Thursday, 14 February 2013

Answers: You Write Like a Girl

If you missed Tuesday's post, then you may want to go Here first. On Tuesday I brought up the question of sex/gender with regard to writing style and asked the following question: Do you think you could read a passage from a book, without prior knowledge of who penned it, and determine whether the author was man or woman?  I gave excerpts from seven different authors and asked readers to guess for themselves which were written by men and which by women. 

Luckily, several of you guys came through for me, played along and shared your thoughts on the subject. Thank you! I got some really interesting results like one excerpt that most people guessed correctly and one that everyone kept guessing wrong. The post also sparked some thought provoking e-mail conversations, but I'll wait to share all that with you at the bottom of the post, I know you all are itching to find out who wrote what. So without further ado . . .   

1)  There's something else in their eyes, too, something that will haunt them, all unacknowledged, until the day they die, and cast its shadow over even their happiest days. The fear of what they did. What they did in the unremembered part of their shared dream."
     That's what keeps him where he is and makes him take the telephone even though he is sweltering, roasting, fucking melting

 -Stephen King, Dreamcatcher

2) Like and equal are two entirely different things.
      For the moment she had escaped from the power of IT.
     But how?
     She knew that her own puny little brain was no match for this great, bodiless, pulsing, writhing mass on the round dais. She shuddered as she looked at IT. 

-Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

3)  Silence.
     You'll find your way. Trust me.
     Tentative, she inched forward blindly. Leap of faith? Katherine could not even see her hand directly in front of her face. She kept moving forward, but within a matter of seconds, she was entirely lost. Where am I going?
     That was three years ago.

-Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol

4) It turned its back on me and began to walk back the way I had come, toward the village, back to the empty house I had left that morning; and it whistled as it walked.
     I've been here ever since. Hiding. Waiting. Part of the bridge.

-Neil Gaiman, Troll-Bridge

5)  The horizon merged with the dunes into a single mass of dusty beige. Out here even the sky is sucked dry of all color. It is a smudge of pale taupe, paler topaz; a trace of blued-steel, met by the blade of the horizon. To the south, east and west there was nothing, miles and miles of nothing.

-Jennifer Roberson, Sword Dancer

6) At last, after some days, the sun again appeared and shone brightly over the white ground, but he went to bed again behind the mountains at a very early hour, as if he did not find such pleasure in looking down on the earth as when everything was green and flowery. But then the moon came out clear and large and lit up the great white snowfield all through the night, and the next morning the while mountain glistened and sparkled like a huge crystal. 

-Johanna Spyri, Heidi

7)"Ohhhhh . . ."
It was the long cry of a man gone over a cliff into Eternity.
It seemed we sat waiting to hear him hit bottom.
Far off in the hills in the upper part of the house, his door banged shut.
My soul turned over and died.

-Ray Bradbury, Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby's is a Friend of Mine

Here's a quick breakdown, my analysis and thoughts of the results. 

First, no one got them all correct, however one person got pretty darn close and that was Tony Hunt, (aka. laughingwolf) at . . . paws and reflect. He got them all correct except for one, and I'll get to that in just a second.  But for now, Tony you ROCK! I don't know if it's the editor training in ya or if you just got a nose for writing styles but damn, color me impressed!

Just about everyone guessed #1 correctly as being male. Not only that, but Michael Offutt nailed it by naming the author right off the bat. YOU DA MAN Michael. (: Now, I think what gave it away in part, was the f-bomb. But before you start booing me for that, please understand I'm not saying women never use profanity in their writing. I know I have and will use it IF I feel it necessary. That being said, I believe in our society, it is generally less accepted for a woman to use profanity than a man. Again, that's not saying that women aren't allowed to cuss or don't cuss. I'll fucking cuss and say shit all the damn time if I please. But it's my opinion that men get slightly different reactions especially in public when they use profanity than when women use it. Women in the 1930s for example would never use profanity to the extent that women use it today. But nonetheless, the stigma is still there and society still frowns more readily on women who cuss than on men who cuss. I think it's an unwritten rule that can effect the way some women write. Just my 2 cents folks. I wonder how different the answers would have been had I left out the f-bomb from King's excerpt . . .   

The second excerpt was another one most people guessed correctly as being written by a woman. Michael Offutt even made the comment that it must have been written by a woman because "Men don't use the word 'puny'. And I agree with him in the general sense. Obviously, we're not saying no man has ever not used the word puny, but in general men would probably choose a different word. 

On the flip side, the one excerpt that just about everyone missed, even Tony (; was #7 Ray Bradbury. The only people that got it correct was SP Bowers, Celeste Holloway, and Melissa (all women by the way). Ray Bradbury in my opinion, is the master of all masters when it comes to using imagery and writing description. No one tops Ray. No. One.  I just have to share with you another example of what I'm talking about, it's one sentence long and a perfect description:

"The second night a dog trotted by, wearing his tongue half out of his mouth like a loosely tied red cravat, smiling at trees." Ray Bradbury, That Woman On The Lawn

Anyway, as for the rest of the excerpts, people were pretty much divided. Michael made the comment that descriptions are androgynous and it would be difficult to tell them apart. To which I respectfully disagreed and made some of the following points. I think you can SOMETIMES tell if a segment is written by a woman or by a man depending on word choice in the same way Michael said "men don't use the word puny." Take the sun as an example. How would you describe it? Like a ball of fire or like a sunflower. (Probably neither, but I'm trying to prove a point). It's my opinion that most men would avoid using the sunflower metaphor or any flowery type language because that tends to be attributed to a more feminine voice. Then Tony made a good point in one of his comments when he said "usually, the female writer includes detailed info of a scene, like the number of buttons on a sleeve, something a male, usually, won't mention." I agree with him. How many times have you heard the saying, "women notice everything" or women saying "it's the little things that count . . ." or "PUT THE TOILET SEAT DOWN!" To which Michael says, he sees my points but "I still think Atwood writes like a man." LOL!

Anyway, Michael made another interesting point. He noted that (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) male writers often bring their ideology into their writing more so than women. Michael calls this "writing with your Richard." xD Love it!  Now, of course women do this as well, but he sees it more often with male writers that use their story as a soapbox on which to stand on. Women, from what he read, tend to refrain from judgement and focus more on the emotional aspects of a scene and what it means for the characters. This aspects of male vs female writers really intrigues me and I'd love to dig deeper into this subject.   

There is one other aspect I believe effects the way men and women write. It's not a very popular idea, but I believe a lot of the differences we see stems from the fact that biologically/physically  men and women are different. One is not better than the other, we're just different and that fundamental difference will have a ripple effect (even if it's slight) that effects what we do and how we think. 

In any event, I believe with practice and training, a good writer can learn to write with a more masculine or feminine voice if they choose, it just takes time to develop. But what if you're a woman writer working with a male editor?! Ok, ok, I'll stop here because this post is already mega F****** long, but I find this subject fascinating and would love to hear your thoughts. 

Oh and last thing, I promise. The following is a link to the Gender Genie. As stated on their site, "the Gender Genie uses a simplified version of an algorithm . . . to predict the gender of an author." Basically, all you have to do is copy/paste text into their textbox and it will predict the gender of the author. Not sure how accurate this is but it could be fun to test out some of your POVs with.  

if you made it all the way down here, consider this your virtual hug. 
Have a great weekend


  1. Sorry I didn't make any comments... Epic Ninja fail.
    Wouldn't have got the first author right anyway - read one King book and didn't like it.

  2. I read through them, but couldn't make up my mind.

  3. thx el, all guesswork since i am not familiar with any quote you posted *sigh*

  4. Interactions between the genders are interesting because they are the result of many factors. Background, confidence, position power, chemical receptors, etc, to name a few.

    Gender of the writer doesn't matter to me, story does. It is an interesting topic, Elise.

  5. Hmmm...I got a few right but it was all guesswork although I've always felt like women tend to be more flowery with their words.

  6. Just tried the Gender Genie, pasted a bit of text from one of my WIPs. Big old fail - Genie said my text was written by a fella. Tsk. OTOH, I reckon I am pretty butch. ;-)

  7. I figured I was way off base, but it was still fun :)

  8. Alex: I used to read a lot of King as a teenager, but I don't think I could have guessed from the excerpt it was him. I was just trying to see if people could guess a man wrote it. No ninja fail here, your comment came through. Thanks Alex. (:

    Richard: The excerpts were really short and there were several people who couldn't make up their mind. This wasn't easy to do.

    Lawolf: That was the point, that no one could tell right away who the author was. We all had to guess and use a "gut" feeling to make our decision. Your guess work was pretty dead on. (:

    DG: I agree. No matter if there is a difference or not, what's important is can the writer deliver a good story, are the characters believable, can the reader connect with the characters, etc. There are countless external and internal factors that shape and mold a person's personality and behavior, sex (male/female) is just one.

    Melissa: I think you may be right, but I also think there's nothing wrong with being airy and flowery with your words, it's simply a different style of writing and many readers prefer it.

    Mina: LOL! I think it either means you're not the typical woman writer OR the Genie is full of crap. Either way it's not important. What's important is the story, and how readers respond/connect to your book. (:

    Mark: I thought it was a fun little experiment too. And you did get a few right Mark!

  9. Those are some interesting facts. I try to limit people spotting my gender by writing from my characters' POV and never narrating. Theoretically, I can give you a piece about my girl character and someone would know it's a girl who wrote it. But hopefully no one would know it's me looking at a piece from a guy POV.

  10. Hi Elise .. I'm not that aware .. I sort of go with the flow of the writing and people quite often write under pseudonyms ... but fascinating ideas and facts you've given us ...

    Cheers Hilary

  11. I tried them and got almost all of them wrong, including Stephen King's, and he's one of my favorite authors. I have to tell you that the one by Madeleine L'Engle sounded to me like a virginal bride on her wedding night, looking in terror at ... IT!
    Great post! :-)

  12. Misha: I didn't give too many facts in my post really. It's mostly opinion based on personal experience and observation with a little science background. There are many people who disagree with me, and that's ok. I think a good writer can write in any POV and make their character believable, and from what I've read from your blogs, I have no doubt you can do just that. (:

    Hilary: I think many authors that write with a pseudonyms do so to hide their gender. But I think you have the right attitude, just go with the flow of writing . . . just as long as writing gets done. (:

    Lexa: ROFL! That was funny. I'll never be able to look at a Wrinkle in Time the same way again. xD

  13. Ha! I got four right. That's more than 50%, so that's good right? I also got the last one right!

    Should I admit I'm afraid of the gender genie? I'm not sure I want to know how much I fail at this.

  14. Wish I would have found the challenge before. Oh well. I have read a number of books where the MC felt like a different sex than they were, and I wondered if it was the author or my own personal biases for what I expect those sexes to sound like. Westerfield, in my opinion, grabs voices like a boss! I think he has them down....which maybe evident by his sales :)


  15. Missed the original post, so I didn't get to guess.

    There are words and phrases that women are more likely to use, and we tend to notice more details. That often comes through in our writing.

  16. Well, I guessed only 5 and I guessed it right. No man gets to describe colors as pale topaz, hahaha. That's all woman's trait. Immediately reminded me of Mother Dragon and her fuchsia dress. To a man that is pink. I doubt a man would describe colors like that, unless he's a poet. Not sure.

  17. This has been very interesting. I'm so glad you posted it.

    The editor question is intriguing. I can't comment on editors, but I can compare critters.

    For my first WIP (a paranormal romance, btw), I had 4 critters--two female and two male. Some of the comments overlapped and some didn't.

    The males view things in a different way than the females and sometimes catch things the females don't notice (and vice versa); that was expected. But the interesting thing was that there were certain lines or passages that would get totally opposite responses. The guys would mark it 'Meh...cut it' and the girls would be like 'Woohoo! Love it!!!'

    Women are my target audience, so I went with the gals. LOL

  18. Yeah, I would've guessed the first one to be Stephen King, but it's been awhile since I read Dreamcatcher, so I never would've guessed the book. Some of the others surprised me, though. :)

  19. Elise, I'm sorry I missed Tuesdays post, but I find this issue so interesting. Lately, I've noticed how much more I enjoy things written by women. It's almost like they have the inside track to my thoughts and experiences, which....duh, they do. That's not to say I don't enjoy man writing, it's just something I've discovered about myself that came as a bit of a surprise and makes me anxious to read more and varied female authors to see if the rule holds true across genres.

  20. Sara: You did a pretty good job with this exercise, Sara! (:

    Steven: Thanks for stopping in, Steven. I've got Leviathan on my bookshelf that I haven't gotten to yet, looks like I need to bump up the list. (-:

    Diane: Good observation and I agree with you.

    Al: LOL. I'd have to agree Father Dragon. Most men would probably not describe colors as pale topaz. (;

    Melissa: Oh how interesting, and it makes perfect sense. Hence the importance of having both male and female beta/cp readers. And I think you did the right thing when you said at the end, when the cps suggestions contradicted one another, go with the one that most reflects your target audience. Smart.

    Cherie: Some of them were pretty trick, plus the excerpts short. Maybe with longer excerpts, people would have gotten a better feel for author gender.

    Johanna: That's great. I know as I meet and discover more indi-authors I find myself reading more books written by women and I'm really enjoying that. I find the whole subject of male vs female writing fascinating and I know I'm not even scratching the surface.

  21. Interesting. I missed your Tuesday post (drat) but what a great experiment!

    I think, overall, there are probably diverging trends between male and female writers--but individual variation affects a lot.

  22. I think an honest writer will eventually realize they will have to write in both sexual genders and find a way to become comfortable in it.

  23. I think the first one was obviously Stephen King because he's soooo overwritten. An interesting study, Elise. I think you could seriously cut 20% of the words from a Stephen King book and not lose anything.

  24. Greetings human friend, Elise,

    Yes, it's me, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! My human, Gary, has been somewhat tired the last few days. Thus he has asked me to take over and leave one of my highly cherished comments :)

    An interesting debate you got going with this writing like a girl or a dude. I've been told that some book titled '51 Shades of Crap', or something like that, was written by a lady. Of course, I suppose I write like a dog, a lady dog and I wont bitch over that. As for my human, he writes in so many different styles, I wouldn't know what to call it. Okay, I might call it something I shouldn't type here.

    Must go now and I hope you had a lovely Valentine's Day. My human's Valentine's Day was a bit of a bummer. Okay, I'm going cause it's tough typing using paws. Think of yourself typing with mittens on! :)

    Pawsitive wishes and doggy kisses, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! xx

  25. My short story that was published by Star Trek was written from a 1st person female perspective. It was so convincing, one of the other authors for the anthology asked me over the internet if I was really a woman. I took that as quite a compliment.

  26. This was such a great exercise -- I read each excerpt in the last post and guessed about half!

    Loved this -- look forward to your AZ posts.

  27. Golden: Thanks for stopping in. I agree with you. There are individual variation and countless external factors that affect ones writing, but I think there is a trend between the sexes.

    Stephen: I agree.

    Michael: I haven't read King recently. Most of the books I read by him date back about 15+ years.

    Penny!! Great to hear from you. Please take care of your human friend. (:

    Mark: That's great, you should take that as a compliment. Thanks for commenting. (:

    Damyanti: Thanks! The fact that these excerpts were so short made it even harder to guess author gender. Thanks for stopping in and for the follow-back! I'm excited about A-Z too! :D

  28. This was super interesting. I missed the original post so, epic fail there. But this was a great idea!

  29. This was fascinating and very timely for me. I'm writing an epic fantasy with a male hero (because I like to torture myself) and am afraid of him sounding like a wuss. :)

  30. Great post Elise. It's a very interesting concept, one to be honest, I never really thought about. Now you've got me thinking. :)

  31. Ah, I missed the first post to which this one bummer!! I love that you've made me think though. I was told once, I write more like a guy. Not sure what that person meant and I ignored it, but his reminded me. Hmmm...

    Great post, Elise!

  32. An insightful post, Elise! I actually couldn't tell by reading most of the excerpts whether they were written by a man or woman. Perhaps that's good?

    I agree with your point about how people might judge a woman who uses profanity more than men, and to add to that, I want to say that many females learn from a young age that being tough or blunt in their self-expression is considered "unfeminine" and perhaps that also affects the way some of these females may express their thoughts later as adults, whether they're writers or non-writers.


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