Women Protagonists and the Men Who Don’t Want to Read about Them

I realize that I am walking a thin line between understanding the male mind, when it comes to reading preferences, and stereotyping.

Some, of course, think I am stereotyping simply by referring to “the male mind” as if all humans have the same basic structure, with only individual distinctions. Well … no … besides being human we are male and female, as God created us. And then we are individuals.

Consequently I have no problem discussing “the male mind,” with the understanding that individual men will vary on either side of a continuum identified with “maleness.” But keep in mind, what I am saying on this subject is my opinion, based on my observation, not on a scientific study or even a poll eliciting corroborating (or conflicting) views.

Recently a visitor here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction asked some questions after one of my posts on women protagonists, “Women in Fiction, Part 3”:

As a female who reads a great deal, I would agree with that statement [that women can identify with female characters and better understand men by understanding the male character]. I am curious, though. Why wouldn’t the reverse also be true? Why do you think that men can’t learn about us through reading books with female main characters?

I think there are several reasons for the difference I see (and remember, I’m not saying every man will fit in every one of my points—some may not fit in any).

First, contemporary American society has created an atmosphere that can easily cause a man (and especially a boy) to be insecure in his identity as a male.

What is a man? Not so long ago answers to that question might have included “bread winner” or “leader” or “head of the household.” These things are no longer a given, and a man who wishes to claim those roles may be disparaged by society.

Being a man, then, has been reduced to a list of actions, often unattractive (scratching, spitting, ogling, and the like), but sometimes macho (assertion of power and prowess).

What man, searching for his identity in this climate, would then rush out to buy and read books starring women?

My contention is that men who have no problem reading books with female characters are probably quite comfortable with their identity as men.

I believe a second reason fewer men read books with women protagonists than do women with male protagonists, has to do with the differences in our gender make-up.

Women are emotional. Well, men are too, so let me back up. Women are more comfortable expressing our emotions than men are. In fact, I’d say women don’t feel we know people well unless we know the emotional side of them. We explore emotions because we want to connect with emotions. I suspect some men reading this paragraph are just about ready to gag. 😀

Typically men are less likely to show emotion and may even be uncomfortable around others who readily express feelings. I’ve seen boys mock boys for no other reason than for caring deeply.

And in books with women protagonists? I’d bet they all cry at least once. 😉 In fact, many of us as writers hope to induce our readers to cry (and laugh and feel some fear or worry or … emotion). Do guys pick up a book hoping they’ll cry? I doubt it! (Do male authors even wish to generate emotion the same way women writers do? Now that’s a question I haven’t thought of before).

There may be a host of other peripheral reasons why men and boys, in general, prefer to read books about guys not girls, men not women. I thought I could explore some of those as well, but I forgot how I tend to go on and on. (Perhaps a trait endemic to my role as a woman. 😉 ) Anyway, I think these two may be at the heart of the matter. Let me know what you think.

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 9:28 am  Comments (5)  
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Christy Award Nominations – 2010

The Christy Awards are viewed in Christian fiction as the highest awards, so nomination among the hundreds of books eligible is quite an honor. Some years ago, friend and non-published writer J. Mark Bertrand served as one of the judges. It was interesting to hear his thoughts about the process and to learn about the standards the award committee has set out.

At any rate, the books that are eligible are ones published in 2009 by a royalty paying house. And the committee has scooped their own Web site by publishing the nominees on their Facebook page.

As you might suspect, I’m most interested in the books falling under the “Visionary” category—speculative fiction that includes fantasy, science fiction, futuristic, supernatural suspense. And the nominees are


    * By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson • Marcher Lord Press

    * The Enclave by Karen Hancock • Bethany House Publishers: a Division of Baker Publishing Group

    * Valley of the Shadow by Tom Pawlik • Tyndale House Publishers

I want to point out that next month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring member Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid. The second book in her Blood of Kings series, To Darkness Fled, released this month, but we opted to highlight the first book so that readers can come in at the beginning of the story.

Furthermore, CSFF toured Karen Hancock’s Enclave shortly after it released. We also featured Tom Pawlik’s first novel, Vanished about the time Valley of the Shadow released, for the same reasons we are featuring By Darkness Hid instead of To Darkness Fled.

There’s more good news. Listed in the Suspense category, Athol Dickson’s Lost Mission (Howard Books) has also been nominated for a Christy. I’m not sure how that category was chosen, since the publisher marketed it as magic realism, but I hope the book receives due recognition. It certainly created a stir on the CSFF tour!

One more CSFF feature made the list of nominations: North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group) in the Young Adult category. I’m unfamiliar with the other two nominations, so have no way of knowing how this wonderful fantasy might fare. I do know Mr. Peterson’s book is beautifully written and deserving of recognition, so I hope it does well.

Congratulations to all the nominees. Now readers have a great idea what books are the “must buys” published last year in Christian fiction. These are the ones to consider buying for that birthday present or graduation present that’s coming up. These are the ones to recommend to your church or local librarian. These are the ones to be sure you add to the books on your shelves as well.

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 3

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet is the third book in The Auralia Thread series, an adult fantasy published by WaterBrook Press. Clearly this novel is not a stand-alone but part of a continuing story begun by Auralia’s Colors and advanced by Cyndere’s Midnight. The story is anything but finished in this third installment.

For those of us who enjoy continuing stories that keep us on the edge of our seats, this epic style is familiar. Andrew Peterson utilizes this approach in his Wingfeather Saga as does D. Barkley Briggs (the Legends of Karac Tor series), Wayne Batson/Christopher Hopper (The Berinfell Prophecies Series), and any number of other fantasy authors.

And now a review of Raven’s Ladder.

The Story. In the Expanse, four city-states exist. One, House Cent Regis, has been cursed and all its people turned into savage beastmen. A second, House Abascar, was destroyed and the survivors, gathered together by their new king Cal-raven, have holed up in nearby caves.

Cal-raven, who believes in a mysterious creature known as the Keeper, determines to relocate his house. Beastmen had attacked; something was scaring off all the animals, making it difficult to find enough food for his people; and a group of Grudgers were plotting his overthrow.

After talking with his mentor, he sets off, following signs he believes the Keeper has left, to locate a suitable place for New Abascar.

While he is away, a new threat chases the refugees from their shelter. Feelers spring up from the ground, breaking stone and destroying the caves. Led by the king’s second in command, the group heads north.

Meanwhile Cal-raven encounters people from a third house, Bel Amica. Eventually a Seer, a worshiper of moon spirits, hires men to kill Abascar’s king. However, they choose instead to throw him in a pit and sell him to slavers. Those “merchants” take him to House Bel Amica.

Soon after, the Abascar refugees are also herded to Bel Amica, for their protection. The one-time heiress, Cyndere, manages to find Cal-raven and to arrange for proper care and safety for his people.

Days pass and Cal-raven grows restless. He knows now where he should take his people, where they will build New Abascar. He is concerned that many are growing comfortable in the opulence, and greed, of Bel Amica.

As he is making his preparations, Cyndere comes to him asking for his help. She has a plan to end the curse of the Cent Regis, and she wants to free the prisoners the Beastmen have taken. One of these is Cal-raven’s mother. He immediately agrees, even moving up the time line for the planned rescue.

I’ll stop there.

Strengths. Jeffrey Overstreet writes beautiful prose. His story is imaginative and for the most part, unpredictable. The surprises keep the reader off-balance.

The novel seems ripe with symbolism, so it makes the reader think. Because this fantasy world is quite dark and in places, unfamiliar, it has a definite brooding mood.

The author’s voice is strong. I could probably pick up any Overstreet novel and know by reading a page that he authored it.

Mood, voice, imaginative and descriptive prose—these are qualities too often neglected in fiction.

Weaknesses. I have to be honest. This is not my favorite Overstreet novel. Over at Amazon, one reviewer likened the book to the TV series Lost. Interestingly, at one point I thought the same thing. Though I don’t watch the show, I’ve heard others discuss it, and what they said was what I was thinking about Raven’s Ladder.

Once again I felt something was lacking in the characterization. I understand what each wants, and in most cases they are worthy goals, some even Big Goals that will effect their world in a powerful way. I just don’t care. Why? I wish I understood. I think this is so important to the success of a book. I didn’t feel like I entered into any of the characters’ stories emotionally.

I’ve postulated before that this might be because of the size of the cast and the frequent shift in point of view to any number of characters (I don’t think I could remember them all).

I think there also might be another reason. I don’t see the scenes well. It’s a surprising admission because generally Mr. Overstreet is praised as an author who paints pictures with his words. But that’s the point. I feel like he’s painting a picture not a story. Sometimes the action scenes are hard for me to figure out who did what and where they all were. I can’t see the action.

A third reason might be that I don’t hear individual voices, and the different characters don’t seem to create different moods. It all seems quite dark and hopeless. Even those who are enjoying the pleasures of Bel Amica are doing so as a way to stifle their sadness, and it’s clearly not a healthy or refreshing endeavor.

A fourth thing. Once again, for long stretches, the protagonist of the book does nothing. He is sitting and planning, so I as a reader have nothing to cheer him on toward.

In addition, while much is said about the resident bad guys, they don’t show up “on stage” until the last hundred pages of the book.

There were some plot things that bothered me, too. When Cyndere takes Cal-raven in, apparently nothing is done about those who tried to assassinate him—no effort to identify them or to punish the slavers or even to protect him in case they tried again. In addition, apparently Cal-raven never asked his people why they left the caves. And they never alerted the Bel Amicans to the danger of the feelers that later attack ships in the harbor. Nor did the Bel Amicans seem surprised that the Abascar refugees had left their caves. Or that the Seers had brought them in to Bel Amica against their will. In other words, a lot happened that should have raised questions and created tension and even conflict. It didn’t.

Recommendation. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. However, mine is just one opinion. Others on the tour have a different take. Some even believe this is the best book of the series. I think that means, readers need to decide for themselves.

Take some time to start formulating yours by reading some of the other participants’ views. You’ll find the list with links to specific articles at the end of Monday’s post.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 2

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, the second April feature of the CSFF Blog Tour, is a dense book. In some ways the fantasy is dense.

Yesterday I looked at two specific ways authors of fantasy can connect with readers. Mr. Overstreet succeeds in those ways, I believe. But another factor comes into play—the on-going epic story, published over a series of four books. Since I write this type of fantasy too, I’m particularly sensitive to this subject.

In my appraisal, this book works—all except the prologue and the first couple chapters. Because the Auralia Thread story has a full cast of characters and takes place in various parts of the Expanse, because each of the previous books has featured a different character than the ones we are initially introduced to in Raven’s Ladder, I felt a more thorough review of the story at the beginning of this book would have been helpful (there is a short summary, but the emphasis here is short). Better yet might be a what-happened-last section bringing readers once again up-to-date with Cal-raven, the focus of this latest installment of the series.

Be that as it may, the density and accessibility of the novel isn’t my subject today. Rather, I want to address one of the themes (though I don’t think Mr. Overstreet believes in incorporating theme into his stories intentionally).

One aspect of Raven’s Ladder is Cal-raven’s belief in the Keeper, a creature most in the Expanse believe to be mythical, a dream figure children embrace but grow out of. Cal-raven did not grow out of his longing for the Keeper, however, and early in this book, he has a direct encounter with it which cements his belief.

However, midway through the book, in House (country or more accurately, city-state) Bel Amica, Cal-raven stumbles upon a group of people claiming to also believe in the Keeper. In fact, one, who used to lead the rebellious faction known as the Grudgers, claims he has seen the Keeper and can describe him. He proceeds to do so, but the creature he paints is nothing like the one Cal-raven encountered. In essence, the two men digress to a “this one said, that one said” disagreement, proving nothing.

This segment of the story made me aware once again of the importance of authoritative, absolute truth. For anyone to put faith in moon spirits or the Keeper or even in himself, he is vulnerable to the next guy who comes along saying, no, the moon spirits, the Keeper, or a regular person does or does not have the qualities, attributes, abilities, or what have you that the first individual professed. In other words, all views are equally valid because none are independently verifiable. As a result, truth is relative.

Interestingly, much of the Auralia Thread series revolves around the idea of beauty. The world of the Expanse is dark and deadly, but none of the characters seems to disagree that Beauty exists, that the colors, the music, the light, the water with restorative powers is real. None fails to recognize beauty either, though some want to use, hoard, or ban it.

Beauty in this story, then, seems like the one universal, the one absolute. People’s response? Clearly that’s another matter.

So the point that comes to my mind is this: God has made it clear that He can be seen in what He created (in essence, in the beauty of our world), but He went further because He knew beauty by itself wasn’t enough. Therefore, He revealed Himself in the flesh and in the written word. He wants to be known. He is no mystery, except to those whose eyes are veiled, whose sight is blind, whose ears are stopped.

My review of Raven’s Ladder tomorrow, as God wills.

Today, take a look at what others on the tour think. You’ll find the list with appropriate links to the various articles at the end of yesterday’s post

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press..

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 1

Because we missed touring in February, the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a second book in April—Raven’s Ladder, the third book in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia Thread adult fantasy series.

As is my want to do during our tours, I’ll digress a bit to something the book made me think about. In the case of Raven’s Ladder, that something is fantasy itself, and in particular, fantasy settings.

While fantasy in general continues to sell well, and Christian publishers are slowly adding more titles and authors, there lingers a perception that fantasy is for a select few who like unpronounceable names and unrealistic stories.

Certainly I don’t agree with that perspective, but it does bring up the question: can a fantasy setting be too “dense” to allow access by readers less inclined toward the genre? And if so, when does an author cross that line?

After all, isn’t one of the joys of fantasy the chance to imagine new and different places? But of course all fiction opens the reader to new and different places. I’ve been to Russia, China, Israel, and Germany, all through novels. I’ve lived in the eighteen century, the early twentieth, and even the twenty-fifth.

So imagining new and different places isn’t reserved for fantasy. Why then does fantasy cause so many to associate the genre with “strange,” rather than imaginatively new and different?

I don’t have any hard evidence one way or the other, but here’s what I suspect: fantasy that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world gets labeled “strange.” By “connect to the real world” I don’t mean that all fantasy needs to be about a character from this world. Nor do I believe it must be set in this world.

Tolkien’s heroes were Hobbits, not humans, and Lewis’s Narnia was clearly a world apart from this one, yet those two authors are arguably the most popular fantasy writers of all time.

What, then, are the elements that help a reader connect to a fantasy world? I think there are several that help me.

Accessible names. These aren’t necessarily familiar names but they should have a familiar feel to them. Bilbo, Samwise, Aslan, Taran, Dobro Turtlebane, and Cal-raven from Raven’s Ladder are accessible, though different. The vowel-consonant combinations aren’t unfamiliar to English speakers.

An understandable society. Recently I saw an old Star Trek: Next Generations re-run in which Worf brought to the forefront how impossible it was for Romulans to understand Klingons because they do not place the same value on honor. The conflict made perfect sense to anyone who’s viewed the show for any length of time because that cultural distinction had been clearly established.

More importantly, the idea that a culture would value an ethical or moral attribute more than life itself doesn’t seem bizarre or stupid. Different, perhaps, but in an admirable way. Clearly the culture is one readers can relate to.

So too, in Raven’s Ladder when the king does away with old segregation lines and no longer follows the rules of old, readers can understand the conflict such a change could create.

Certainly there are more ways a writer can create a unique world that feels new and different yet retains the sense of familiarity that will draw readers in rather than repelling them. What are some ideas you’ve see in your reading or included in your writing?

Once again, I invite you to see what others touring Raven’s Ladder are saying about the book:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Women in Fiction, Part 3

So my contention is that men don’t want to read books that feature women. (Unless, of course, there are pictures! 😳 )

Here’s my thinking. Part of the reading experience is identifying with the main character. Men don’t want to identify with a woman. They’d feel less than a man.

Women, on the other hand, like to read books about either gender. We can identify with the female character and we can better understand men by understanding the male character.

Big generalities, I know, but I think there’s something to it. Here’s my theory.

What do we have in the book business? Mostly romance, written mostly by women. And yet in the CBA, most of the acquiring editors are men. I’m guessing a good number of the individuals on the pub boards (the ones making the decisions about what books to publish) are men, too.

The men making the decisions don’t know that women readers will read books with a variety of protagonists. They think women readers are like them, wanting to read about a character like them.

So they acquire books they think will appeal to women, knowing that manly-men won’t touch those books with a pole-vault-sized pole.

The problem is, those books only appeal to some women and to no men. The market is fairly closed, and perhaps even shrinking.

The “man books,” however, seem to do pretty well. Of course, I’m not privy to sales records, so I could be wrong, but I’ve seen Ted Dekker’s name on the best selling list a time or two. 🙂

But not every author is as successful. One of the best authors in the CBA, in my opinion, is one few have read. Why? His books are “man books” and men didn’t find out about them. They’re also “man books” dealing with overly-mined territory.

But here’s what happens. Because those books didn’t meet the publisher’s expectation, the report is, this particular house won’t be publishing any more books for men. They tried, and it didn’t work.

One series.

Guys who like sports might prefer a sports book, but that wasn’t an option. Those who want to read books with car chases and lots of explosions wouldn’t have found a book to their liking. In other words, no one novel fits all men.

And no one novel fits all women. But that’s not something women have to worry about because publishers have expanded their fiction selection for women. Besides romance (and there’s an abundance of that) women can choose from suspense, cozy mysteries, woman’s fiction, historicals, and even fantasy (think Karen Hancock and Sharon Hinck).

How many of those books are gender-crossovers?

Are such books possible? Desirable?

Still more to say about this subject. Another day.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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Women in Fiction, Part 2

Some interesting comments and a related article came out of my last post on this topic.

One particular point that came up several times is that manly men do not want to read stories about manly women. Well, that certainly makes sense. I’d add that girlie-girls don’t want to read stories about manly women, nor do womanly-women.

But are strong, independent women, “manly women”? I ask because I didn’t mention “manly women” but my description must have evoked that image. Maybe tough was the word that created that picture. I hope it wasn’t clever.

Think for a moment about real-life people. I’d consider Condoleezza Rice, for example, strong, independent, smart (more than clever), and from time to time, tough. I would not consider her a manly woman.

Of course there are women today who intentionally want to look like a man and act like a man. But I’m thinking there are also women who have adopted mannish behavior without realizing it. I think of women ogling pictures of bare-chested men or punctuating every sentence with a swear word or cutting others off in traffic or in conversation.

Not that I’m saying all men do those things. But let’s be honest. As Mike Duran implied in his post, men think about sex:

“getting the girl” is the stuff of boys (and men!). Heck, that’s practically all the guys at my work talk about. (Of course, what that means for them is a whole other story.)

Men are also aggressive and because of their left-brain focus, may not be aware when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. (I have a destination to bag, so other drivers aren’t even on the road, as far as I can see. 😆 )

Unfortunately in the culture today, there seems to be a growing number of women who are adopting these behaviors, as if they are better for that conduct.

On the other side of the spectrum, though, are clingers, weak-willed women, ones who expect to be victimized and welcome it. These are the silly women who can’t help but go out on the porch in the dead of night, alone, when they know an ax murderer is in the neighborhood, because they think they heard a noise. Paaaleeezz!

Then there are the ditsy types who can’t seem to find anything interesting to say beyond fashion or entertainment. Or the piously demure types who can’t think for themselves but must parrot whatever their husband tells them. Or how about models who can’t seem to think about anything but their next workout and the half stick of celery they’re planning to have for lunch. Or what about the little old blue-haired ladies who complain about drums and guitars in church.

Enough silliness.

Through all this conversation, I discovered one thing I don’t want to find in the women characters I read about—stereotypes. I also don’t want all the women to be the same, because clearly in real life we are not.

And still I have more to say on this topic. Another day

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm  Comments (5)  
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CFBA Tour – The Sword

The Sword by Bryan Litfin (Crossway), one of the current Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA) features, is a unique fantasy. It contains elements of classic fantasy, but the story is set on earth, in the future. Intrigued? I was.

The Story. War decimated earth and brought on a nuclear winter that nearly wiped out the human race. Four hundred years later, a noble but primitive civilization has developed in a land known as Chiveis. Almost everything about the “Ancients” has been forgotten, including Christianity. However Teofil, a young scholar and Royal Guard captain, and Anastasia, the young woman he’s rescued from Outsiders who kidnapped her and carried her to the Beyond, discover a copy of the Ancients’ sacred writings.

The narrative and poems introduce a handful of family and friends to the Good God who contrasts with the four Chiveisi gods that rule by fear and displays of power.

The High Priestess of the most potent of these gods determines to keep the religion of the cross from coming to Chiveis.

And there I’ll stop.

Strengths. Without a doubt, Bryan Litfin has a winning premise. He’s cleverly married a dystopian/futuristic novel with traditional fantasy. Those who favor the former may not find enough here to keep them excited, but those of us who prefer the latter have all the sword play and horseback riding we can want, along with some intriguing futuristic/dystopian elements such as a discovery of the remains of iron carriages and the ruins of ancient cities.

This unique genre blend also gives a fresh look at Christianity. Teofil, the young scholar, must translate the Sacred Writings for his friends who do not read the Fluid Tongue. He finds sections with names such as Beginnings, Departure, Magistrates, First and Second Histories, Hymns, and Maxims. As they read portions at a time, they begin to formulate ideas about the Good God.

For the most part, the story is unpredictable. There are some interesting surprises, some questions left unanswered, some disappointments that mirror real life.

Weaknesses. While there is much to like in this book and I am thrilled that Crossway has ventured into fantasy, I wish there were fewer problems. Characterization was not strong. At times the action seemed almost cartoonish, with devastating injuries having little or else unusually short effect.

Character motivation was a problem. Why did Ana so quickly and unswervingly turn from the gods of Chiveis to the Good God Deu? Why did Valant spurn his wife? Why did Lewth turn from what he had believed was the task Deu had given him? Why did Habiloho reject the path she’d been on for over a year? Too many such questions kept the story from being what it could be.

Then too, the characters seem to reach accurate conclusions about the Good God fairly quickly, something that is surprising in light of the fact that they have only known evil gods up to this time, and they have only read a small portion of the Sacred Writings.

But the biggest problem, in my opinion, was theological. Whenever a book is set in this world, a Christian author, if he addresses spiritual things, must be faithful to Scripture. While The Sword apparently is primed to do so, Mr. Litfin took an interesting but damning turn: he had the last third of the Sacred Writings unreadable. Consequently, the characters who are learning about the Good God, do so without any knowledge of His Son.

It’s an interesting twist, but the problem is the apparent relationship a number of the characters develop with the Good God, including two who die. Yet the Sacred Writings which are true and would be true in the future, too, say that the Good God’s Son is the Way, the Truth, the Life and that no man comes to His Father but through Him—the Son that these characters do not know.

It’s a huge problem and one that has serious ramifications for the real world if you believe those ignorant of the Son can still come to the Father. Why then did Jesus die?

Recommendation. I’m glad I read The Sword. I’m glad Crossway published it. I think fantasy lovers will enjoy the story. I think those who care about the Truth will question why a man with Mr. Litfin’s theological background (he’s got a masters degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a professor in the Theology Department at Moody Bible Institute) would write something so misleading. While I’d like to give this one an enthusiastic endorsement, instead I have to give it a tepid nod primarily for those who love fantasy.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm  Comments (11)  
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First Lines – A Random Sampling

I continue to be intrigued by the opening lines of novels. What is it that captures a reader’s attention? What are the necessary components? What makes a first line memorable? What makes it great?

I decided to take a look at a variety of first lines. To be honest, most of these books are ones I haven’t read yet. Some are Christian fiction, some are not. Some you may recognize, some may be from unpublished works.

What I thought might be informative is if I put out this random sampling, then based on comments, select the top five and create a readers’ poll to see what we think is the best open line. Or maybe we can vote on something else—like whether we favored lines showing action or dialogue or thought or description.

I also thought it might be interesting to let visitors add favorite first lines—either your own or ones you’ve read—and tell why you like them.

For the sake of time, I’m not going to give title and author of each sample. Suffice it to say, each is the opening line of a novel or a novel manuscript. The question is, which ones, by themselves, make you want to read more?

Looking forward to hearing what you think.

    1 –
    This is it, we’re here.
    2 –
    My mom was freaking out.
    3 –
    My discovery of terrorist cells operating in Canada coincided with Stephanie’s request that I move out.
    4 –
    I’m wearing dark clothes on a moonless night.
    5 –
    I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.
    6 –
    “No, Mr. Covenant,” she repeated for the third time, “I can’t do that.”
    7 –
    Any photographer would have loved to capture the scene.
    8 –
    A magnificent viscorcat paws at the trunk of the coil tree, yearning for a summer sun spot up in the branches, his black fur glossed from grooming.
    9 –
    Paige Woodward sat in the Christmas Eve service, staring at the giant cross that hung above the pulpit of her parents’ church and silently pleading with God.
    10 –
    Word got out.
    11 –
    This is the tale of how, at last evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D’Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.
    12 –
    Hand over hand, Oblivion climbed.
    13 –
    Rivka woke from a light sleep, her heart thudding.
    14 –
    Attending this funeral on Easter Sunday seemed especially sad to me—but fitting, nevertheless.
    15 –
    It was the stillness.
    16 –
    “We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.
    17 –
    Rough stone tore Rathe’s palms as he stumbled through the gaping maw of the cave.
    18 –
    Jim understood the insinuation—his brother thought he was a loser.
    19 –
    It first appeared as a gentle glow, almost like a child’s night-light.
    20 –
    I remember well the first time I saw the magic of the Plains-people.
    21 –
    The storm had broken.
    22 –
    Every morning, before the sun rose to gild the white marble columns of the monastery with flecks of gold, the High Priestess went to the Chamber of the Watchful Eye to perform the Rite of Seeing.
    23 –
    A hot, sticky evening in Los Angeles.
    24 –
    On Monday, I uncovered a drug ring in South Minneapolis.
    25 –
    Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn.
Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm  Comments (21)  
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Women in Fiction

Random thoughts about women in fiction. I’ve said from time to time that my observation leads me to believe men don’t really want to read books with women protagonists. I’ve never had men argue against that position, though a few will say they don’t mind so much.

Women, on the other hand, seem content to read books with a protagonist from either gender. But one thing seems to be surfacing—the woman main character must be strong in some way, not just beautiful.

I realized some time ago that one reason I don’t like typical suspense featuring a female protagonist is because in all likelihood, she will be weak and/or vulnerable at some point in the story, either running for her life or for her chastity. I don’t like stories in which a woman is fearful throughout.

At the same time, in one of the recent CSFF Blog Tours, we featured R. J. Anderson’s Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter. A number of the “manly men” participating noted that they did not expect to like the book because of the cover featuring a truculent faery they found to be too much like Tinkerbell, a connection I hadn’t made at all.

As it turned out, our faery female was a tough and independent young thing who took the name Knife—not your typical girlie-girl. And the manly men loved the story.

There are plenty of girlie-girls if fiction, especially in romance. Some are patient and demure and adoring. Some, like she of Twilight fame, are willing to sacrifice all for the one they obsess over.

I heard a startling figure this last weekend—fully eighty percent of all books (not just Christian books) sold in the US are romances. Accurate or not, I think the perception is telling—we are a culture seeking relational bliss, women with men.

Yes, there are coming of age stories featuring guys. Hatchet comes to mind as does Peace Like a River. And there are some action-adventure stories mostly about guys. Alton Gansky has written at least one such book. So has Ted Dekker.

But for the most part, women show up in fiction, if not in the protagonist’s role, then in a role demanding her own subplot.

So I wonder. Is this why men notoriously don’t read fiction? Do guys really not want to read the romance, just as they do not want to go to movies identified as romantic comedies?

Do they not read because they don’t want to know what Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy were whispering about in their attic? Do they not read because they don’t care how Ann Shirley felt as a little orphan girl arriving in a home that expected a boy.

Do men not read because books are too cerebral and not visceral enough? Or manly enough?

And if women protagonists become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent, will men want to read about those women more?

Believe it or not, these thoughts have something to do with the Church, too, but I’ll need to make that connection another day in a part two, or maybe a part three.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm  Comments (7)  
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