Got Gender?

This is one amazing group of panelists, sticking with me through yet one more grueling session. Today, I ask the writers and readers (well, of course writers are readers and vice versa, but you know what I mean) slightly different questions.

Readers — How does the gender of the main character impact your decision to read or recommend a book?

Tyler Larson: It doesn’t consciously. I do think I’m far more likely to read a male author than a female author though, because I think they’re more likely to write from a standpoint that I can associate with more easily. To be honest, I can’t think of the last book by a female author I’ve read aside from your work [ed note: what about the Tana French book I gave you for Christmas?].

Jerene Battisti: The gender of the main character does not impact my selection of a book as a reader. It is the story that has to engage me.

(Nancy did not submit an answer to this question but I think her work with the Book Lust series and her book reviews speak to this issue without further comment.)

Writers — Do you think about potential readers when you select the gender of your main characters?

Dave Patneaude: I do think about my reader when I think about the gender of my main character. Because there are more girl readers, I might be better off going with girl characters. But I’ve had a lot of librarians and teachers tell me how important it is to their boy readers to have my boy-character stories. So although I’ve featured girls in many of my stories, I’ve only written one with a girl main character. For whatever reason, girls will read my boy-character books, at least some of them.

Rodman Philbrick: Wish I was better at strategizing on how to expand my base of readers! Truth, I keep writing variations of what it was like for me to be twelve years old. I was a boy, so I write about being a boy – unlike many of my adult mystery novels, which often have female protagonists narrating in the first person. That said, my next novel for young reader’s is very likely to have a girl telling the tale – at least that’s my thinking at the moment, without so much as a page written.

[Regarding sex of main character affecting reading/recommending a book:] It doesn’t. But then I’m not standing at a library desk trying to persuade a bunch of hyperactive, easily distracted, text and tweeting, social-networking kids that books just might expand their universe.

Jon Scieszka: For something like my Time Warp Trio books, I consciously made the 3 main characters 8-year-old boys because it was my experience, both as a kid and as a teacher, that kids at that age hang out mostly with their own gender. When we made the Time Warp into a TV show, one of the TV execs suggested that we make one of the boys a girl. I said no. It just didn’t ring true.

But for everything else — from Stinky Cheese Man to Trucktown — I want to have male and female characters of all types and shapes and kinds. I want to make it as easy as possible for every reader to be able to find a way into the story.

[On the impact of gender in reading/recommending a book]: It’s not so much the gender of the main character that determines whether I might recommend a book to a boy, say on the GUYS READ website. It’s more a matter of how that main character tells the story. If a book has a lot of interior monologue, and not much action, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a 9-year-old boy looking for an exciting read.

Terry Trueman: No, I write first for myself and a small collection of readers I trust. I never think about gender. Regarding reading habits: I wish it [the sex of the main character] didn’t matter but I tend to gravitate towards books with guy protagonists unless a friend wrote the book.

Ben Watson: No. I think about me. What do I like? Would I have liked my character/story when I was younger? If I start thinking about potential readers, I start changing stuff, watering things down, or artificially trying to be something I’m not. I write it for me (both young me and old me) and hope people enjoy it. As for the main character, it is who it is. They ARE the story. I’m not going to change their sex willy-nilly to meet some target. Do I relate more to boys like myself, about some stuff? Sure. You could even say I have a soft spot for rowdy boys who play war and skip rocks. Much of what characters deal with in stories is universal human emotions, but not all.

Growing up, girls were a mystery to me. My friends were mostly boys. So when I write about my boyhood, it is natural to write about what I know the best. And that was being a boy. I didn’t have great insight into what girls were into. I think it would be a huge challenge for me to write a story from a girl’s perspective, but maybe some day I’ll attempt just that.

Erin Blakemore: As a writer and a woman, I’m just plain drawn to the stories of women. So my choice of gender is more of an outgrowth of my own interests and not really a reflection on my readers.

Joni Sensel: I’m an organic writer, not a planner or outliner. As part of that, I don’t feel that choosing what or how to write are really conscious functions for me or that I even have the option of “selecting” the main character’s gender. I know others work differently, but I’m strongly of the opinion that for my own work, the story itself dictates who the main character must be. I’m not interested in telling the story from any other perspective.

Considering both my published and not-yet (or never to be?) published works, I have an exactly equal number of male and female main characters, but there’s nothing calculated about that. In a few cases, I have consciously included an important character of the opposite gender as a friend, sidekick, or love interest. That decision was based partly on the desire to broaden the potential audience and partly to give the story, and the main character, a foil who might think and behave differently when faced with the same circumstances.

Stay with us for the final two days of discussion. Tomorrow, our panelists will ponder a recent article in School Library Journal, written by 30-year library veteran, Diantha McBride, and whether we are demeaning girls with calls for more books with male characters, as was asserted by Martha Brockenbrough in her essay, “Are We Letting Boys Be Book Bigots”?

No Responses to “Got Gender?”

  1. Vivian

    Love these discussions! I’ve come by way of Ben Watson.

    I’ve been working on developing a male protagonist, so have been reading books like mad to be sure I’m capturing the true voice. I’m finding I’m enjoying these male oriented books just as much as books with female protagonists.

  2. storyqueen

    I had to think about this one….I don’t pick the gender overtly when I write. It just kind of happens.


  3. Chloe

    Hiya! Kirby Larson, i am a BIG fan of ur’s! I’ve read Liberty and I luved it so much that i’m doing a book report on it! keep up the good writing!