbing down your grammar and vocabulary because you think your readers won't understand.

My point: go right ahead and *use* 'lacerated'--most of your boy readers will probably know that word, because they've lacerated some part of their bodies (knee, eyebrow--I speak from experience here;-)) at some point in their young lives!

Anne Gallagher said...

I'm way late to this post Sarah but I thought I'd jump in.

You say most of her crit was spot on, and you agree with her and appreciate her help.

And the other stuff just made you go -- huh?

So there you go. Keep the stuff you like and throw away every thing else. Listen to your gut. It's when you start to second guess your gut, that's when you get into trouble. It spirals out of control and well, it's not pretty.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Margo - that is a very good idea. Now to find some young adults who like to read...

Emily - it definitely is. If i just wanted one or two opinions, i would have stuck with my CPs opinions only

Teebore - indeed. I mean, don't they strut? That's the way i always look at it

Alex - that is very true. I think, in general, women and girls will read anything, whereas boys typically lean towards male MCs

Matthew - see, but i even looked up sauntering on the off chance that my understanding of the nuance of the word was off and pretty much every dictionary classified it as "to walk in a casual manner; stroll" and i just don't see how that's related only to women

Holly - LOL thanks. Yeah i was pretty riled up too. But then, as usual, my anger fades to concern. Hence, this post

Linda - that is very good to know, thanks. Also, you just gave me a brilliant idea on showing an instance where the vet would use the word before the narrator does. Epic Win. Thanks!

Story - that's what i was going for, a casual walk. I wanted to show the bully wasn't worried about walking away. Also, the whole gender neutral things is what i had always understood too. Glad i'm not the only one

Hart - good thing one of my CPs is a guy, that always helps. And yeah, the saunter wasn't in dialogue, it was in narrative description. I agree that it would be a weird word choice if the MC had stated someone was sauntering or tevs.

Mary - ooh, good point. I'm sure i still have an "in" with my high school english teacher.

Colene - LOL thanks! And the comments have been great on this post! They've really helped a lot

Kelly - thanks so much! I totally agree with you, i just got worried that maybe i was wrong or had missed something in writing 101

Nicole - ooh i might hit you up on that. And LMAO on the centaur thing, that's just too funny

Yokohama - see, that's what i thought too! I mean, 90% of my vocabulary came purely from reading

Anne - yeah, you're totally right. I let her get under my skin and reach the less confident, gooey core, which just brought about doubts. I just need to trust my instincts more

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...
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Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patti said...

I'm late to the discussion as well. I don't think MC determines the reader. I know lots of boys who read girl POV. Although writing a boy POV might encourage more boys to pick it up.

I liked Anne's comment about taking what you agree with and disregarding the rest.

Nate Wilson said...

Others have already made all my arguments, so instead I'll simply give my assessment of your critiquer by channeling Dan Aykroyd:

Jane, you ignorant slut.

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