Sunday, March 11, 2012


        In the past several weeks, you’ve had occasion to complete a number of line editing assignments from clients of each gender as well as undertaking for this week to come the reading of final pages from a number of students, mostly women.

Here, in no particular order, some observations, which lead to yet more observations about your own approaches to writing, editing, and teaching. The individuals about whom these observations spring run the gamut from beginner to published professional.

1. Women writers are much too gentle on their characters until they—the writers—have gone through the editing process one or more times.  They seem to be most genuine in their wish not to do the one thing they most need to do for their characters, which is to get them into troubles of shattering depths and heartbreaking intensity.
2. English writers are better at depicting American characters than American writers are about portraying the British.  Americans in early stages of their career tend to think the English all sound like Bertie Wooster and Lord Peter Whimsy.
3. Male writers have more difficulty depicting women characters than women writers have portraying males.
4. Once women writers accept that it is acceptable to have women characters pitch tantrums or hizzy fits, they are infinitely more able to bring these characters to life than are male writers.
5. Women writers portraying men or women characters pitching tantrums tend to have their characters act out their passions with more dimension, while men writers tend to use profanity, throwing objects, such as cell phones, or hitting things such as foreheads, walls, tables, and, alas, women.
6. Many male writers have difficulty presenting an accurate profile of female sexuality, tending to portray their women characters with the awareness and appetites of men, even though male writers may be aware of the differences in approach.
7. Women writers seem to have more difficulty grasping the concept of the narrative voice than men writers, but once they have achieved the awareness of twenty-first-century narrative conventions, they are able to portray their characters with a more deft and closer focus than men.
8. Male writers at the early stages of their ability are apt to allow a narrative to progress longer using pronouns rather than proper names for their characters than women writers of more-or-less equal technical ability.
9. Male writers want to describe how things work; women writers want to describe settings.

Sometimes the circumstances leading to these observations are more painful than you let on, but the circumstances are nevertheless valuable because they remind you of lapses you once made, might make again when lazy, or have never made but might make in the future after becoming convinced you would never make such an error.

A mistake falls into two or three categories, those made from ignorance, those made from laziness, and those made from forgetfulness.  You consider it unthinkable for a project to get through early drafts without some mistake, even the more obvious one of the habit word, which for you is often over use of the word and as a means of linking independent clauses.  You can and should excise errors through the act of redrafting, perhaps even restructuring.

At one time in you career, you favored first person narrative.  You then switched to third person, then to multiple.  There are lovely enough examples of each for you not to be fooled by the academic argument of one being better than another or any other. The “trick” of narrative is to recast it in as many ways possible, then pick the one most appealing to you.  Your longstanding preference for multiple in longer work is coincidental with your growing appreciation for the kind of ambiguity that allows the reader access to the characters’ confusion and bewilderment while still conveying the sense that some kind of closure or settlement has been achieved or that as much poetic justice as the governing system of justice in a particular story will allow has been extended.

Endings that seem too packaged provoke the same response as a dreadful, managed travel tour.

There is no question that you will like some characters more than others, but you believe it wrong not to like them all to the degree where you are concerned with their welfare because their visions have become so skewed.

The puzzle in a crime story may be important, even thematic, but it is not as important as the characters, themselves.  This is true as well in the romance, where the love interest is not as vital as the characters and their responses.

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