Monday, December 28, 2009

Have You Noticed?

The last couple of Star Trek books I read were written by women. The one I’m reading now is by a man. And I’ve noticed something that I, 1) wonder if anyone else has noticed, and 2) wonder if it is a wide spread experience. I know there is a stereotype that might partially apply.

Specifically, in the Star Trek books by the women the characters are experienced in a much more internalized way. Even with the Vulcans we get to see a lot more of their emotional nature than we do with the book by the male author. Reading the male author book is a bit more like watching the TV episodes. We are treated with good visuals and we can see all the behaviors, as well as hear the dialogue, but we don’t really venture inside the characters. Is this a common difference between male and female authors?

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes I felt that the female authors were reaching a bit when they started exploring the Vulcan emotions, but in generally I’m sort of missing the closer interactions with the characters that I’m not finding in the male written book. On the other hand, the male author’s version may be more realistic in that in real life we never actually see another person’s emotions from the internal perspective. We only see their behaviors. But we don’t really read books to get the absolute real world experience. We generally want a bit more. At least I do.

So, what do you think?


Deidra said...

I think that the point of reading a book, as opposed to watching television or a movie, is to see a character more in depth instead of just looking at their actions and hearing what they have to say. People don't say what they're feeling out loud all the time, or what their motivations are. That's what the book medium is for. :)

Spy Scribbler said...

I have been thinking about this a lot. For one, I've noticed that men truly dominate all "best of" lists. Men and women do write differently, in general. Even Oprah is only recommending male authors in the last four or five or six years.

Jon just had a frustrated post about how boys and girls were different, but editors and agents of children's books are almost all woman, who don't get that oftentimes, a lot of boys just want action.

I don't have any conclusions. Just a lot of observations.

G. B. Miller said...

Interesting post.

I find with some of the books I've read, the distinction is pretty much like that.

If you want gobs of action and the like, read something by a male author; if you want something more introspective and in depth, read something by a female author.

I think this holds true, no matter what genre you're talking about. From what I understand, certain kinds of popular erotica (straight or non) are written by women.

I think it's tought to find an author of either gender who crosses those lines with any kind of consistency.

Lana Gramlich said...

I like delving into the inner workings of characters. How else do we understand their motivations & such?

Tom Bailey said...

I do not read fictional books myself, I tend to read biographies or autobiographies of business men, navy seals or survivor adventure books like shakelton.

Just a prefrence.

So it is not something I would have ever noticed if I had not read your blog.

I do thank you for sharing.

Tom Bailey

LoveRundle said...

You are looking at a very specific series, but I was wondering that between women and men horror writers. I'm still doing my study. ^_^

Rick said...

Charles, you're not trying to start a gender war, are you? If you do, just remember to duck every now and then.

Charles Gramlich said...

Deidra, I agree. That's something literature can do far better than movies can.

Natasha, yeah, I don't believe we should have all of one or the other. A mix is what we need. And we shouldn't be denigrating either one specifically.

G, the problem for me is when it becomes all one or the other. I don't like all action with no introspection, but endless introspection is boring.

Lana, I agree that is fun in a lot of books.

Tom, fiction gives me something nonfiction can't, and much of that may be the delving into character.

Christina, I think it's fairly general, although I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions. Koontz and King, for example, both delve quite a bit into the internal life of their characters.

Rick, that would be foolish of me since I live with one of the enemy. I mean, the other gender. ;)

Rachel V. Olivier said...

I think there are exceptions to every "rule" if you're going to set that up as a rule of sorts. I've really enjoyed the action in Vicki Pettersson's zodiac series, plus she has some internal workings of her protagonist (it's first person). Same with Rachel Vincent's werecat series, though hers has a little less action. On the other hand, both Neil Gaiman and Charles DeLint do very well at the internal dialogues of their characters and the motivations they experience.

Plus, it depends on the stories themselves. Some stories are set up more for action and others more for internal workings. For example, a magician's tale is going to be more sedentary, unless he's a fighting magician. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

Erik Donald France said...

I like both approaches, to mix them up.

How about a gay author like Marcel Proust? He goes for interiors but in an epic way. One of my all-time favorite authors.

Just thought of Gore Vidal's Lincoln -- secondary characters are delved into, but Lincoln is always seen only from the outside, by his actions.

ivan said...

It's been a long time, but memory still recalls some original Startrek episode with Captain Kirk, where a planet is depopulating--all the men sterile, even impotent --and Captain Kirk is offered an entreaty by Neela (not Neela Darren) to have herself impregnated so that her race could go on. Neela's husband understands he has to be cuckolded in order for his race--that planet's humanoid race-- to survive.
It is so reminiscent of the "open marriages"so common in the eighties and one's own Kirkian episodes at the time.

Sturm und Drang. Get put through the wringer and the husband too goes through bad nights of the soul... Wife demure through all this.
...I never thought of myself as being some wife's aphorodisiac for
an impotent husband.... The Eighties. What planet were we on? Oh-oh. Strange rock and roll. Not BMI as in music distribution, but, I fear TMI. :<

Anonymous said...

ooh very interesting. I think I can always tell whether something is written by a man or a woman. Our reading group once had to judge a writing competition and we didn't know at first whether the authors were male or female- but we generally all agreed on the writer's gender- and we were right! Couldn't really tell you why though. We just knew!.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Character is the thing with Star Trek - the best TV episodes were character driven. I've not read than many Star Trek books but the Vulcan's Soul saga was good.

Bernita said...

Just a thought: perhaps men think emotion is a given/understood and women prefer to explore it.
Male writers more toward "show" and women more to "tell."

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

A writer's work will always be influenced by how they process their experiences, and men and women tend to process their experiences in different ways. My husband always says, "Dear, when you see a problem, you want to think about it. I just want to FIX it."

CiCi said...

I read mostly mystery. I had noticed the Jonathan Kellerman's books are pretty good while his wife, Faye, is average. Stephen King is probably the master when it comes to setting up a story and using phrases that I want to remember. Carol O'Connell is a good story teller with her Mallory stories. I like them probably because I am a woman and I like snarky Mallory. I think Jodi Picoult is in a top ranking all by herself. It seems to me that most of the male authors write what both male and female like to read, while lots of female authors write what mostly females read. Guys think the books written by women area"chick books".

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I'm a woman, I read mostly mysteries and thrillers and primarily by male authors. My reason for this is because the majority of the female mystery writers I've read focus way too much on 'romance' in their books and that's not what I want to read about in a good thriller.
OI have found a couple of female authors of this genre that I read and look for religiously, but hating to be disappointed, I'll stick with the men.
Nicholas Sparks can make anyone cry if you want a good 'life' genre!

Lisa said...

My reading interest is wide and diversified and changes and evolves over time (well I hate to admit that now I am down to blog reading), but it just does not include science fiction. So I can't say anything about Startrek (the book or the movie).

All of my main authors (not necessarily my favorites) are male, except for Karen Armstrong. I do read fast, easy reading thrillers like by Mary Higgins Clark and Patricia Cornwell.

What I am trying to say is I do not pay attention to the gender of the author or consider the difference, but since you are asking, I'd say this is a man's world...almost all my books are authored by male.

Now, in my list of favorites on my blog profile (to keep in line with being light and easy), I list Chocolat by Joanne Harris and The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace, one female and one male.

But when I think of one of the greatest book of all time, Gone With the Wind, it is Margaret Michell. Female.

Well Charles, you got me going but I don't know where I'm heading. Why do you have to ask such a tough delicate question? lol

Anonymous said...

I just looked at my "favortie books" list, and discovered that only one book on my list is by a female author.

It was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norel by Susanna Clarke. Upon reflection, this book does have decidely less action than most of the fantasy books I read. It's more about the relationship between the two magicians and there is a lot more chatting about magic than performing it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, the one book I read by Gaiman, American gods, had far too much for me. I was hoping for more action but it was all internal. I haven't read anything by him since. Certainly the genre makes a difference as well.

Erik, ys, I Think the combination can be really strong. I've not read Lincoln but that sounds like an interesting approach. I will have to give it a try. I haven't read Proust. Delany is also gay and his early stuff was pretty actiony while his later stuff was very internalized.

ivan, both the 70s and 80s were bizarre on the sexual front. Weird but kind of innocent in a lot of ways.

Cinnamon, that's an interesting tidbit, about the contest. I wander in the contests I've entered whether that has been true. I'm intriuged.

ARCHAVIST, I agree, but there can still be a difference between featuring the character from inside or outside. How would you classify "Tarnished Star?"

Bernita, could be. I think maybe at the heart of some differences is 1) assumptions, and 2) preferences.

ninthmuse, sometimes I do think that women spend more time thinking about problems, although with Lana and I it almos seems reverse gendered. She's more sanguine than I am.

TechnoBabe,I like a lot of female authors but I have to admit I'm sometimes cautious about picking up books by new female authors because I'm afraid I'm going to get all relationships all the time. I don't actually read many mysteries but there are quite a few female fantasy authors I like a lot.

Gaston Studio, I've been disappointed in a couple of the thrillers I've read by women for similar reasons. One the other hand, I'm finding myself enjoying the female authors of Star Trek books more than the male authors. Depends on what we're looking for I guess.

Ocean Girl, it raises a lot of thought. I'm glad of that. I read more books by men, partially because I read a lot of older pulp books and most of those writers were men to begin with. It's interesting to think about the differences, though.

Christine Purcell, I'll be reading outside Star Trek pretty soon so I'll see if I can see the trend in other genres I'm reading. Particularly I'll have a look at fantasy maybe. thanks for visiting.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I find this true in most novels. Women could spend a whole novel in someone's head. Men could spend a whole novel on the road.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

What I am about to write, I apologize for, and I know that there are some women folk who will come after me. But here it is...I am not a fan of women writing speculative fiction or fantasy. Usually such work tends to be aimed at their own genre, and that is fine. However, seldom does it seem to step over the gender line and grab the other sex.

There will always be exceptions. Ursula K. Leguin remains a master of the genre. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" remains one the finest works of supernatural fiction, and I am currently reading through the Christie library. However, I sometimes struggle with female writers and tend to approach with caution.

Look at the likes of Laurel K. Hamilton, for example. Her first Anita Blake novels were well done. They were fast, hard-hitting, and fun...but then she bowed to the estrogen god and mired her work in a romantic triangle that preceded the mire produced by Meyers.

I suspect the problem remains a difference in socialization and an inherent sexism in our society. Look at the voice overs on commercials, for instance. WHen they look for a voice of authority, they have a deep male voice, rich with experience and certainty.

I'm not saying any of this is right, I just understand it. I also believe we should work to change it. So the issue probably isn't at the writer level, but rather at both the reader and the publisher level.

Don't hate me.

Steve Malley said...

You're a wise and clever man, sir. I shall ponder...

Mary Witzl said...

I want to know how a character feels. I don't mind if some of that is shown to me by his actions and reactions to others, but I do like at least some of it depicted by stream of consciousness. On the other hand, I can get too much of that. I'm a big fan of Anita Brookner, for instance, but there are times I feel she goes a little overboard with this. Wally Lamb gets it right just about every time.

Voidwalker said...

I haven't noticed it with the books you are referring to, simply because, well, I haven't read any Star Trek stuff. I only ever watched it on TV or in the theater.


I do know what you mean. The books I read that have female authors, do tend to have more personal, social and emotive elements in them.

Funny thing is, up until recently, every book I read by a female author ended up in my "not so favorite" section. I think it was just an coincidental string of bad reads for me, because I've recently come across some really excellent novels by females.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction said...

I hadnt really put two and two together but I do notice this now that you mention it! ;) Makes complete sense though. This is how the sexes were created, to be different. Seems all of my favorite ones have been written by men though.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Oh man, how sad to read so many posts that say they'd rather read a male author than a female author when men are notorious for not knowing how to communicate.

Is it really that women are more "internal" or are they merely perceived as such?

Christie was all puzzles and external action. Sayers was much more internal. They were both women.

Gaiman is internal, as is King. Both male.

Rowling is action and internal. As is Lackey. Both women.

Norman Bogner - very internal. Male.

Italo Calvino - almost all internal. Male.

A.A. Milne. Internal. male.

Margery Allingham - external. female.

Poe. Internal.
Lovecraft. Internal.
Both male.

Andre Norton - action adventure - female.

Marion Zimmer Bradley - internal and action adventure. Female.

Gil Rosco. Internal. Male.

I mean. Please. Take a closer look. It's so discouraging to read how we still categorize people. Writers of all people should know better.

Voidwalker said...

To Rachel: I don't think he's trying to cast all women into that group, but rather he is just noticing the similarities based on generalizations. I've heard it said that generalizations are exagerated truths. When you break that down, it's so true. Women are different than men, there's nothing wrong with that and it doesn't mean that some women won't be like men and some men won't be like women. All in all, every individual is different, but there are some striking contrasts between the sexes, which is what Charles picked up on.

Evan Lewis said...

Ever since I was a kid, I identified as much with the author as I did with characters, resulting almost exclusively in male-authored books. In recent years I've learned I was missing something. Still, I did sample a few Star Trek books by women in the 80s, and the relationships between Kirk, Spock and McCoy were never quite right. I suppose of study of how they were wrong could be insightful.

jodi said...

Charles, I always prefer the movie over the book or tv show. Lately my favortite authors are women, and I think this is because I prefer character driven stories more than action driven ones.

Cloudia said...

I vote for the omniscience!

Aloha, Charles

Comfort Spiral

Charles Gramlich said...

pattinase, It makes for an interesting difference.

Stewart Sternberg, I approach with caution for thrillers and high fantasy, but not so much for sword & sorcery or SF. I think the constraints of a genre can help rein in some writers' worst tendencies. I had the same issue with you regarding Hamilton. Those later books were awful, at least the one I tried to get through.

Steve Malley, yeah, I know which side my stuff is buttered on.

Mary Witzl, I thought it got way out of hand in the Secret Life of Bees, for example.

Voidwalker, One of the things I like about books as opposed to TV and movies is their ability to get inside the characters. Still, there can be too much of a good thing.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction, most of my favorites have been written by men, although someone mentioned SHirley Jackson's "the Haunting of Hill House," which is a masterpiece. And my absolute favorite Star Trek books have been written by women.

Rachel, well you're taking it as a negative criticism to say that women writers tend to be more internal on average. Why do you percieve it as negative? I never said it was negative. In fact, I said I was enjoying the male written book somewhat less than the female written book. It's pretty negative to say that men notoriously don't know how to communicate. The research evidence does suggest that men and women communicate somewhat differently. And, of course there are many exceptions. I know enough about normal curves that I'd never say all women are --or all men are --.

Voidwalker, I actually find differences among people to be fascinating. And, of course, there is so much variability within genders.

Evan Lewis, when an author goes internal I think they run a greater risk in a way because all readers have their own take on personalities of characters, as opposed to more agreement about behaviors. It's really the same way in the real world.

jodi, I like character books sometimes, but action books more often. That in itself is typically considered a male/female difference, of course. Although there are certainly many exceptions.

Cloudia, all good things Eh? that's a Trek episode.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Charles, I didn't mean to direct that comment at you so much as at all the other comments on this blog. There appear to be a lot of people here who don't read the opposite gender, or if they do, don't like it, and I guess it really disturbs me.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

And see, now that comment is going to get people up in arms. I just mean that it disturbs me that so many people seem to say they don't like female writers. And I guess I'm taking that personally. In which case, I apologize.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, I know there are male readers who won't read female authors. That's one reason from what I understand that J. K. Rowling used her initials. I do konw some women who won't read male authors, though that's a smaller demographic, I think. It is unfortunate when people allow their stereotypes prevent them from even trying something new.

Greg said...

that's an interesting point. I've never really noticed that before, but I'll start paying attention now.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Interesting perspective. Having been told that I write more like a man than a woman, I can understand this post. Apparently I was missing that emotional connection and had to work on it.

Happy new year Charles!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Greg, I notice strange things like that. I'm pretty weird.

Ello, intersting. I wonder if other writers have been told that kind of thing, both men and women.

cs harris said...

I've never read a Star Trek book, but in general I'd say the characters of the series have exerted a tremendous fascination that extends beyond their use as simple placeholders in a series of adventures. Some writers (male or female) could ignore character development and skate on what has gone before in order to keep their focus on action, but I can certainly see other authors being drawn to the series by their interest in the characters. Do they tend to fall out along gender lines? Probably, but I wouldn't expect it to be 100% either way.

I like some male, some female authors. Find both Jodi Picault and Nicholas Sparks too melodramatic for my taste. In my own writing, my thriller series has almost zero introspection and is focused on action, while the mystery series has far more emotion and internal growth of the characters.

BernardL said...

I like when an author utilizes internalized comments, especially if they're done humorously.

Lauren said...

Maybe they should team up and have a man and a women write the next Star Trek book to see what comes out of it :) But I do agree about how men and women have different writing styles. I personally usually prefer women authors, but in an action oriented genre like epic fantasy. But, of course it's all just generalization. I wonder how much of it is perception and how much is real. JK Rowling was told to go by her initials so that she didn't sound like a woman. I wonder if the Harry Potter books would have done as well otherwise. Interesting to think about.

Sidney said...

Interesting observation, probably not limited to writing/storytelling and not absolute.

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, oh I certainly think the genre will have a profound impact. And I think many are drawn to Trek because they are so interested in the characters. Just interesting to make observations, although I know such are not universals.

BernardL, I like such too, although humor has to be handled so delicately.

Lauren, Yes, interesting speculation, as long as we don't take it as law or take it too far.

Sidney, yes, probably not limited to any particular arena. I agree it wouldn't be universal.

Mariana Soffer said...

Very interesting post, I am thinking several options, but I am not convinced about any of them, my only opinion for now would be that I think that we should be allowed to have more freedom, to be more accurate, to be more irrational to access reality trough another way.

Middle Ditch said...

Mmmmmm, difficult one. I am with Deidra though. I usually prefer the book to tv. I like both male and female writers so I don't really know. But either way, I'm here to wish you and Lana a most wonderful and inspirational 2010

Barry said...

As someone whose reading is fairly equally distributed between the sexes, I suspect there is, generally speaking, some truth to your speculation.

So its a fair point.

But really the more important question is, is the story well written. Does it grab you, does it show you the world in a new and interesting way?

If it does, then the gender of the author doesn't matter, nor does it matter whether the story is more or less about the interior life of the characters.

Barry said...

By the way, I see Patrick Stewart Is now Sir Patrick!

About time.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mariana Soffer, I'm all for freedom. As I teach to my students all the time, biology isn't destiny in most cases. Knowledge is never limiting, although people sometimes take some basic research factoid and try to make it limiting. that's a problem with people, not with the information.

Middle Ditch, thanks. And the same to you! 09 was a good year for your online play eh?

Barry, agreed. The story is the thing. Stil, I'm natrually a speculator about stuff. Comes with my job I guess.

laughingwolf said...

if only we would learn more of each other's ways... we men seem to wanna 'fix' something, just cuz we think we can....

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, it often seems so.

X. Dell said...

As a veteran reader of Star Trek novels, I have to confess that I rarely pay attention to the author. So I wouldn't be able to confirm your observation or challenge it.

I actually enjoy the mixture of approaches in the novels themselves. I wouldn't have enjoyed the series as much if there weren't those books in which examination of characters' inner works came to the fore, and I wouldn't have enjoyed them as much as a series of swashbuckling adventure. The strength of Star Trek is its cosmology, which, from different authors, gives a thorough--and often contradictory--understanding of the main crew.

Charles Gramlich said...

X dell, it is fun to see the apparent contradictions in the characters at times from different writers. Real people are certainly not viewed the same by everyone who meets them.