A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't write like a girl...or a guy.

You can’t always be sure by reading a piece of literature whether the writer is male or female. Subject matter, plot, and the gender of the main character can, but don’t always offer clues. But there are particular style problems that arise more often in female writers, and others that are more typically male. I’ve observed them for a while, and thought it might be of use if I made a note of them.

  Aside from things like choice of subject matter and certain writing nuances that they obviously picked up from the literature that is targeted at them, guys and girls also have different downfalls in their ability to carry a story altogether. My observations on this subject may sound familiar, or they might surprise you.

  As I was taking a creative writing course last semester, I noticed that boys and girls often have different overall tones they naturally fall back on when they have to write something off the top of their head before planning a full story. There was almost an equal amount of girls and boys in the class, which was good, since I have a feeling guys might be a little under-represented most of the time in the world of amateur writing. We had an exercise where we were all asked to develop a setting.

  Without a single exception, (besides me) the males portrayed a gritty, dark, imposing atmosphere, and the females created a sunny, fun, breezy atmosphere. I thought this was kind of funny. But aside from default settings, the way the two genders wrote stories, when we got to that, made it evident that there were certain things that they struggled with apart from each other.

  Ladies first: In that particular class, the worst writer, and the best were both boys, the girls weren’t as noticeably bad or good. They weren’t real big on creativity for plots, though. One did a story on a teenage girl with anorexia, one on a girl who made some bad decisions and ended up in bad situations with some guy she shouldn’t have fallen for in the first place, another wrote about a grade-school girl enjoying summer break, and another tried a different genre and surprised us all with a thriller involving a cursed doll. (Really, how many times has that been done before?)

  But I keep getting side-tracked from the thing I’m actually criticizing. The thing that girls do that makes a story hard to read is they often get so wrapped up in the moment they’re describing, that the reader is unable to actually see what’s happening, or what it has to do with anything. Especially in romances, where the couple is talking, and all of a sudden…her eyes were shining…their hearts were beating…he was glad he had polished his shoes before going out today… “Do you truly believe me?”

  Wait. Believe what? Who? Who’s talking? I thought they were having problems of some kind. Why’d the action just, like, totally stop? That’s kind of an example of what I’m talking about. What makes it even more confusing is when that sort of disintegration sets in, not in some emotionally intense scene, not when she’s staring up at her man, but rather, staring at her coffee, or her car keys, or at some other mundane moment. You can’t just trust your readers to understand the significance of any point in your story just by letting your writing fall all apart. Keep the narrative intact, please.

  Now for the guys. I have read both rather lousy amateurs and published, famous authors who write the way I’m about to describe. I think it would be easier for some publishers to let the male mistakes slip because you can still understand the story, and it also is a rather serious-sounding way to write. However, I think most people would agree that if the story isn’t truly extraordinary, it’s extremely dull to read this kind of writing.

  Here’s the gist of it: some male authors have major trouble conveying a very essential element in writing, and that element is—believe it or not—suspense. I recently picked up a sci-fi novel that was written by none other than Buzz Alden. I generally enjoy reading things that astronauts wrote, but I had never read a novel written by one. The book is called The Return, and there were some rave reviews on the back cover.

  But what I found inside frankly bored me. Alden wrote the story as if it had already happened. Even before he said what happened, you already knew it had happened and were just waiting around to be surprised by something. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that he foreshadowed, or hinted. You just already knew that at least that one really nice guy was going to get killed on the shuttle, and that the main guy was going to lose his job, and blah, blah, blah. And it didn’t matter after the fact, because we weren’t there when it happened and we didn’t care if it did before it did.

  There was that guy in my class who wrote like a guy too. Now, his writing was considerably worse than Alden’s, but it was the same problem. He never put the reader into the course of the story. It’s more like he gave them a bird’s eye view of the maze. With the correct course already drawn out. I can’t remember what any scene in that story was like. I have no visuals and no feelings, and zero atmospheric impressions looking back on it.   

  I’ll inevitably end up talking about and criticizing sources of inspiration for authors and blame them for bad writing across the board. Most of the time people are just writing what they’ve read, with a few little variations and combinations. I won’t pretend to be an expert, and of course there are probably guys who write poorly “like girls”, and girls who write poorly “like guys”, but generally, this is what happens. And lastly, there are probably people who really like authors who write like this. Apparently there are, because these people do get published now and then, but you, personally have more potential than that, and know better now.
No pressure.    

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Description

Hello everyone. Sorry about the lack of action, my access to internet is limited. However, I’ve decided to try my best to start posting regularly from now on—at least once a week, I hope. I plan to start a series of posts this week on the subject of writing. I’ve recently started writing my eighth novel, and in the process of all that writing, discovered a few things that might be of interest to other writers. I have very few readers to date, so spread the word that I’ve started up this series if you like it, or know somebody who might benefit from it.

  Without further ado:

The Art of Description

  I’m aware that right now, mainstream authors generally are looking down on highly descriptive writing. A lot of modern authors, novelists, and even poets discourage over-description but little is said about the issue of under-description. I was reading an article in a writers’ magazine giving something like “The Ten Rules for Success”, written by some author whom I frankly doubt that I would ever enjoy reading. One of his tips was to describe your characters as little as possible. What!?!?

  In matters of art, it’s of the essence to work in a way that is natural for you. If you really feel uncomfortable describing your characters, don’t do it--but as a general rule for success?  There may be readers who prefer to have a character left entirely to their imagination, but I’m not one of them, and as a writer...I really, really, want to tell you what I see.

  And they’ll say, “Oh, no! Don’t tell us, show us.” This is usually good advice, but spending an entire book implying what a character looks like is a waste of time. I use my characters’ physical appearances to imply other things. I’m extremely visual in my writing. That same article said, similarly to be sparse with your descriptions of settings. Again, if that’s you’re natural style, fine, I just won’t probably make it through the first chapter of your book, personally, but don’t think that when these “serious” authors say it’s the only way, that they have any idea what they’re talking about.

  Remember that I’m something of a sci-fi/fantasy author, myself, and that surely effects my viewpoint on this topic. You could never spend the whole of a science-fiction or fantasy story implying what the people and places looked like and come out with a particularly striking piece. You don’t particularly enjoy reading a story that takes place on multiple planets that you never actually get to see, unless that supposed to be the point of the story. The antagonist in my hopefully-soon-to-be-available sci-fi trilogy Stardrift, would not be nearly as effective if you didn’t know he was seven feet tall with very fair skin, eerily pretty hands, and hair down to the middle of his thigh.

  If you don’t trust the examples of my own writing, let’s look at a few others. Suppose Emily Bronte never told us what Wuthering Heights, or Thrushcross Grange, or Heathcliff, or the moors looked like. What if Ray Bradbury didn’t tell us how the hound looked in Fareinheight 451? What if James Barry didn’t describe Neverland, or Captain Hook? Success!!! Yep.

  Don’t think I advocate describing everything though. I can’t stand it when authors start giving the reader a laundry list of all the…laundry a character is wearing. Sometimes it really is important how a character is dressed, but not always. Have you ever read any Nancy Drew mysteries? Don’t do that. But there actually are reasons for describing  attire, it can be a great way to “show and not tell” a character’s mood, or what they’re doing, or as a symbolic element, if you do that kind of thing.