Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Does Gender Matter When Giving Feedback?

I was giving some feedback to a student last week when he said, 'You're always trying to make it more emotional,' which took me be surprise, because that wasn't what I meant at all.  I've had other male students say I was recommending that I should make their work more reflective.  Again, not guilty - in my opinion.  But obviously what I thought I was suggesting wasn't coming across as I intended.   

I thought for a little bit, and then said, 'Don't think emotional, think attitude.  What's the character's attitude to what has just been said? What does it make them think?  What are they going to plan to do next?'

I'm currently reading  Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation which looks at, surprise surprise, how differently women and men use language to communicate.  I haven't yet finished reading but already it's making me think both about how I give feedback, and how I write male characters.  (I expect I'll blog about this when I've digested it a bit more.)

What I have noticed when teaching is that there are more male students who tend to write action and dialogue, while women are more in tune with the character's internal monologue.  Of course, this is a generalisation and there are many students who buck the trend, althoughI think it would be fair to say that thrillers - which tend to be read by men - concentrate on action and dialogue, while romance - which tends to be read by women - concentrate on exploring the main character's feelings.

When I'm giving feedback, it's a question of degree.  I don't think the main character in a thriller should suddenly start emoting all over the place, nor that the main character in a romance should suddenly initiate some ass-kicking action. I think the extremes should be avoided - ie the novel that reads as a film script with a few he saids, she saids chucked in, or the one that rambles on and on with the main character hypersensitive to the nuances of what's been said but without anything actually happening.  

But I will be watching my language from now on.  I'm going to be judging which words are more appropriate - words like attitude, plan, thought, emotional, response, interior.  And I'm going to make sure that my thriller writers don't think I'm encouraging them to write what my other half refers to as 'the soppy stuff.'

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Exeter 21st May
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/


Karen said...

That's a good point I hadn't considered before.

When I was seeking professional feedback on my first novel I instinctively chose a woman as I felt it made more sense, but it might have been interesting to read a male perspective.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think when looking for feedback it must depend in part on which gender you see your target readership as being.