Workshop Submission #3

I’m punctual this morning. Yay! Our next workshop selection is Tiffany Bennet and her manuscript, GO. GENTLY.

Tiffany is writing from the male POV and wants to know if it sounds authentic.

Here’s the material!

***

Folks got a lot of ideas about us guys. Some of these ideas are born from television or movies. Hell, maybe some are born from books. If people still read books. And no, I don’t count reading myspace pages or twitter as reading, though some of it can be pretty entertaining. Some of these ideas are perpetrated by some girl’s bad experience which now, somehow, without explanation, will mark our species forever. And let’s be honest, men and women are two entirely different species.

Wait, I’m confused. Am I reading a fiction novel or an essay on gender roles in teenagers? Phrases like “Some of these ideas are perpetrated” sound downright clinical and don’t have an engaging voice.

This is what I like to call a rant. Every once in a while, a character will go into a long monologue about an issue that “they” (sometimes I wonder if it’s really the author sprouting off here) care about. In almost all cases, rants are unnecessary. Nobody likes to hear someone on their soapbox, even if that person is fictional. Especially not at the beginning of a piece. This also tells us nothing about the character, since they’re speaking in vague terms about teenagers, males and society in general.

Also, this writer wanted to see if her writing worked well in the male POV. I don’t know if there’s a LESS convincing way of portraying maleness than by having that person talk about, “I am male. I am having a specifically male problem.” This doesn’t seem very natural or authentic and might not fly with today’s readers.

But not all of us are happy merely fitting into the mold so effortlessly created for us. I sure ain’t. And neither was Tristan. We’re not all appeased by a quick go-around in the backseat of our mom’s mini-van with some girl we won’t call the next day. Maybe that’s why Tristan is dead. You can only deny something for so long before it eats away at you.

Trust me, I know.

And talking about “generic teenage issues,” like being forced into a mold, won’t automatically make teenager relate to the character because, again, the issue here is very general. Readers open a book to read about a specific character who has a specific problem, not to have a list of vague problems described. I also am a bit unsure re: “I sure ain’t.” Is the grammar here trying to be folksy? In that case, it sounds downright odd right next to the more formal diction of “And neither was Tristan.” Plus, “ain’t,” though not widely accepted, stands for “am not” and is present tense, while the rest of this has been in past.

Here we finally get a hint at a specific problem, though. Tristan is dead and the character has some denial and, apparently, some guilt or grief about it.

Soon my mother will be up to tell me he is dead. Drunk-driving accident. But I know the truth. It was no accident. He wanted, needed, to go. I have to decide how I will react to the news. Do I retreat inside myself? Would it be simpler for everyone around me if I pay homage to the I-have-no-emotions-give-me-a-beer-I-will-cry-if-the-Falcons-lose-the-game-but-not-acknowledge-any-human-connection-man that so long carried the flag for my species? Or maybe I should recklessly abuse drugs and alcohol. I could become another actor in the teen drama, I Have So Many Issues. Please Notice Me.

I’m wondering how this character knows what is about to happen. It does raise the tension. I’m also wondering if this is early morning or late at night — there could be more grounding. “needed to go” is also a bit vague. Needed to “go” as in DIE or needed to go to wherever he went (a party?) before he was killed?

Again, we get some pontificating on what it means to be a male and what kinds of male emotional responses are acceptable or expected. But that sentence with all the hyphens is overlong and I lose steam halfway through it. There’s a voice issue with “recklessly abuse drugs and alcohol.” I can’t imagine an older teen saying this. This actually sounds like an anti-drugs-and-alcohol brochure, not a teenager considering a bender.

The last line really does rub me the wrong way. The character here seems pretty condescending toward teenagers. Like he’s got their emotional responses and their experiences all figured out and he’s judging them. If I was a teen, I’d want to tell this guy off. He’s not giving a teen’s emotional experience any respect. And even if most teen drama seems like it’s just another case of “I Have So Many Issues, Please Notice Me,” it’s all very real and very important to teens themselves, no matter how frivolous it appears to an outsider. And because of that judgmental tone, this character really does seem like an outsider… and he seems like an adult. With a YA novel, that’s a problem.

***

My notes of advice for this submission could best be summed up with urging the writer to focus on the character and his problem, not on expounding on various issues about life and the teen age. This person’s brother (implied by “our mom’s mini-van,” emphasis mine) has died, and he seems to know about it before the rest of his family. And he doesn’t seem too broken up by it, either. That’s the tension there. Focus on it. And don’t use fiction as a personal platform for yourself or for what you think a male would want to say. That makes it less convincing. Get to the story and let who he is and how he thinks about the world unfold naturally from there.

Stay tuned. The next submission will appear on Monday.

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  1. brooke’s avatar

    Thank you for doing these workshops and to the authors for putting it out there. It helps me as I revise my own story. Good luck everyone.

  2. smr’s avatar

    totally agree with mary’s assessment.

    the voice feels forced and too detached. it’s jarring because we expect a teenage boy to be speaking. but maybe a shift to a third person POV would put some distance between the character and the narrator and work with the author’s natural inclination…

    these workshops are so amazing, thanks for posting these and thanks to the authors for submitting!

  3. Ellie’s avatar

    I love these critiques. Thank you so much! I’m learning a lot.

  4. Marybk’s avatar

    Another great post. Thanks, Tiffany, for sharing your opening. You deserve a pedicure and the title “Queen of Submissions” for today.

    Mary’s comments are well taken. It may be more powerful to see something happening to this character before he becomes so introspective. Without that, the POV sounds too much like the author’s voice.

    The confusion over what has happened in the story, though, created some tension for me. I’m curious about how Tristan died. I’m curious to know if this is a retelling of Tristan and Isolde, and how the narrator is related to the story. Good stuff.

  5. Shari Maser’s avatar

    “I have to decide how I will react to the news.” It seems to me that many teens try on different personas as they try to “find themselves,” so this line resonated with me. I’m interested to see who this character will decide he really is.

    Thanks, Tiffany, for sharing. And thanks, Mary, for your comments.

  6. mstruitt’s avatar

    Thanks Mary for taking a look at it.

    I can see how cutting some of the rant at the beginging would be more inviting for the reader. Get to the hook- the fact that he knows Tristan is dead and knows it wasn’t an accident. It was really suicide. But don’t want to give that away in the first 250. (Cue needing to go line).

    This is something I struggle with when recieving feedback. As a reader, I always loved books that left something to be solved. I want people to wonder about stuff. But I struggle to find the balance between creating mystery and leaving the reader confussed.

    (Maybe I watch Lost too much)

    As for voice, I intended the character to come across as condescending to teenagers. One of those people who thinks he is above it all, but realizes he is not. So I guess that worked lol. But I can see how it might turn a reader off.

    Thanks for the time you took on this. I greatly appericate it.

  7. Bane’s avatar

    Mary, thanks again… and thank you, Tiffany. Yeah, this is one where I’d definitely like to get into the story faster… perhaps not as fast as Mike’s piece, but with a little less introspection (which, from my male perspective, seemed a bit too unmale).

  8. Marybk’s avatar

    *…which, from my male perspective, seemed a bit too unmale.*

    LOL, Bane.

    But, interesting comment. So, is it true? Males don’t, um, introspect? :)

  9. mstruitt’s avatar

    Marybk …only in secret.

  10. Bane’s avatar

    Not usually, unless we’re high :) (sometimes in secret, though only when there’s nothing on TV) — otherwise, we tend to react more on impulse. However, the condescending part does trend more male, so though it might not be peaches and cream for a story, that part rang more true (though, yeah, it could be toned down a smidge to avoid turning off other readers)…

  11. Bane’s avatar

    Of course, this could have also been one of those self-fulfilling critiques… Perhaps if we’d gone into this not knowing Tiffany’s gender, items might not have stood out as much.

  12. Olleymae’s avatar

    Although the “rant” tone was distracting, I’m definitely interested to read more, so kudos there.

    Tiffany, although I respect and appreciate everything Mary wrote, I wanted to give you my opinion of the “I could become another actor in the teen drama, I Have So Many Issues. Please Notice Me” line – it made me laugh. That’s totally how I felt about most of the kids in my high school when I was a teenager, so I would have related to someone else who felt that way. Just goes to show how even excellent tastes differ ;)

    Thanks for your bravery, and Mary, thanks for your time!

  13. Tamara’s avatar

    Tiffany, thank you for your courageousness in sharing your material with all of us!
    The critique from Mary has certainly given me pause to think how crutial it is to develop, but especially nurture an authentic voice.

    Also, interesting last comment from Bane…hmmm.

  14. Bdub’s avatar

    I disagree with Bane. I do not think being introspective or condescending are necessarily “male” or “female” traits. Males can be introspective. Holden Caulfield, for example. I think characters that break stereotypes (gender or otherwise) are often more compelling.

  15. Erica Olson’s avatar

    Tiffany, congratulations on finishing your novel and your willingness to have it publicly critiqued! When I read a friend’s work, I can tell when her adult voice comes through, which is usually when there hasn’t been dialogue for awhile. It helps her to read or write a bunch of teenage dialogue first, then to go back and add narration with that voice fresh in her head. I agree with the comments that this character so far is a tough sell as both a teenager and a male. You put time into the story, now it’s time to “clean it up.” Not quite as glamorous, huh?

  16. Allison’s avatar

    Hey Tiffany, thanks for sharing! You’re braver than I am, trying to write from the POV of a different gender. I have to agree with what else has been said here. I’m not really feeling that first paragraph at all. It seems out of place to me too, considering the death you reveal later on. That’s what caught my attention and made me want to read more.

  17. Mary’s avatar

    To add something to the gender debate… It’s actually more common (looking at shelves) to write a female POV if you’re a male writer than to have a female writer writing in a male POV. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and L.K. Madigan’s FLASH BURNOUT (she’s an ABLit client and won this year’s Morris Award!) are two titles that come to mind where male POV from female writers comes across well.

    I can’t say WHY it is more common to see a female POV from a male writer, but that certainly seems to be the case. If you want an example of great female POV from a male writer, try GOTH GIRL RISING by Barry Lyga.

  18. Bane’s avatar

    Probably b/c there tend to be more female readers, or b/c it’s our way of trying to figure you crazy women out ;)

  19. Thomas’s avatar

    Yes, YA readership is mostly female, so there’s a pressure on us men to tone down the motorcycle maintenance and beer, and to wash occasionally.

  20. Franziska Green’s avatar

    I wonder whether it’s because there’s more interesting stuff going on in teenage females’ minds?! (Ducking, as I see tomatoes sailing through the virtual air at my head.)

    Siski (aka Franz, Franziska and the Sisko Kid – my dad calls me that)

  21. Bongo’s avatar

    Bongo will elucidate the matters of the genders.

    Sure, the formula “grunt, grunt, thought, grunt, scratch private parts, sigh, grunt, thought, grunt” might seem easy to duplicate, but the formula must be varied as in “grunt, grunt, thought, scratch private parts, sigh, grunt, scratch, sigh, grunt, thought, grunt” in order to feel natural and unscripted.

    It is much easier for a man to write as a woman. The formula is much simpler: “complain, complain, get offended, complain, shrill something incomprehensible, withhold sex, complain.” Or for minimalists: “complain, complain, withhold sex, complain.”

  22. Bane’s avatar

    “I wonder whether it’s because there’s more interesting stuff going on in teenage females’ minds?”

    There’s certainly a lot more crazy.

  23. shelley’s avatar

    Barry Lyga is a favorite of mine! Boy Toy=Wow! A.M. Jenkins does a pretty good job of female writing male POV. Breaking Boxes comes to mind, and she has others.
    Tiffany, thank you for being so brave and willing to learn.
    FLASH BURNOUT=another Wow!

  24. Cat Woods’s avatar

    Tiffany,

    Thanks so much for your courage. It is far easier to critique someone else’s writing than to put our writing out there for others to judge. Chin up, you have an interesting start that is simply getting lost because of the voice.

    Boys are such different creatures in the way they talk, think and act. I always have my Oldest Son read my boy POV works because he’s honest about it. “Hey, Mom, we would never say it like that.”

    Find a good male reader who can help you find your male voice and get cracking about the death. I was completely intrigued about how the MC knew about the death before Mom came up to explain it.

    Best~

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