Women tend to write stories that are more character driven, and less reliant on plot and action, says Nell Gavin.

Nell_Gavin-smallIf I dare to generalize, I would say men prefer male comics. Many of them think women can’t be funny or do standup comedy. Jerry Lewis, for instance, once said that there has never been a funny female comedienne, including Lucille Ball. “Lucy?” someone asked. “Not funny,” he declared.

Lewis then went on to clear an entire room by saying the following: “A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.” Of course Jerry Lewis thoroughly offended many, that evening. Certainly he offended women, but I’m sure there are men he offended as well: Women as machinery. Seriously? Them’s fightin’ words! And stupid, too.
It may be that men like Jerry Lewis simply don’t get the joke. It may be that some men determinedly WON’T get the joke because the speaker is female. But actually, I think we ALL relate best to our own genre, when it comes to things like comedy and literature.

J.K. Rowling famously uses initials instead of her name because her publisher wanted to disguise her gender. Boys don’t like to read books by girls, and the fact that she was female might have hurt sales, they reasoned. I can think of many other female authors who do the same, particularly if they write in male-dominated genres, like suspense.

I also know about male authors who write romance as women because girls don’t like to read romance books by boys, and won’t buy them. I’m that way too, just in general. I prefer to read books by female authors. I don’t mean chick lit, necessarily. I just prefer the female point of view. That may be all it is with men. I “get” women. Men do not. (And yet they opine about not understanding women. Right? Maybe they should read more books that women write!)

This is not always true, of course, but women seem to be more character driven, and less reliant on plot and action. There is a plot and perhaps there is action, but you’re following it from inside the heads of the characters, mentally assessing the situation, instead of being told about the scenes from a distance. If something explodes, you know how the characters feel about it, not just what the explosion looks and smells like, or what was destroyed. Probably a baby is crying in the woman’s version. Probably a little boy is traumatized, confused and shaking while the smoke clears. When he finally speaks he stutters. A little girl wets her pants and is huddling under a bush, hugging her knees and pressing her face into them. It isn’t all valor and heroism in the woman’s book. The toilet needs scrubbing and the dishes still need to be washed. The people in the story have needs too, and we learn how the explosion changes them at close range, not just how it moves the plot.

Not always, but frequently when I read a book by a man the characters are all at arm’s length. It’s about what happens, not how people inwardly change from what happens. It’s sometimes brilliant and moving and lyrical and inspirational, yet I never seem to feel as if I’m entirely there, with them. On the other hand, a woman’s book invites me in.

I read to invade someone else’s head. I want to see a different world through other eyes, and I want to feel the emotions that go along with that. I want to change when the characters in the book change, because isn’t that what reading is for? None of us can experience everything, but through reading we can experience more. We can develop compassion without personal loss by vicariously experiencing someone else’s. We can understand life conditions without actually seeing them firsthand. In our minds, as we read, it’s all real. The fact that it’s real makes it powerful. When I read, these things are as important to me as personal enjoyment. When I close a book, I want to feel something I didn’t feel before I opened it.

Reading is a powerful agent of change.

They say you should write the book you want to read, so that’s what I’ve done with both Hang On and Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn. They’re both character studies that allowed me to invade someone else’s head and poke around inside while I wrote. There is some action, and there are events, but the books are not plot driven. They mostly observe how the main character reacts to events, and how they change her. My characters are always different women by the end of the book, so mine are always stories of personal growth.

In Hang On we have a young woman who falls in love with a roadie for a famous English rock band, and is swept into the world of 1970s rock and roll. Very exciting, right? Very interesting, and often very funny. The problem is that this young woman is mentally ill, and sustaining any kind of relationship is a challenge for her. Nevertheless, she feels that this is the love of her life, and she is determined to keep him. In order to do this, she has to hide her symptoms from him.

You may have a mental illness of some kind yourself, but you probably do not. If you do, Holly has things to say to you. She also has things to say if you do not so you can, perhaps, understand sufferers a little bit more than you do. Holly Salvino explains it all to you, such as why being beautiful is not a cure for everything, or even ANYTHING. She explains why True Love doesn’t always solve problems. Her message is that superficial things are not important, and they win you no real trophies or happiness.

“Would you still love me, if I were suddenly ugly?” Holly asks her boyfriend. “Would anyone ever really love me, if all this went away?” a rock star asks Holly. It is the eternal question: Am I good enough?

I’m inviting you in. I hope you enjoy Hang On.

Hang_On_Frt_ Small In 1973 crazy Holly unexpectedly falls in love with Trevor, a roadie for a famous English rock band. From the moment they meet, dreams of marriage, children, and a normal life are suddenly finally within Holly s grasp. Trevor takes her with him on tour and introduces her to the very un-normal backstage world of Rock and Roll. When she steps onto the band bus, she walks into a colorful, exciting adventure in a world completely different from the life that awaits her back home, where she chases cockroaches with a shoe, works at a low-paying job, and sleeps to escape the hunger. Unfortunately, Holly has a secret. Plagued by panic attacks, periodic rages, and depression, she needs to learn why her mentally ill mother committed suicide, long ago, so she can save herself. Thus far, she has found no answers. She must conceal her symptoms from Trevor in order to keep him, but as their relationship becomes progressively more serious, her illness becomes increasingly more difficult to hide. Can Holly keep the crazy at bay for long enough to let her dreams come true?

Nell Gavin was raised in Chicago, and spent a number of years in Texas. She is married with two sons, and now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her books include Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn and Hang On.


3 comments on “A Female Point of View”

  1. I may be the odd man out, but I love female comics. I grew up laughing my butt off to Whoopi Goldberg, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. I watched the I Love Lucy show as well. Ethel was much funnier than Lucy, I thought (sorry, I don’t remember the actress’ name, and won’t be bothered jaunting over to IMDB at the moment, but I don’t remember the name of the guy who played Fred, either). It all comes down to shared experience. If all a female comic is going to talk about is having babies and menstrual cycles, sure, I have no idea what they’re talking about and cannot relate, so I might find them less funny, but the same goes for male comics. I don’t like the guys from the Blue Collar Comedy tour, but that’s because I can’t relate to them, either.

    By the way, Jerry Lewis is a douchenozzle. Always has been, always will be.

    As far as men reading women authors, once again, I’ve never noticed or never cared about the gender of the author. Do people ignore certain sexes when choosing a book? Probably. I’m just not one of them. Good writing is good writing.

    Loved the post, Nell!

  2. Female friends hug when they meet. Male friends keep a distance by shaking hands or playfully punching. So it is with books. But it so pleasantly surprising when the lines are crossed, like Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Genius!

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