Word Vomit and then… Publish? (Tips for Writing Higher Quality Blogs, and Fiction)

If you’re like me, you get really excited about finishing something you’ve set out to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s 500 words or 90,000, I am really bad about this: I get so excited about finishing the project that I immediately want to send it out into the world. I am riding high on writer’s adrenaline, and in that state of mind, everything I’ve written feels amazing, and ready to publish.

A couple years ago I finished a novel I’d been working on for sometime. It’d been written in a couple big chunks mostly, several months apart. There were inconsistencies and plot holes and characters that needed to be fleshed out more and so on and so on. But that didn’t matter. I was riding high and had finally finished and I was pumped about it. I had been anticipating having a completed novel I could query…

So what did I do? I sent out query letters on a novel in no shape for publication.send-button

It got rejected, of course.

A year and a half later, and I am finding I still have a lot of work I need to do on that novel. It really needs a completely re-typed fourth draft, which I will get to once I’ve finished another novel I am writing.

I have found that this too-eager tendency goes with my blogging as well. There have been more times than I’d like to admit that I’ve hit “Publish” and then read over what I posted on my blog and had to go back and make several changes, because I was too eager and too impatient.

Too Easy to Publish?

self-publishing-bannerWith the onset of blogging and self-publishing it has become real easy to put writing out there for the world. Perhaps too easy.

I read recently that people get themselves in a lot more trouble these days, due to Facebook and email. You can write hate-mail or angry rants or insults or whatever. You can spew all your angry thoughts and then hit send without thinking it through. People have lost jobs and probably countless relationships as a result of word vomiting, and then promptly hitting send.

How many readers might we lose by doing the same?

Don’t Settle

The truth is there are a lot of crappy blogs with spelling errors galore, and even ambiguous points to the posts themselves. You may be able to get by with it, get some hits, some likes, and some new follows based off your ideas. But I bet you will get more if it’s higher quality.

In addition, there are heaps of crappy books out there that got word vomited, slapped with a stock-photo cover and a gradient effect on the font, and then put out there on Amazon too early. They aren’t the ones selling like crazy. They might get some decent sales, if they’re lucky. But why settle for that, when you can write quality and get more sales?

People have already got a million reasons not to read your stuff. Let’s be real. There is more written content accessible than ever before in the history of the world.

reasons-stop-reading-blogYou don’t want your writing, whether it is a quick blog or an epic novel, to go unread simply because you didn’t take the time to edit it and make it the best it could be. There are a lot of factors that you don’t have control over when it comes to readership. But the one you can control is the quality of your content.

A few tips before you hit “Publish”

These are going to be specifically about blogs. Many of the same principles apply to longer works, but there is a lot more to them.

  • Save it as a draft and Set It Aside — This may just be an hour or two. Finish the first draft, and then, close your laptop. Go for a walk or do yard work or whatever. Give your mind a break from whatever it is you’ve been writing.
  • Look at it again with Fresh Eyes — Editing immediately will likely leave your writing still replete with errors. When we look at something closely for a while, we tend not to have an eye for structural errors or lack of continuity. Now that you’ve had your break, go ahead and take a look at it again. As you are going, look for continuity errors and structural flaws. Is your point clear and focused in your blog? Do you need to cut some rambling?
  • Print It Out and edit again, now for spelling and grammar — I have found that I notice even more problems when I print things out and edit with a red pen. Spelling errors seem to stand out more off-screen. Then go back into your word processor and fix them.
  • Read it over One More Time — Is it really ready now?
  • Alright, Hit “Publish” — Now that you have taken a break and taken your time editing thoroughly, you are ready to put your work out there.

If you rush less, you will produce far better work that makes a clearer point without needless spelling and grammatical errors. Your readers will more easily understand what you have to say, resulting in more likes, follows, and hits on your blog.

And, like I said, the same principles apply to your longer work. Don’t rush the process. It will be worth the wait when more people read the finished project.

Don’t cheat yourself with the things you can control.

Now quit reading blogs and get writing! Best of luck!

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Complex Baddies (Raising Your Villain’s Stakes)

A couple days ago, I wrote a post about Raising Stakes in your storyvillain21. I’d like to talk a little more specifically about the way this affects your characterization and relationships between characters, in particular today we will talk about villains.

Earlier on in my writing, I didn’t think specifically about this. I would sometimes discover that a character ought to be at odds with my protagonist as I was writing. But there is complex tension just waiting for you to unlock within your inter-character relationships.

VILLAINS

Probably your story will have a main antagonist. And there will be lots of tension there, of course. Your MC wants something, and your villain wants something at odds with it.

But if you let it stay at this level, that is pretty generic, and honestly not all that compelling. A stock villain may wreak some havoc on humanity, and may leave some bodies in his or her wake, but it doesn’t demand to be read. The world is replete with bad guys who are just bad because they are bad.

What makes an interesting villain is what compels them to do what they do. Why does your villain want to take over the world? Why do they hate your MC with such a bitter hatred? Why do they do the things they do?

Craft Complex Baddies

Why do people find themselves rooting for Hannibal Lecter? Why do we want Darth Vader to be redeemed by the end? Why do we feel sympathy for Draco Malfoy?

Because these authors crafted complex villains.

6cab1ae352cdbc7aac9bd496f4c405eaHannibal is a psycho who is locked up for cannibalism in Silence of the Lambs. But he is not just a stock cannibal. He is complex. He forms a bond with Clarice and is helping her capture another killer, and strangely wants to know about her. Early on, he tells her all he wants is a cell with a window to see the world outside again. He becomes real and sympathetic. If he was just a cold-blooded killer, the story would be less interesting. Probably it wouldn’t have been such a hit. It is the very fact that we are not sure how to feel about him that makes the story so interesting.

Villain’s Personal Stakes

img-thingIn the Half-Blood Prince, as Malfoy is confronting Dumbledore, we find out something startling. He says, “I’ve got to kill you, or else he (Voldemort) will kill me.” Malfoy has been a pretty hateful person throughout the books, but suddenly, we feel sorry for him. He is just a little boy, compelled to kill out of terrible fear.

What is at stake for your villain?

For Draco, if he does not kill, then he will be killed. Those are pretty big stakes. Stakes don’t have to resort to death for them to be compelling though. If you are writing a high school drama, and your villain is a Mean-Girl-type, then perhaps it is a terrible insecurity that makes her this way. If she is willing to get the leading role in the play at all costs, perhaps she is compelled by a fear of letting down her domineering mother.

Baddies doing bad stuff just because is pretty boring. Make sure your villains are as complex as any other character, maybe even moreso. Don’t settle for simplistic evil, make us unsettled about your baddies, make us sympathize with them, give them high stakes, and we won’t be able to stop turning the pages.

*Who are your favorite villains? What makes them so compelling?*

Raise the Stakes High (Making Readers Care and Building More Tension into Your Novel)

Have you ever quit reading a book part way through? I have a few times. It happens for varying reasons, but most likely, I think it comes down to finding yourself thinking Who Cares? My need to know what happens is so low that it is not worth the remaining 200 pages of this novel.

Bored-ReaderThe last thing I want is someone doing that with my novels!

On the other hand, what was the last book you simply could not put down? You found yourself reading at the bus stop, in between meetings under your desk, or wherever. We have all had books we could not put down. You’ve come to care so much about what happens that you have GOT-TO-FREAKING-KNOW what happens as soon as possible!

Now that is the effect I want in my writing! Don’t you?

But is it the case?

When people care, they take the time to write reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. They care so much they want all their friends to read the book so they have someone to talk about what happened with their friends.

If your sales are piddling, and the reviews are meh, perhaps it is time to be a little more intentional about the stakes of your novel. We keep telling ourselves we are organic writers and this stuff comes and you can’t force the story and all of that… and that is great, I suppose, if it works. Perhaps you have tension down pat. Perhaps it’s instinct for you.

Probably, if you’re like me, your writing could be stronger, more demanding to be read.

SO WHAT?

Seriously ask yourself this. So-freaking-what? If your protagonist does not get what he wants, so what? What is at stake here, and why should your readers care? Why does it matter if you even finish writing the novel?

Perhaps the world really will end, but probably it will be something a little smaller. Will the human race lose their free will? Or will the killer continue wreaking havoc on Maple Street? Or will Margo not get to go to prom? Or… what is it?

You’ve got to figure this out.

If you’re going to make the world end, it better be believable, and we better care about the people in the world first off. Otherwise it is just another asteroid collision or nuclear holocaust or super-villain goes all super-villainy on everybody.

UP THE ANTE

Let’s say Margo won’t get to go to prom. That’s okay tension, I suppose. Most of us have been there. It’s relatable. But it’s nothing special. Prom is overrated, anyway, right?

But what if what Margo really wants is something more specific? What if she is secretly in love with a boy in Lit class who has profound thoughts about literature and life? Only problem is dream boy is in love with someone else.

Better. Still cliche, but it’s more specific.

What if the other girl is Margo’s sister?

Better still. Family dysfunction is always ripe with tension.

Now should the sister be a bitch? Maybe. There’s tension there, an age-old feud between step-sisters. Sure…Ciderella-step-sisters-ugly-featured

But what if the sister is really sweet instead? That’d make Margo the bitch to break them up. What if sister and dream boy are really great together? But then, what if Margo and dream boy hit it off working on a project, and Margo is torn about her feelings and the fact that dream boy and her sister just got into a huge fight, and now he is asking her to go to prom with him since sister doesn’t want to go at all anymore and he doesn’t want to be alone…

That makes for a lot more tension, right? A lot more at stake.

DOES THIS SCENE HAVE THE ABSOLUTE MOST TENSION IT COULD POSSIBLY HAVE?

Ask yourself this about your project, whether you have written the scene or are planning it out. Whether you are happy with it or know it needs work. Whether you are approaching it organically or making an outline.

In what ways could this matter more?

BUT… DON’T GO OVERBOARD

That said, this probably isn’t the story to give Margo’s sister cancer on the night of prom and then have her walk in on Margo and dream boy kissing, on top of it all… Maybe it is, I don’t know. But the point is, you have also got to find the balance of believability. And you have got to give your characters a break some time.

I will never forget the feeling I had in the theatre at the end of GRAVITY. The movie was a non-stop roller-coaster ride of “everything that could possibly go wrong, absolutely will.” If there’s a door, it is locked. If something can, it will explode. If there is oxygen, it is almost run out.

I could barely breathe, the tension was so high the entire movie.

Finally, Sandra Bullock’s character is setting down on Earth, after every astronaut’s ultimate nightmare has occurred.

But then… she lands in water.

And then… the pod sinks and the hatch won’t open, but the pod is filling up.

200_sAnd all I could think was: Come on, just freaking let her have one thing go right. She’s got to almost drown at the end too?!

Maybe I was the only one. But this drove me crazy! I felt like it was just too much, the writers had taken the tension just too far for me to be invested anymore. It had passed believability as a disaster scenario.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

I like to write organically, but lately, I have been trying to be more intentional with what I am writing. I usually set out with an idea of what is going to happen in a scene. Sometimes, I am surprised. But there are certain elements to stories that make them better. Stakes is one of them.

You may not find the big stakes in the first draft.

But ask yourself honestly as you are looking at your story in whatever stage it is at. I have a novel in its fourth draft, that’s been set aside for a while, but I know it can be better.

Why should my readers care? What is at stake? Is it enough? How could the stakes be better?

Do I even care?

If you don’t care or are bored with your novel, then you are probably lacking in tension.

Make your story NEED to be told, and NEED to be read! This is hard-wired into everything: characterization and relationships, setting, and so forth. I will expand on those later.

Ultimately, make us care so much, that we have got to know what is going to happen next. Don’t settle for Margo can’t go to prom stakes.

Make us stay up all night reading.

*I love hearing from you! Let me know ways you have found to Up the Ante. What are stakes that make you stay up all night reading?*

Sandler and The Avengers (The Big Deal About Sexist and Racist “Humor”)

This morning I woke to a couple stories trending. One was Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner apologizing for their comments about Black Widow being a slut in the new Avengers movie, because she had a thing for both their characters. The other was about several Native American extras who walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s latest movie, The Ridiculous Six, due to racist elements about the set and names of characters.

I’ve been writing a bit about sexism and racism lately as they relate to stories and writing and culture.

What is it about humor, that suddenly, anything goes? It’s only a joke, right?

Or is it?

WORDS ARE POWERFUL

power-of-words-4Words have a lot of power. I used to be a lot more careless with my words, especially with humor. I’d make fun of friends as a joke, I’d say ignorant and stupid things, I’d tell racist and sexist jokes, and was very sarcastic. Sarcasm has its place, but it can be overdone, and I overdid it. I mostly wanted people to like me, and I felt affirmation when I made them laugh.

The biggest evidence of my ignorant humor was the day in college theater, when I called my gay cast member a “faggot” in a derogatory way, to be funny.

Mouth open: insert foot here!

The guy was very gracious toward me. But I realized then, that I was making light of something which he may have received from someone else as an intentional and hurtful insult.

It really wasn’t funny.

d7c5258e289a2e3b50ddf69f41363cab0615cb58ea77980bc801d938f27058acPOOR ARTICULATION

The thing is words like “slut” or “whore” or “faggot” are very strong, negative words. To be honest, we use strong words far too lightly. We call a hamburger “awesome” and damn people to hell for cutting in line at the grocery store. We say stuff we don’t mean, basically, and are lazy about articulating what we actually mean: “This hamburger was well-prepared, and I really enjoy it” or “I don’t appreciate you being so inconsiderate that you cut ahead in line.”

We’re pretty lazy in our humor too. Just make fun of someone or talk irreverently about sex and you’re golden.

In comedy, nowadays, you can make fun of whatever or whoever you want, and it is supposed to be okay, because it is all in good fun, and everybody shouldn’t take things so seriously…

Maybe, you should take it more seriously.

A BIG DEAL

There are girls in the world who slept with a couple guys in high school, and some haughty other girl, who was compensating for her own insecurities, started calling her a slut, and then she became known as the school slut, the easy ride, or whatever… And that became a label for that girl for the rest of her life. Words define us, and un-called-for labels can change an entire life.

It’s not really that funny.

Racism is still a big deal in our country. I don’t know the details about the content of Sandler’s new movie, but from the sounds of it they are making fun of the classic stereotypical Western, and part of that includes the portrayal of Native Americans.

3363107_origBut the thing is Native American cultures were horribly represented in old Western movies. They were stupid (think Disney’s Peter Pan for a classic example), and always the bad guys. They were often lumped together, as though all Native cultures were essentially the same. It’s not as much a laughing matter as some might think. They were mistreated in the real Old West, and in cinema they were stereotyped and demonized.

MAYBE FEWER LAUGHS IS OKAY

I don’t think we should take ourselves too seriously. But, I also think that some of the things we define as comedic, are really offensive and harmful to the people at the butt of the joke, and make light of some big issues in our society.

I don’t get as many laughs as I used to. But that is okay. I think I am slowly starting to find that humor doesn’t necessarily equal a good thing. And feeling like other people like me because I made them laugh, does not mean they do like me, or even if they do, that it is worth making light of serious things.

I like to laugh, but if someone else is being put down for the laugh, I am not as convinced it is worth it as I once was. I still am probably too sarcastic, but I am working on it. Anyway, I would rather build people up and, if I am going to make fun of someone for a laugh, I will try to start first with myself.

Cells (a poem)

The walls are closing,

Nearer they come

By the moment.

Content, we are confined.

Our cells, not made

Of iron bars

Or icy stone,

But belts wrapped ’round our minds.

We are blind.

There is no light

Here. And we lie

Dumbfound, for ‘no thought’ is our crime.

“Feed me.” They feed.

“Teach me.” They teach.

We crawl and beg,

Receive and believe. There are no lies

When truth is found

In other’s eyes.

The choice was ours,

We gave it up and freely came inside.

Diversity and the White Writer (Intentionality, A Diverse Cast, and Writing What You Know)

I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on diversity for a large essay I am writing on Diversity in the Language Arts classroom. As I’ve been writing, I have been thinking a lot about how this relates to writing, my own fiction and the novels I read.

You don’t have to look too far or too deeply at literature to get a sense of the prevalence and, whether intentional or not, the preference for whiteness.

It is a problem, but I also don’t think it has originated lately as much from intent as it has from ignorance.

White Writing World

getty_eb_whiteAcademia (like much of the world) has been largely dominated by Europeans and European immigrants to the Americas for the past few centuries, and over those centuries the social structure was predominantly white above others in the dominating cultures of the Western world. What I mean by this is that it is not so surprising that the “classics” are essentially educated whites writing about white life. They were writing what they knew.

But, today, educated writers populate all races. And so things need to change, in the classroom and in the publishing spheres.

If you take a look at any bookshelf in any bookstore, you will continue to notice a dominance of white writing by white writers. We need more diverse writers, undoubtedly. And we need them to write great stories. I think especially in Kidlit.

I am talking about #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

White Writers Writing Diversity

We need more diverse writers. So if you are one, write more and more and get really good at it, and give the world some fantastic stories! Outside of encouraging people of color to write, I can’t add much more to the conversation in that arena.

If you are white like me, then what? How do you approach diversity tactfully?

The last thing we need is a bunch of white writers trying to write diversity because its in demand right now.  Maybe you are a white writer who is passionate about racial equality toward a specific minority… Whatever your reason for writing more diversity into your books, you must tread carefully and correctly…

Know What You Write!

If you are going to write a novel about an inner city African-American girl, and you are a Caucasian man from Montana, you had better do your research! You had better interview some African-American girls from the Bronx or Atlanta or wherever your novel takes place.

Otherwise your book will not ring true. You might get published, perhaps, since people are asking for diverse books. Who knows? Either way, though, it will be a crappy book.

And no one wants more crappy books out there. Let alone crappy books that deal with diversity.

I am that white guy from the American West, where we don’t often see a ton of diversity, sadly. I live in an energy boom town presently, and we have a little more diversity than is typical for the region, mostly Hispanic.

I’ve an idea for a “diverse” novel about a pair of Ugandan kids caught in the middle of LRA conflict. This is a topic which I am pretty passionate about. Human trafficking is awful and I think a story about kids caught in the middle of it could be very powerful. But I am not writing it right now. I don’t have the experience and haven’t talked to enough people for me to be able to write the story RIGHT. Regardless of the book, I really want to spend some time in Africa with displaced kids. But if I do end up writing that book, I want it to ring true. So for now, it is on the backburner.

b59297ddcd0415a252a398abe38c1ddfWhat made Kathryn Stockett’s The Help ring true, I think, stemmed from Stockett’s own experiences with racial issues in Jackson, Mississippi, not to mention her friendship with an African-American domestic worker.

If you don’t have much experience with racial tension and conflict, then maybe you aren’t the best person to write a racial issue novel centered around someone of a race you aren’t familiar enough with. I am just going to be honest.

HOWEVER, that does not excuse you from addressing the diversity issue.

A Diverse Cast

You do live in a world populated by diverse races and cultures. And so, the world of your novels ought to express that diversity as well in order to ring true.

But, being diverse in your writing does not mean making your presently-white protagonist Chinese or African-American just because… you know, diversity, and stuff…

Just as you had better not add a rape element to your novel just for tension’s sake (as rape is something which should alter your character’s entire world, and so the entire novel), you should not write race for diversity’s sake alone. Diversity is more than mentioning skin color, it changes how this character perceives the world. It changes their back story. This will vary depending on the novel and the character’s story.

When it comes to race, you have got to be more INTENTIONAL than that. We need more than diverse color in books. We need diverse culture represented.

Color Your World

rainbow-glasses1I think we tend to view things through our own racial “tinted glasses.” At least I know I do. Like I said, I am a white male from a predominantly white region. Until I am told otherwise, if I am honest, I do tend to read characters assuming they are white in novels. Not because I am racist. But because that is what I am most familiar with, I suppose. And also, probably because so many characters in novels, are in fact, white.

Reading is rather like jumping in another’s head, but we are tinged still by our own skewed perspectives.

I am working on a new middle grade sci-fi novel, and I realized early on that I was defaulting to white characters. I wasn’t even thinking about it consciously. My protagonist’s best friend, I initially viewed as blonde and white, essentially a softer-spoken Lyra Belacqua.

As I began the novel, I realized that, just as I tend to view characters as white initially in novels I read, I was doing the same in novels I write. I had to make a CONSCIOUS POINT to diversify and thereby expand and enrich the universe of the novel.

In the opening, a future Earth has frozen over, and life has been restricted to Terradomes. I hadn’t yet figured out where my novel was happening on Earth. But I knew I wanted some diversity, and I wanted it to enrich the world of the novel. Suddenly, I realized this best-friend character needed to be Hispanic. I didn’t know why, only that she should.

And then, with that idea in mind, I saw that it would make most sense for my Terradomes to be situated along the Equator, placing my protagonist and his best friend in South America, where people from both Americas all migrated as the world froze over.

By creating a diverse character, it also broadened my sense and scope of the universe I was creating.

Eventually, my protagonist is recruited for a space expedition in search of a portal to another universe, and suddenly these Equatorial Domes were giving me an opportunity to populate the ship with diversity too. People from several different domes around the world manning an exploratory ship.

Diversity isn’t the point of this sci-fi story, but it helped me expand the world in a really good and sensible way. Diversity is enriching, both in real life and fiction.

Let It Ring True

As you write diverse characters, let them enrich the worlds you are populating, let the story ring true.

If you are compelled to write a racial issue book or a novel set in another country from what you are familiar with, DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you are wanting to make a protagonist someone of color, make sure it is adding culture to the story as well, and not just a mention of skin color. Be INTENTIONAL as you approach diversity, be TRUE to the story.

Diversity in literature is important to the present and to the future.

Don’t color anything in your world lightly.

*I would love to hear your thoughts on this post, and your own thoughts on diversifying your novels*

*If you are interested in checking out the first chapter of my new sci-fi project Bode Marvellus, go here. I would love to hear what you think!*

Cheers!

S. Andrew

Pen Names—Necessary Evil or Ticket to Crazyville?

this is some thought-provoking stuff no matter where you’re at in the writing game

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Today we are going to talk about a somewhat touchy subject. The pen name. Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. Secondly, this is only a decision you can make. My goal here is to make sure you guys are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? It’s unnecessary.

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I…

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Masculinity and Pop Culture (Why Feminism is Only One Side of the Coin)

2012124517masculinityWhen not writing and thinking about writing, I am often found at my day job, teaching high schoolers. I often have music playing in the background in my classroom, music ranging from soundtracks to pop to metal. The other day a Lorde song came on, and one of my female students joked, “You listen to girl music, Mr. K?”

 

— Whoa! Hold on a minute! —

 

First off, since when was Lorde “girly” in that sense, anyway?

 

And secondly, this is one of countless examples of the ways we make art gender-specific. As though certain genres of music, or even female versus male singers, defines who should listen to it. It seems to me that female-led music is assumed to be “girl music.” And apparently men are supposed to listen to only rock or rap?

 

I’ve been thinking about this comment for several days, and it bothers me. It bothers me just like it bothers me that the boys in my class think that trucks are the only “dude” vehicle.

 

Vehicular devices are neutral entities. I think the same of art. Some may be statistically more liked by males or females. But that’s it. Things are not gender-specific.

 

This is one of countless ways we perpetuate gender stereotypes in society, and even create the problem itself in this sort of sick cycle carousel, where something becomes connotated with gender and then members of that gender begin to define themselves by the thing itself. I listen to Lorde, because I am a girl. I drive a truck because I am a guy. I watch “dude” action movies, or I watch chick-flicks.

 

And I think this is very harmful.

 

————————————————————————

 

I am a fan of He for She, and I was a big fan of Emma Watson’s recent UN speech. I think one of the sad downsides of the feminist movement is that, while empowering women, it has also largely alienated males, and often turned it into an “us vs. them” scenario. Men and women need to unite on the front of equality. Feminism is only part of it.

 

Gender equality is a two-sided coin and, unfortunately, we are still a long way from it. Though we are making progress.

 

Over the years, pop culture, particularly literature and film, has played a large role in the ways we perceive gender, both for good and for bad. In other words, any of us who contribute or wish to contribute in the future to literature have a power we can use to combat or to perpetuate the stereotypes.

 

I write Kidlit, and I think that children’s and YA literature has done many good things, particularly in empowering girls. We have some pretty great female characters in Kidlit. From Meg in A Wrinkle in Time to Matilda to Lyra Belacqua to Hermione, and to an extent, Katniss. Girls are playing strong central roles in stories.

 

Even “Bond-girls” have become more about the plot and even an actual love relationship with Bond, rather than simply eye-candy, in the last few Bond films (Daniel Craig era). Of course, there are the Twilights and 50 Shades that, for whatever popular reason, continue to idealize the overly-dependent and even dominated young woman.

 

There is a difference between romance and dependence. But that is for another day.

 

On the other side of the gender coin, I think masculinity is a bit of a convoluted mess. It is a different sort of mess than femininity. Men aren’t being marginalized in the job market. But they are being bombarded with harmful stereotypes that leave them unsure who they should be or what it means to be a male. It is evident in my students. It is also, naturally, evident in pop culture.

 

If girls need more depictions of strong, independent examples in literature, boys need more strong, non-passive depictions of manhood that does not resort to masochism.

 

Take a look at every sit-com and you will find a lazy, passive, sex-obsessed, but still strangely lovable, male character. The prime example is the show, New Girl. On the one hand, Jessica Day is a strong, quirky teacher who finds freedom after a relationship with a dominating boyfriend goes awry. On the other hand, Nick Miller is an ambitionless bartender who sucks at relationships,  and his greatest achievement is writing an awful zombie novel. He won’t even be the one on top during sex, he is so lazy. Schmidt might be the best depiction at an ambitious male. Yet, he works in a female-populated workspace, where he is dominated and acts more like a sex-obsessed puppy than anything. He also sucks at relationships and blunders his true-love because he can’t pick between two women who want him at the same time. He thinks with his penis, and can’t control himself. Naturally. This is portrayed as lovable and typical manhood.

 

I saw an episode of King of Queens where Kevin James’ character can’t help checking out other women and watching porn. His wife says it’s okay, and she wouldn’t expect him to do otherwise.

 

Boys will be boys. They are obsessed with sex, and shouldn’t be expected to control themselves. Take that a few steps further and let’s see where that mentality leads…

 

Take manhood to the other extreme and we are left with the action movies of the 90s, where men are giant testosterone machines who blow crap up and have a personality as deep as a cartoon character.

 

Boys are told to “man-up” because boys are tough, by golly. They screw, but don’t love. They don’t say they’re sorry, and they never, ever cry. Right?

 

I know this is not exhaustive. There are positive male examples in literature and film, of course. But I think the negative side is way too common.

 

Psychology tells us that we become what is believed about us. So I would ask, “What are we telling men with our literature or television?”

 

The statistics show that fewer and fewer men are going to college. Men who do go to college, tend to live their lives for careers. They suck at marriages and fatherhood. There is a reason the literally-absent or the emotionally-absent father is a literary trope.

 

And I think all of it may be influenced by what we are telling men about themselves.

 

I would love to see a day when women and men have equal opportunities in the workforce. I would like to see phrases such as “throw like a girl” or “boys will be boys” mean positive things. I would like to see women and men portrayed as having the capability of having a healthy relationship without dominance or co-dependency. I wish that a dominated woman wasn’t seen as hot and steamy, and a deadbeat sex addict wasn’t perceived as a joking matter. I would like to see “us vs. them” become men standing for women’s equality and women standing for men’s equality.

 

The truth is we need each other.

 

Not in a dependent way, but in a supportive way. We are each a side of the same human coin.
Let’s do our part to combat inequality and negative stereotypes and create a future where manhood and womanhood mean great things. Strength and ambition and love. We can start by portraying what we want to see in both men and women alike in our stories. We have a power to perpetuate the stereotypes or combat them.