Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guy readers and girl readers

I had an interesting conversation, earlier today, with some people on the forum Anglo-Saxon England. We were all discussing a book called Housecarl, whose author, Lawrence Brown, apparently needs an editor --- at least in my opinion. He wrote a sequel called Cold Heart, Cruel Hand, which I tried to read, but gave up on, because it had some glaring historical errors, and some pretty one-dimensional characters(including a rather clownish version of a historical character I'm using in my Invaders trilogy). He enjoyed lots of battle scenes. It seems, like a lot of "guys", he's really "into" historical battles, and will talk endlessly about them. Since Housecarl has a long description of one very famous battle, I guess he enjoyed it. But he also admitted that he doesn't read much fiction. However, one good thing about him is, he's very knowledgeable about some historical things, and he has access to material I just don't. So in that sense, he has an advantage.

However, my feeling is that you don't have to be a "guy" to "get" a well-written battle scene. Any competent writer can probably do this, and it's more importan --- at least for me --- to get into larger issues in historical writing, e.g. how the character or characters react to whatever situation they find themselves in, at least in the context of their times.

But it seems like some "guy" readers aren't all that interested in anything much but action, action, action. And "battle scenes", for these kinds of readers, are a big part of this. Some evolutionary psychology types may claim this is "in the male genes", and maybe, in a way, it is. But while there are a lot of writers of the male persuasion, who write books with "nonstop action", there are others who try to develop their characters a little more deeply. Bernard Cornwell does this, to a certain extent, at least in his Uhtred series, which has a lot of battles, and which, by the way, I quite enjoy. On the other hand, Lawrence Brown doesn't even seem to have bothered; still a lot of readers seemed to enjoy his books --- and it appears to me they were mostly "guys". And maybe they were or are mostly "guys" like my correspondent, who don't normally read a lot of fiction.

Don't misunderstand. I enjoy a good "battle scene", if the plot requires it. And it may seem contradictory for me to say, when I've explained several times why I won't be writing any "literary fiction", that I want at least some "character development". Because genre fiction just isn't very successful if it runs on plot alone, without any character development. Just as literary fiction is(at least to me) excruciatingly boring) if there isn't at least some sort of plot development.

But the trouble with a lot of "guy books" like Lawrence Brown's is, there's too much plot and not enough character. It's as if the writers are in such a hurry to write action, action, action, that they forget that people have personalities; they are not stereotypes. I discussed this problem in some depth in my post "Guy books and gal books", and I won't go into any further detail.

And, to be absolutely fair, I had another discussion, on a historical fiction forum, where I remarked that a lot of (American) romance writers(and romances are the ultimate "girl books"), simply don't pay any attention to, ar do any serious research into their historical settings. And I said that's one reason I don't read romances much any more. One lady on that forum really bristled, I suppose because so many brickbats have been thrown at romances, as well. I don't blame her, really. While it's true that there are some good romance writers out there, most of them (a) don't write historical romance and (b)they still tend to focus almost exclusively on The Relationship. This is just my opinion, but I think romances are only just beginning to "open up" the way, say the mystery genre has(science fiction is still dominated by fantasy, most of it bad, but some of it quite good), with a variety of settings, people, and characters. And that's one of the problems with the romance genre, again IMO. But there are lots of people who love romance novels, and a number of them I "know" who are trying to write them.

I think, still, the problem with "guy" and "girl" books, and "guy" and "girl" readers has to do with perception. Men(at least in the English-speaking world) are "supposed" to like lots of action and adventure, and women are "supposed" to like a lot of love and romance. I think the two sexes actually like both, but probably in somewhat different proportions and with somewhat different emphases -- e.g. most women will probably want more depth about relationships, and most men will still, to some extent, tend to prefer settings with a lot of action, but there's plenty of "crossover" here. Unfortunately, editors and publishers don't seem to have caught up with this, so the publishing houses still churn out "guy books" and "girl books", because they think it will make them money.

And yes, there are (sometime) readers, like the "guy" I was talking to, who just don't read much fiction, and fit this stereotype, just as there are "girs" who read nothing but romances(and have "autobuy" authors). For the record, my only "autobuys" at the present are (a) Ariana Franklin(her medieval mysteries) and (b) Terry Brooks(all his Shannara stuff). None of the other authors really interest me. No, I take it back. I will go out of my way to buy Judson Roberts' Strongbow Saga series, too. He is writing a (sort of) "guy book" for young adults, set in the "Viking era". And it appears he has done his research, and furthermore, his main character has some depth. Some of his other characters probably will, too, if they keep reappearing. The authors at the other extremes? Well, when they write something interesting, I may end up "autobuying".
Anne G


TJ said...

A comment on a small part of your blog: I can see your frustration with romances and their focus on "The Relationship" but that is truly what sets romance apart from other genres (i.e. historical, literary fiction, etc.). As an aspiring romance author, I work diligently to have my facts straight, but again, by the very nature of romance, I have to fudge a little because today's romance readers want a strong heroine - something that isn't always feasible if sticking rigidly to historical accuracy. Thanks for the informative blog!

Anne Gilbert said...


I wouldn't mind the almost exclusive emphasis on "The Relationship" so much if a lot of romance writers weren't so careless with their place, if it's modern, and their setting and situation, if it's historical. I understand that you have to make certain kinds of decisions in order to create strong heroines, but here's a tip: if you look through history, there have always been strong women around. They may have had to fight for what they wanted, or at least a measure of it, and some did. So you actually have a lot of potential material here. And I actually like strong women in a novel.

My biggest objection to historical romances is the way some authors just don't get enough details right, and it shows. But you're right. A lot of readers are like me, they want strong heroines, but unlike me, they don't care about the details. I'm glad you seem to pay more attention than many, and if you have to fudge, well, you're not writing history, you're writing fiction, after all.
Anne G