Gender: how does it affect your reading?

I just wrote a review for The Gods are Bastards, and I've recently reviewed Anathema. So I had been thinking about gender a bit. I was thinking that the difference between great writing, and anything lesser is your ability to balance everything. In the serials I mentioned (And I'm really sorry, I'm not trying to throw you under a bus) the gender of the writers, their opinions, and views of people too heavily weigh on the story in my opinion.

I began to think of writing that I enjoyed the most, Harry Potter, A hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, Shogun, A tale of Ice and Fire.

Despite knowing the author's sex none of that bleeds through in their writing, and that enriches the story for me. Many of those authors write both male and female characters in a way that doesn't giver you an inclination they are either sex.

My point being how does gender effect your reading, do you especially notice a writers sex at some points, does it not matter?

I ask because one of my own main characters is a female, I haven't gotten far in my own work yet. But before I go these opinions could help me quite a bit.

*Note: Discussing negative reviews is a bad idea.

I'm going to interpret your question as - how much does the author's personality bleeds through? In my experience, you can usually tell with some certainty what the author is like. But that's with less talented writers. Ideally, the writer's sex doesn't come through. Their opinions usually do.

Themes are great. I love themes. But when a work is oversaturated in a specific worldview, when it constantly pops up, that's a bad job. Maybe there's a line, a certain limit for what writers can be appealing to what people. Because it's not like you can turn off your perspective. Most people can't. So maybe what was too much for you was unnoticeable to another?

I'm sure you can tell a lot about me from my writing, but I like to think there's no glaring projection. That's a pitfall.

So, my guess by your phrasing is that your character is female, but you're not. You don't want that to come through. I'll say, writing a protagonist of the opposite gender is on my bucket list (I'll get to it eventually), but so far I've not had trouble. In third-person, though. My biggest piece of advice would be that people want to believe your character. So long as it's a good character. A consistent character.

Whether they have some traditionally feminine or masculine traits, thoughtfulness, strong-headed, et cetera, readers will assimilate that image to your character. Just don't make them genuinely unlikeable and you should be good!

I can't say the gender of the characters has ever impacted me in such a way, nor have I ever thought a book was "too male" or "too female". There have been times I've noticed a difference between male and female author styles. But I don't think I've ever concerned myself with the author being as gender neutral as possible.

On the other hand if you're talking about an author being preachy or the author clearly trying too hard to capture a certain character type without actually getting it, that can be kind of aggravating to read. In terms of gender for example, writing a male or female strictly as a certain stereotype particularly a pandering one can get real old real fast.

On the other hand if the author is trying to go for a specific theme or tone as long as it's well-written that seems okay to me.

When I write I don't really give it much thought. I'm sure my "maleness" shows to some degree, But a lot of writers just have their certain writing voice as it were. Maybe the voice is obnoxious or annoying to some readers I don't know. But if that's their style, that's their style. It's sort of like criticizing someone for having an accent you know?

My advice is just don't worry about it and just write the character. You'll probably have more to worry about in the process than figuring out how to make them sound adequately female.

I have to really agree with Shaeor and Sharkerbob, above. I don't want to echo sentiment, however, so I'll try to add my own branch to this.

A work of literature will always carry the personality and bias of the person who wrote it. Some very talented people can shove that bias and those personal views down to tell really great stories, but you can't completely wipe all of that away. If you were to, you'd end up with a completely empty bit of pablum story.

Even in the works you mentioned (most of which, I enjoy as well, Harry Potter, not so much), there is a lot of the author that bleeds through into the work. George R.R. Martin really enjoys killing people off and shoving mortality in our faces. He's also not squeamish about many otherwise taboo subjects. Douglas Adams loves to spin a yarn and make people realize that reality itself is a joke. He can wind around the laws of plausibility in such a malleable fashion that you soon find yourself questioning your own existence, wondering if you're just a jumble of animated vowels scrolling through a cybernetic whale's mind during a data glitch. I'm not touching J.K. Rowling, because I'm mad at her. Patrick Rothfuss is able to write fantasy with a lot of emotional foderol and vitriol thrown in. As you mention, he can come across as a wistful, moody, teenager sometimes with his fantasy. Maybe he's channeling his geeky frustrations from playing a lot of D&D in high school.

At a certain point, really great authors know that although they're writing the story that they want to write, in their own style of writing it... They're still writing for others. Other people's enjoyment. Other people's inspiration. Somewhere between the rough draft that is just for them, and the final piece that makes it to publication, they turn a private fantasy into a shared one. They have to weed a bit of their ego out of the work.

Some people, though, just can't separate themselves from their work. Maybe this is what you're picking up on. I'm not going to point any fingers or mention any works. I've seen some truly amazing gems by some really talented people, and I've seen some works that made me cringe so hard, I vibrated at such a high frequency, that I almost shifted into another dimension. A horrible dimension of terrible writing. A whole new genre of literature that I can only describe as Horribad.

I'm sure some people may think of my own work as Horribad. That is entirely their prerogative. Moving on.

This is just my, not so humble, opinion, but a character should be a well thought-out character -first- and then a [insert descriptor element here] -last-. It really shouldn't matter if they're female, male, something other, dragon, sentient rock, or whatever else. They need to be a deep, well-rounded, believable entity first and foremost.

If the characters are just cardboard cut-out vehicles for the author to push some agenda or narrative, the whole work will suffer. That might be fine for a neophyte philosophical piece, but for fiction, especially speculative fiction of any variety, it simply won't work. An author is an artist, sometimes they have to take a step back from what they're working on and see the whole thing in a completely different light. "Hey, I really like socialism and I think this conveys my personal politics really well, but... What would an anarcho-capitalist think about it? Hmm."

A work needs to appeal to the broadest range of readers to be considered a success. Personal pieces written just for fun, or for some private reason are all well and good, don't get me wrong. For a work to get out there and start raking in the monies or the readership that might make Wildbow blush, you need to appeal to as varied an audience as possible. Filling in personal agendas is a great way to alienate a sizable amount of your audience. It may get an artistic reaction, which is great, but it probably won't sell well, or rate in a lot of analytics.

That being said, above, we are all still human. Well, some of us, at any rate. We feel strongly about things and that can bleed into our work, or even prove to be the very muse that makes us write in the first place. We still have to keep those emotions and that muse in check though. Do what we can to see both sides of the issue, and know when to step out of our own work so that others can enjoy it as well.

Some people do have a really hard time writing characters of the opposite sex or a different gender identity from themselves. Maybe they just haven't had enough exposure to different viewpoints and lifestyles. Maybe they have very strong feelings about something in their past that they just can't get over. That is part of who they are, and it will affect their art, at least at the beginning.

When it comes to your original question, of if a writer's sex affects my personal enjoyment or views of a writing...

No, not really. It doesn't, if the writer is good. If the writer is terrible and starts trying to shove their viewpoints down my throat with every word on the page (very rare), then the little 'Carl Jung' of my brain starts analyzing things. It's what I do as a reader and a writer, myself. I want to know how other writer's work. What they do that succeeds and what they do that fails. Why is this person writing in this way? What do they expect of me as a reader when they write like that? Do they even care that their reader may have entirely different sensibilities to them, or are they completely blinded by how great they are for putting words to a page? The questions go on for some time.

I know that in the current artistic and political climate we find ourselves in right now, a lot of people (due to the prevalence of social media, I would assume) like to shove their opinions down other people's throat or give unsolicited political views quite readily. I'm not a fan of that and I try to keep my own to myself as much as I possibly can. I don't think it's a matter of gender at all. I think it's a matter of socialization and personality. Some people are born with their foot planted in their own mouths (I'm guilty of this in spades), while others are a lot more detached and analytical of things. Some people can remove themselves from their art, while others -live- their art.

I'm interested in seeing other people's opinions and views on this. I'll keep quiet and watch for now. I understand your frustrations CorpseMoney. Hopefully, something in what I said furthers this conversation.

I read somewhere that your first book, even if it's fiction, is like your autobiography. Meaning that you put so much of your own self, your soul into it, that it is very much a reflection of you. I believe this to be true as it certainly was the case for me with my first book. And I'm still putting a lot of myself into my current writing, but slowly, story by story, I'm learning to distance myself an just tell stories.

That said, I think the genre plays a big part too with gender too. Like, I think I can write a female action hero okay, but no way could I pull off a female lead in a romance.

I think though it's very hard to not write in something you feel strongly about, but as Ashes points out above, it can have the effect of reducing your audience. I came across this issue in one of my Size Queen stories, Eel Deal. I was watching that show Whale Wars on the Discovery channel, where these activists were attacking Japanese whaling ships. I found the controversy fascinating. So in my story I wanted to explore the counterpoint to that, and examine both sides.

And boy did it raise some flak from a particular reader who was opposed to the view. They had completely sided with the antagonist of the story and after examination, for good reason. I had handled the material way too heavy handily. But with their scathing feedback, I was able to include the necessary counterpoints to balance the argument and hopefully make the story more readable.

As writers it's ok to have a point of view on a controversial topic, but you need to set up the pros and cons fairly else it will come across as biases and preachy. It's hard to pull off and if you get it wrong can turn people off.

I've had so many people assume I'm female based on my writing, it's one of the main reasons I started thinking of myself as gender-neutral.

But CorpseMoney, I tricked you into believing I'm a young dude despite being a 37 year old woman. So I must have done well with my writing? ;) I'm honestly surprised you think my gender negatively affected the story. I've never ever gotten a comparable comment on either the serial or the ebooks. Not even from my editors, both of whom have traditional publishing experience and repeatedly ripped certain aspects and elements of the story to pieces.

I've gotten a lot of reviews on the books in particular, and none of them mentioned anything along these lines.

CorpseMoney also appears to have wrongly pegged the author of The Gods are Bastards as a woman. So maybe this is more about the perceptions of the reader?

I'm going to address this sideways, by talking about dialect in writing.

When I first started writing The Points Between, which is currently listed as "abandoned" on WFG but it's more accurately "inactive", I workshopped it with a group of readers and the reactions to the way the characters talked was very interesting.

Half of the group complained that the characters sounded like stereotypical southern hicks. "Too cartoony," they said. "Not respectful of Southerners." The other half didn't know what the first half was talking about. But this is the interesting thing:

- the people who thought that the characters sounded like stereotypes didn't know any actual Southerners -- their only exposure was through movies, TV, and other media

- the people who didn't know what the first group was talking about either knew Southerners or were Southerners themselves.

In other words, the group that was unfamiliar with the language were thrown by the terms I was using, felt my use of the dialect was over the top. The group that was familiar with the language didn't give it a second thought.

Specific example: there's a scene where Buck, a local, offers to get Matthew, the protagonist, a fresh set of clothing. He says something to the effect of "you look about my boy's size. He's off at college, he won't mind."

In the specific context of that sentence, "boy" means "son." This is a term most people who live in the south are probably pretty familiar with. However, the only context that the guy in the first group had for "boy" was a racist one: a white man calling a black man a "boy." Context matters a whole lot, and he didn't actually have the context he needed to understand what Buck meant.

If I'd been writing solely for Southerners I would have shrugged my shoulders and changed nothing, but I wasn't. I cut back a bit on the dialect (though I kept "boy" in that scene because it fit Buck perfectly), and non-Southerners found it more accessible, and -- this is neat part -- the Southerners didn't notice. In writing, as far as dialect goes, a little goes a long way, as long as that little is used consistently. You can evoke just enough of the music of language to carry it through without actually making the reader work extra hard to understand (unless that's what you're going for).

But going back to context. There are many books that are written with a specific context in mind, and they will be recognized and understood by other people who share that context, and they will be less accessible to people who do not. On a story level we talk about tropes -- tropes are basically a shared context between the author and the readers who are familiar with them. The author pulls out a trope and the reader familiar with it says "oh, you're doing this" and the story moves forward. They're a shared abstract language. They're useful. On the other hand, when someone who spends all their time reading mysteries picks up a fantasy novel for the first time, some of those tropes may be a little strange and off-putting.

Think of it this way: you've probably read books that you love but that you think "maybe these aren't the right kinds of books for people just getting started in the genre." What you're doing right there are identifying books that rely more heavily on specific, shared understandings of context.

These shared contexts go beyond just story ideas. They exist in dialect, like my example above. They exist in religion: the phrase "I have decided to follow Jesus" might sound like nothing more than some guy making a generic declaration of faith. Or, if you have gone to some churches, it might immediately remind you of a very specific hymn. They certainly exist in politics -- I'll note the word "feminazi" has a very specific context that is shared among a number of different political groups, and a completely different context among other political groups. (One context focuses on the person the label is given to, the other focuses on the person bestowing it).

I don't believe that deliberately adopting a context is "bad writing" -- it does make your writing less accessible, but if accessibility was the deciding factor for greatness, Finnegan's Wake would not be a thing anyone cared about, ever.

I honestly try not to look at the author's gender for assessing a piece ever. I keep the writer separated from the story. When a person merges those two constantly, it seems like they fall into a trap where when they are so busy picking apart a work and attributing everything they dislike to the writers gender they ignore context. They ignore what the story is trying to say. To my saying, "the writers use of this character being this way is because the writer is x gender and believes in x social movement" is shallow perception. One shouldn't try to label writer when one has not even met the person or heard them speak and talk about their beliefs.

And yes, there are times a writer will push a little bit too much of themselves inside a story. However, that sort of thing has to do less about gender and more about that writer's believes.

Now gender can effect writing, but honestly, that's the last thing on my mind when I'm reading something mainly because I don't care. It has to be a blatant issue for me to care. I mean one day some years ago, I was reading to critique someone's first chapter of a novel. The writer was young and was a girl. Her main character was a boy and he sounded like a girl because he sound like the author. There was no distinction between her replies to me and the 1st person narration of the chapter. The character didn't have their own voice. Was that a gender issue? No. That's a writing experience issues because trying to separate your voice from a character's voice is a difficult thing to do when you don't know how. I had that issue when I first delved into writing a novel in 1st person. I had to restart the story because the character was a walking contradiction. I had to start writing character sketches just to get their voice right.

There are people of either gender who can't write the opposite gender. Though I think they are thinking about it too much. Usually it's their perceptions getting in the way of their writing. One might just attribute that to style. I can't think I've ever found a male author to ever write a female character in a cringe worthy way that even I couldn't stand, publishing wise, save one writer. And that was the least of the troubles with the novel.

@Team Contract You bring an interesting point with your first story being a sort of autobiography. Although, I don't know if I would want to distance myself completely the more I keep writing. Maybe it's because I've been a musician way longer than I am a writer, where it's encouraged to put yourself in your art and express whatever it is you feel is important. However, there definitely is a fine line when it comes to that, and you definitely don't want to alienate readers by projecting any negativity towards certain characters, themes or subject matter. If there's something about me that I want to express in my story and writing, I feel like it's worth exploring that.

How many books has Stephen King written now where the protagonist is basically Stephen King?

Statistically, there are "male" and "female" styles of writing, in that more males tend to write in a way generally seen as "male" and more females tend to write in a way generally seen as "female."

Interestingly, of the examples given by the OP, I'd put GRRM, JKRowling, & Rothfuss in the "male" style.

It's all a load of tosh anyway, though, IMO.

@Fiona wow I did it again. When I wrote the anathema review I thought the author was male, I was wrong. Now with The Gods are Bastards. Damn two for two, I'm terrible.

@Chrysalis I wasn't tricked I just wrote my review from the POV of you being a man. I keep meaning to rewrite it, it would still be basically he same review. I just need the write the POV for two reviews I guess.

When I read an author who goes full Sinfest, I usually assume that its a dude. Dunno why it works, but its usually right.

@walter define sinfest

Dudes is pervs. :P

It's an older webcomic.


Author: Just throwing this out there, patriarchy is bad, yeah?

Audience: Sure

Troll: Nah

Author: Surely we can agree on this. Patriarchy is bad, RIGHT?

Audience: Yeah, we are with you

Troll: Nah

(repeat ten thousand times)

Audience: We'll just... (exits)

Author: Even though bigots are driving away my audience, I'll never abandon my truth! PATRIARCHY IS BAD, RIGHT?

Troll: Nah

Still going on to this day, if I'm not mistaken.

Shorthand for when your statement swallows your story.

With regard to the original question, the only time the gender of the writer tends to be a thought in my mind is when I'm perusing erotica. Sometimes not even then. So on the one hand, it's a non-issue. On the other hand, I do personally feel like more female writers need to be seen out there, so if I do happen to know the gender, I might try to signal boost - but I wouldn't say it's a conscious thing.

There are males who write romance. There are females who prefer traditional homemaking. Stereotyping is a problem. I realize I'm not one for writing reviews (they tend to devolve into critiques, I prefer to comment directly), but I don't see how one's review would even need to know gender... simply use "they" when discussing the author, as in "they seem a bit obsessed with romance" rather than using he/she. Alternatively, if you really want to know, research. If it's not immediately apparent which gender the author is on their pages, they're likely going for a neutral approach, so respect that.

Related to what SovereignofAshes said, about the current climate causing people to potentially "shove their opinions down other people's throat"... and Fiona on "perceptions of the reader"... I think that's a huge component. For instance, with the passing of Carrie Fisher, there's been some huge backlash on social media (towards at least one celebrity and one company) about "tribute tweets" that were taken to be in poor taste or badly timed jokes. If you're really close to a subject, you may shout out "That's in Poor Taste!" to which the response of someone who thought it was a genuine attempt at sentiment will retort "Stop being Politically Correct!". (From there, it devolves into a shouting match.) Each person is correct in terms of their world view, but (perhaps like Walter says above) the person feels like everyone must share their own view. It's not going to happen. As another example, sideways connected to ubersoft's post, something one reader sees as "constantly feeding me a message about racism" another reader may see as "telling it like it is", leaving reality (and possibly the writer) stuck somewhere in between. There isn't always A Message (tm).

Incidentally, like TeamContract, I tend to prefer writing female characters. (Heck, most of personified math is female, though that was more a conscious decision to try and link females with math, it's a subject that tends to be male dominated in post secondary.) I'm not entirely sure why, part of it might be to stretch myself and/or get in touch with my feminine side, part of it might be agreeing with the need for more such protagonists out there, maybe part of it is even a perverse desire to torture females emotionally as (by being the central character) they'll tend to end up with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Hopefully less so that last one. I'm sure there's a reader out there somewhere who might interpret it in that way though.

In real life fiction (like physical books) I generally know the author's gender before I start reading. But with something like, say, Harry Potter? I honestly never cared or asked myself if J.K. Rowling was male or female. With serials? Using the ur-example, Wildbow's gender never occurred to me.