Saturday, October 14, 2017

Would You Say Panoply?


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Hello from Toronto! With many of the Reds at Bouchercon and Red Julia is running the show from the US.  And today we’re talking about a writing (and reading) element all of us face—whether we’re male or female. Writing (and reading about) the opposite sex.
Jane doesn’t describe things the same way Jake does. Russ and Clare. Gemma and Duncan. All of us who write the opposite sex in our books—which would be, um, all of us—have to explore this minefield. 
Happily, today we have the wonderful Linda Lovely leading the way. And she has a bone to pick (see what we did there?) with writers who don't see the difference. 


Writing Men—When You’re A Woman
Most women know there is a whole panoply of words males don’t tend to use. (Panoply is probably one of them.) Colors are an obvious place to start. My husband would never describe a room’s color as fuchsia or mauve. Nor would he describe a woman’s hair as ginger or chestnut.
Let’s suppose he met a woman friend of mine but couldn’t remember her name. If he tried to describe her, he might tell me she was short or tall, skinny or fat. He might add she had black hair, a big nose, or sizeable knockers. But, as long as she was actually wearing clothes, he would not know (or care) about the details of her outfit. Would he ever mention the brand of a pair of shoes, a purse, or a scarf? Not in a million years.
This is my starting point. If I’m writing dialogue for a man or I’m describing something in his point-of-view, I guard against using colors, brands, and other descriptors I might use if a woman were speaking. Instead I look for the types of details he might notice to communicate subtleties of appearance or class.
That’s the easy part. Listening to what the men I encounter do—and don’t—say in a variety of circumstances. Naturally, male “speak” spans a wide gamut. For example, professors, plumbers, policemen, physicians and pro-football players are bound to have different vocabularies.
The harder part is trying to make sure male characters not only talk like men but think like them.
Or should that be my goal?
 I remember hearing one woman romance author—sorry I don’t remember who—unashamedly boast she wrote characters who reflected what women WISHED their men were like. After all, it’s fiction, why not make your heroes think and act as the bulk of your readers (typically female) dream the ideal male would act and think?
Translated the author might create male characters who display all the admirable qualities women want in heroes—for example, bravery, honesty, and talented lover. However, these traits are also coupled with ones more often linked to the fairer sex—tenderness, empathy, and, most of all, a willingness to verbally share their most intimate feelings and romantic sentiments.
Yes, I know there are men who exhibit the best of yin and yang. I don’t mean to imply men can’t be tender, kind, loving, and empathetic. It’s just that I rarely see them expressing their feelings in the same ways women do. They act. They seldom engage in long monologues about their feelings,
So, let’s suppose you want to make your male characters as realistic as possible, how do you do it?
When I’m writing dialogue, I ask: would my character really say this? Would he use these words? How would he show anger or love, frustration or fear? How would his language change if he were talking with male buddies? With strangers? With a lover, a daughter, a mother? All of us speak differently in private and public settings. The make-up of our audience also has a huge impact on how we express ourselves.
Even with my best efforts, I can easily miss the mark. That’s why I depend on two honest male critique partners to set me straight when I wander off base. In fact, my best advice to women authors is to find males who will read your manuscript and tell you when your men actually sound like women.
While Bones To Pick, my new humorous Brie Hooker Mystery series is “cozy” and doesn’t include even R-rated sex scenes, one of my male critique partners has helped me in the past write better sex scenes for my romantic thrillers. How? He explained in some detail about how circumstances impact the rise and fall of the potential for romantic fulfillment—information only a person with an owner’s manual understands.
If you find a critique partner of the opposite sex, it’s a win-win situation. You can alert him if his female characters fall within a realistic behavior spectrum.
What’s the payoff in attempting to create realistic men—and women—characters? I think it invites readers to more readily suspend disbelief when your characters are thrown into the unusual or dangerous situations that most readers (fortunately) never encounter. 
HANK: SO interesting! Jonathan often reads my pages—but I’ve never asked him: would a man say that? How about you, Reds and readers? Any secrets you’ve discovered about writing the opposite sex?


 Over the past five years, hundreds of mystery/thriller writers have met Linda Lovely   at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. While her new Brie Hooker Mystery series may be “cozy,” she weaves in lots of adrenaline-packed scenes. Hardly a surprise given all the options she’s scoped out at the Writers’ Police Academy. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and advertising copy. She writes a blend of mystery, thrills, and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and also belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She’s the award-winning author of five prior mystery/suspense/thriller novels. To learn more, visit her website: www. LindaLovely.com

FB: @LindaLovelyAuthor
Twitter: @LovelyAuthor


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38 comments:

  1. This is fascinating, Linda. I must admit that I’ve never given this “women writing male characters” any thought . . . I suppose I haven’t noticed any unrealistically-portrayed male characters in the books I’ve read lately . . . .

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    1. Many authors can write dialogue and thoughts for both men and women and make them seem very genuine. In other cases, I don't care because I love the author's writing so much. An example would be Robert B. Parker. Some of his women didn't quite sound like women to me. But the dialogue was so perfect I couldn't complain.

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  2. Linda, welcome! This is fascinating… And much food for thought. And it does open doors into how people think, doesn’t it? Even makes you listen to conversations in a different way. Off to the sisters anCrime breakfast! More to come… …

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    1. Thanks for letting me join you today. Wish I were in Toronto, too, but not this year.

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  3. Interesting! I sometimes notice when a male author writes female dialogue because often it is just a bit off. But, hmm, do I consider male dialogue from a female author? Yes, and often it is exactly right. Or at least how I would do it!

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    1. That's why I like to have male critique partners and Beta readers. Some things can just slip by me.

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  4. Viva la diference!

    Except... if a male character consistently names brands, or uses colorful color names, that can also be a clue to something different about his sexual preference, or his career or background. I know male artists who know the difference between mauve and fuchsia, and male buyers/retailers who know brand names. Designers, both straight and gay, have a different vocabulary than non-creative types.

    Women, too, can have a different lexicon, depending on their jobs, creative bent (or inflexibility), or their own levels of testosterone. However, maybe we shouldn't try so hard to slot people into stereotypes. I can think of any number of women who wouldn't know the color mauve if their lives depended on it, including my own mother, who is a perfectly conventional woman.

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    1. Couldn't agree with you more. What I try to prevent is more accidentally slipping in words or observations that would be inappropriate for that particular male character.

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    2. Very true. I think Linda touches on that when she says different professions, for example, would speak differently. The male/female split is an important baseline; after that, you need to weigh in class, education, region, life experiences, personality, etc.

      The best tip I ever read about dialog was from my writing god, Lawrence Block, who said if dialog is done right, the reader should be able to tell who is speaking without any conversation tags at all. (Ie, "He said, she said."

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    3. Love Lawrence Block and even agree with him. But then there are writers who mistakenly think they are doing just that and go on for pages,leaving the poor reader flipping back and forth!

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  5. Interesting--I once wrote a short story and received the best critique from a young man. My male characters, he informed me, were a complete bunch of wimpy wienies (not in those words), but he was absolutely right. I'd been so busy writing from the female lead's point of view that I hadn't paid enough attention to my male characters--including listening to their dialogue.

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    1. That's why I'm a big believer in critique partners of different ages as well as genders. My younger critique partners also tell me when my word choices are too old-fashioned for a younger character. You can always decide to ignore the critique suggestions if you think your word choices and descriptions advance your story.

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  6. I love that! A male critique partner with an owner's manual to consult. That is great you have someone to consult not only about language but men in general. I should specify someone who will answer your questions without squirming.

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  7. Yes, I'm not telling you which critiquer he is. Don't want to have a run on the fellow.

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  8. I have just joined a plotting group and it does a little bit of critiquing as well. I never thought I'd like it but it has given my work a blast of fresh air. Terrific post, Linda!

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    1. Thanks, Jenn. Good luck with your group.

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  9. Hank is fab moderator per Louise Penny

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    1. Isn't she? It's no wonder - if you could see the rows and rows of Emmy awards on her shelf...

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  10. Very interesting post, Linda! For years I was in a critique group that was pretty evenly divided between men and women, and I do miss that male viewpoint. I do try to be aware of the differences in the way men and women speak AND in the way they think, but it's nice to have an informed opinion.

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    1. Have to say our critique group is also a lot of fun! We laugh a lot.

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    2. I still say you gave Duncan one of my all-time favorite fictional male moments, Deb. It was a simple scene, where he had a quiet moment to himself. He was reflecting on his family, and how much he loved them all; how they enriched his life . . . And then he went into the house and NEVER SAID A WORD ABOUT IT TO ANYONE. Totally a guy thing.

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  11. Linda, like you I have a male critique partner. He's been known to say, "That doesn't sound like a guy." Fortunately, he's also able to offer suggestions for a fix.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Yep, suggested fixes are great. Especially when you have multiple choices.

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  12. Thank you for telling me! That is quite a compliment… And I loved having you be able to deliver it!

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    1. Oops! hit the wrong button! Thank you Ann! So wonderful to see you…

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  13. I resemble this very much. Heck, 5 minutes after I've seen someone, I can't tell you what they were wearing at all. Of course, I know they were wearing clothes. But what those clothes were? I don't know and I don't care. My brain is more concerned with the important things in life, the characters and plot in the book I'm currently reading. :)

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    1. I have to admit. I don't pay much attention to what people are wearing either. So as Julia pointed out there are always exceptions to what the average Joe or Jane might say or notice. In my case, I'm awed by women who can wear stilettos since I'd fall flat on my face. But I'd never know what brand they were.

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    2. I can't even wear men's dress shoes without my legs killing me. (Literally. I have to wear running shoes at work). I am in awe of women who wear heels period.

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  14. Hello to Linda. Interesting like someone above I am more sensitive to men writing women than the other. I think author's have a flexible mind that allows other voices to become authentic as they write. After all, dialogue does reveal character sometimes even more than character description. I wonder if women who used male pseudonyms were exposed because the plotting or dialogue did not match a male mindset.

    On a personal note, I am back from Seattle, missed y'all. Now catching up on your conversations. Have fun in Toronto oh fortunate ones. Hope to see you in Clearwater in 2018.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. Wish I could have made it to Toronto, too.

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  15. I have always held authors in awe, that they have so many elements to get right for a story to work. And, it seems that the list of elements they must "get right" or worry with is added to my list of awe once again. I have an analogy that just popped in my mind. I had many problems getting pregnant, and during that time I learned just how many things had to click just right to produce a successful pregnancy. People too often think getting pregnant is a simple matter of, well, deciding to. Oh, the many functions that have to go right to get these sweet bundles of joy. And, the sweet bundles of stories have so many boxes to check for success. My head hurts thinking about all of those elements. So, all the Reds' authors and Linda and all the other favorite authors I read, kudos to you for achieving so many successful births!

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  16. Having never had children, I can't compare pregnancy to birthing a story--and, of course, a human bundle of joy is a lot more precious than any words. However, I do agree that there are a ton of boxes to check and the ones you get right on one story may be the hardest to check on the next.

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  17. I'm in awe of all writers. And I never stop to consider your gender nor the gender of your characters. You must be doing it right.

    Damn I'm easy

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    1. Hey, if the story's compelling, all else is forgiven.

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    2. Perhaps, but I accept the author's characterization. It may get not be my experience but there are so many variations on the gender theme that who's to say what is right or wrong. Just relax and tell me a story!

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  18. This is a particularly interesting blog for me. At times I've written short stories from a male perspective and have my husband read them over before sending them out. I always use initials for this work. My new novella now available for pre-order THE BURNING had a female editor. But I had my husband and one of my sons read it as well for input. One thing I will say is that here again I use initials "J.P." instead of Jacqueline. Men are often more comfortable reading work that is perceived as written by a male if the viewpoint is masculine.

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    1. I agree that some men just assume that they'll like books written by men more than books written by women. Women don't seem as inclined to share this bias. Too bad. The men miss out on a lot of terrific books.

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