This morning, I went to Caleb’s school for a Writers’ Hot-Chocolate House (a coffee house for the under-eleven set.) A group of the kids had gone to the museum to participate in a writing contest where they penned a poem or story inspired by one of the pieces of art. The teacher ran the readings beatnik-style: The lighting was low, the writers sat on a stool, and we snapped our appeciation.
With a few exceptions, the boys in the class seemed to focus on plot (a robot’s head was punched off, a sumo wrestler ate some art, a stone that could blow up the world was revealed). The girls? All up in character and motivation. (But WHY were you murdered?)
Which is pretty much the gender stereotype of adult writers, too. Even setting aside the obvious spy thriller/ chick lit divide, there’s this idea out there that women writers create memorable characters and men writers create ground-breaking changes to the form. Me, I’ve mostly been of the opinion that book publishing is a weird enough creature that gender is a minor factor in whether a book is successful or not.
And yet. I’ve been thinking about character a lot. I’m better at it than plot (I say, as I’m plotting this thing I’m writing within an inch of its life). Maybe it’s the hot chocolate talking, but after this morning, I’m just a teensy bit more open to the idea that if women are better at character (a big generalization, granted) and character is less valued than form (another big generalization), then women writers might have a harder row to hoe than men writers.
Last night I was reading Bitch magazine, and there was a discussion of an article they ran on ambition. “[I]t’s harder for women to have a strong, colorful persona without appearing like a hobo,” one commenter wrote. “The range of acceptable personalities is still wider for men.” Not everyone agreed, but still.
There is a class of literature, no matter how widely acclaimed, I won’t read. It’s the tale of the older guy who, fearing his mortality, has an affair with a younger woman. I know this story. It’s called About Half the Dads of People I Know, and there are no surprises in it. But other than that, I’m pretty much open to characters of all sorts. No matter who’s writing a book, I do like a strong character. It can compensate, in my mind, for a weaker plot in a way that a strong plot can’t compensate for a squishy character.
Am I being such a girl for thinking this way? Or is my own bias—that I’m better at character than I am plot, that I’m a lady writer and reader, that I don’t think I have many biases against strong female personalities—showing through?
I don’t know the answer. But this whole strong personality thing might explain some of the reviews of Practically Perfect. There are definitely positive ones (for which I’m very grateful), but I’m always taken off guard by the negative ones that aren’t criticisms of the book but of me. One called me an “irritating personality.” Another claimed that if she knew me in real life, she wouldn’t want to spend much time with me. (Aw, please?) And the local daily may or may not have equated me with Paris Hilton (the book review writing was unclear).
Or maybe it doesn’t explain anything at all. I haven’t set up a Google alert for, say, A.J. Jacobs so I don’t know if his personality gets enmeshed in his reviews.
Thoughts, questions, concerns? What do you think?