Battle of the sexes

Paula’s Post #9 — If you’ve been following this blog, you may have figured out by now that both Joe and I are writing YA novels.

In his post last week, Traitorous Doubts, Joe wrote:

Pages written: 125.


Joe, Joe, Joe… you’re killing me!

Those words terrify me. I want to throw down my outline and write. I can’t possibly keep tinkering, ad infinitum, with my outline’s sagging middle and murky ending.

I have to start writing.

Except I’m beginning to have my doubts about a few things.

Doubts so big, my target YA audience might even label these doubts ‘ginormous’. And while we’re on this rant, why doesn’t spellcheck recognize ‘ginormous’ as a perfectly good, highly descriptive adjective? How can I write a great YA novel when spellcheck doesn’t know the word ginormous exists?

But once again, I digress.

Suffice it to say that my ginormous self-doubts are so seminal to my novel, so important to every nuance of plot and subplot, I know I can’t possibly start writing until I decide whether to listen to those nagging little twinges of ‘self-doubt’ and make a HUGE CHANGE to my story, or just tell the nasty little buggers to scram and shove them head first into the nearest trash can.

So what are these ‘ginormous’ self-doubts

This weekend, almost half way through the 5writers challenge, I suddenly started to doubt whether my protagonist, my main point of view character, the kid on whose shoulders my entire story rests, should, in fact, be male, not female.

Ack, Ack, Ack! This can’t be happening.

Months ago I decided on a strong female protagonist. Teenage boys don’t read fiction. Sure, there are exceptions, (I’m guessing Joe is one of them) but apparently not enough to make agents and editors want to take a chance on a book with a male protagonist.

I get that.

But now that I’ve got the whole book more or less mapped out, I’m starting to doubt whether my characters and storyline will appeal to girls. Rather, I feel that I may be writing a novel that is more likely to appeal to boys.

And if so, how do I reconcile my Catch-22 dilemma? The one that says: don’t make your protagonist a boy, since 75% of all YA readers are girls.

Writers talk about having ‘beta’ readers. I’m only at the outline stage, and I’m out-of-town right now… 2500 kilometres away from my 5writers buddies. I have only my husband off whom to bounce ideas. Sure, I could call or email my 5writers buddies and seek their feed back on this dilemma, but to do so I’d have to divulge much of my plot, and that is something we 5writers more or less decided we would not do.

So I’m stuck with my husband as sounding board.

He’s a boy.

He reads.

His verdict? My protagonist should be male.

But after seeking his advice, I still felt conflicted. After all, how often do you take advice from your spouse?

For me, there is a lesson in all this: outlining has its virtues, but at some point, I feel I just have to start writing the damn book, even if I don’t quite know the ending yet. I need to find out where my characters are going to take me…

…oh, and what sex they’re going to be!

So yesterday I started writing. I now can clock in, just like my hero Joe:

Pages written: 19

Pie’s eaten this week: 0

Sex of Protagonist: Female…

…at least for now.

8 thoughts on “Battle of the sexes

  1. Paula, I enjoyed your post, but I feel your dilemma. Trying to think back to my own teen years and what I liked to read. Seems to me I preferred female heroines, but that may not be true for today’s teens. How about doing a survey? Talk to teens yourself, or call a couple of libraries and check with their youth / Y/A department. They would have a pretty good idea about what gender of protagonists teen boys and girls prefer. Bottom line: write what comes natural to you for your story, what you enjoy, and that will make your writing awesome.

  2. Write the damn story. This is for all of you – I’m hearing a lot of angst from everyone about should i do this, should I do that, maybe this is . . . maybe that is. . .

    While I completely understand the feelings, and the doubts (and have them myself, with every bit of fiction I write and a surprising amount of the nonfiction I do as well) and how it seems to be stopping you in your tracks, I’m also hearing “I’m scared”, procrastination and avoidance. You are all writers. So write.

    Write. You all promised ROUGH DRAFT to be finished. Not polished, submittable work. Get the words down and make notes of your doubts, your second, third and fourth thoughts and let the work itself tell you what needs to be done ON REVISION.

    Outlines only take you so far. Research only takes you so far. Second guessing every decision doesn’t get you anywhere but chasing your own tail. The books won’t come to life, your characters won’t become people and tell you what they need, whether it’s a change of point of view or a sex change, until the words get on the paper. The story words, not the outline, not notes, not meditations on what you should do, and not blog thoughts. It’s fine to record all your doubts here, and I’d be more supportive if you were all reporting more wordage down, but you’re not. As you pointed out, Paula – Joe’s got pages. Lots of them. And every time he posts, he’s got more pages than he did before – even if he’s ripped out more than are in.

    Go write those stories. I know you can do it, if you don’t sabotage yourselves into failure, and at this point, that’s what most of you are beginning to do. Don’t. Write the story, get it done in draft with notes all through it for revision, and prove to yourselves that YOU CAN DO THIS!

  3. Write what makes you excited. Never, ever write what you think will sell, or what you think someone else will like. The passion (or lack of) comes through in the words and is far more important than anything else. Write a story you love, about a character you love.

  4. Thoughts of a crotchety old male: Why not a transgender character, one whose body is one gender but who identifies with the other? That might solve your problem, unless that’s taboo for the YA market (which is something I’d never even go near).

  5. Sofferciese, what a unique suggestion… I don’t think much is taboo for the YA market, but it might cut down on audience appeal quite a bit… most of the advice I’ve been given by YA authors is to visualize your male ‘hunks’ early on so you can imagine what teen heart throb will star in the film version of your novel!

  6. For what it’s worth, I think you are a great storyteller, and that is all you are trying to do, so tell the story as you would tell it to a YA, or to anyone else. You have such a great energy when you talk about writing, just move it from your mouth to your pen!

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