Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Boys, Love, and Sex

[Okay, big kid mature topics coming up. Also, this post is extremely heterosexual-centric, but that's because I am currently not writing any gay characters, so I'm focusing this strictly on the work I'm doing with my WIP.]

Last week, I sent the first 12,000 words of THE FOREVER CITY to a beta reader for a critique, just so I could get a feel of whether the story was starting off on the right foot. Was it appealing? Did it have potential? I got the critique back yesterday, and I am completely awesome-ed out by it. I purposely sent it to someone I don't know personally, because I wanted a brutal, honest evaluation. The beta sent back plenty of comments, and of course, it needs work in some areas. But overall? Looks like a definite thumbs up, so I'm thrilled about that. Best areas: world building (always a concern of mine), characterization, emotional impact (Clare's mother dies at the very beginning, so the fact that the reader can feel Clare's grief is important), and voice. Yay, all good things.

One thing that stuck out to me the most about the criticism was that Clare gets the reader right away, but Adrien, the boy MC who tells half of the story, didn't trigger the beta's interest until several thousand words later. I mulled this over in my head all day, and I think I know why.

I don't get boys. 

First off, please read this if you ever intend on writing YA boy characters. I recently finished AFTER THE MOMENT by Garret Freymann-Weyr, which features a boy MC. The author is a woman. And as you can see from her post, she did a little research before she delved into this character. I highly recommend AFTER THE MOMENT for anyone who appreciates beautiful writing and doesn't mind a slower plot. [Genre: literary.] This is the author of STAY WITH ME, easily the best book I read in 2010 and possibly one of the best books I've ever read. She does a fantastic portrayal of a teenaged boy. He is neither an idiot nor a girl's chick lit fantasy. He is real. This is my own opinion, of course, and I'm a girl. Maybe a boy would read this and be like, wtf, this is not how boys are at all. But I enjoyed it. I liked reading about a boy who seems authentic, uncensored, rather than one who is hell-bent on tossing romantic gestures left and right and being the knight in shining armor. 

Adrien doesn't click at once, possibly because I'm writing my idea of a boy instead of what boys are really like. I intrinsically know Clare, know how she thinks, what she feels, what she is afraid of, what she loves, what she hates, the way she responds to situations. I am always trying to figure out Adrien.

I don't get boys.

I haven't grown up in a convent or anything. Personal information HO! Here it comes I've dated boys, although I've never had what I'd consider a serious relationship. I have friends who are boys, although they probably sanitize their behavior and words around me. I am not friends with jackass boys, of which there are plenty in college. I do have some measure of self-esteem. If a boy treats me like shit, he is BAM out of my life in two seconds flat. I don't fall for "bad boys" or whatever is the hot thing in YA paranormal chick lit nowadays. Being mysteriously douchey is not attractive to me. Be intelligent; treat me with admiration and respect. Do not try to make out with me drunkenly on dance floor of a reeking bar. No means no, guys! That is my baseline consideration for boys. All in all, this is what I believe I deserve, but not necessarily how all boys are at this age. Or ever.

But. The big but. I can't say I've fallen in love. In order to fall in love, I generally think it's a prerequisite to be in a stable relationship with someone. So that too, makes it hard to understand boys. I've read so many books about girls falling in love. Yet I rarely read books with boys falling in love. What do boys think about love? About girls? About sex? On one hand, I have this impression that all boys think about is getting in your pants. You live on a college campus, this is not a hard conclusion to come to. This is also what 90% of people* will tell you about boys. They're go-getters. They're aggressive. They're highly sexualized and can't control their impulses (which is bullshit, by the way; stop making excuses for rapists). They Just Want Sex, Okay? 

I am trying to reconcile this belief with the real boys I know. Who are not assholes. Who don't try to coerce you into doing things you are uncomfortable with. Who act like girls are people and not pieces of ass. But yes, it must be possible that they are also just thinking about getting into another girl's pants. I suppose I am lucky that I know many of the thoughtful boys, Freymann-Weyr refers to in her post. And I do have very high opinions of all of the boys I know. Otherwise I wouldn't associate myself with them. Obviously. You can probably tell from my post that I have high standards, and that is not always a positive thing. It means I'm frequently demanding and probably also high-maintenance, as much as I'd like to think I'm not. But anyway, "thoughtful" does not mean "asexual," and who am I to know what is going on inside a boy's head at all times? And well -- girls think about sex too. So there's that.


Mainly, I think it's hard these days to write a book with a boy who is a boy without being the boy that girls want him to be. Still, the rewards of writing a real boy who makes mistakes, isn't a genius and isn't an idiot but somewhere in between, are great. Just like all girls are different, boys need to be defined by themselves and not by the girls around them.

The beta reader added that the novel kicks off with Clare battling for emotional survival, while Adrien is really having an existential crisis about his existence -- probably not as immediately gripping as Clare's storyline, although his half picks up quickly. Perhaps this is an issue of starting a scene too early when I need to cut to when the action starts Right Away. In any case, I still don't get boys, and this is probably something I should figure out before I can convincingly put a boy on a page and expect him to grab readers.

On the other hand, I think I can count the male readers of this blog on one hand, so this is not helping my case either.

PS I hit 15,000 words today on the manuscript. Am pleased and excited. I genuinely think this novel might be The One. And even if it's not, it's a pleasure to read and a pleasure to write. So that makes me happy. IF ONLY my job/school/LSAT weren't giving me the finger every other second, I'd be able to get more writing done.
*I hope you know that every percentage I will ever use in my posts are all random and made up.


  1. LOL, well I feel for you. Being on a college campus like you are, I can only imagine the wonderful guys that surround you. Of course, I'm atypical for a guy. I don't really get into sports, I'm not all about the whole overly macho whatever, and I'm intelligent. I'm a geek, but I'm thankfully now old enough to have learned why the stuff I used to do was truly stupid. And thankfully my wife married me or I'd probably still be woefully single and no prospects LOL. What I CAN tell you is that on the whole, yes guys think about sex. Alot. Those that say they don't are lying. What separates the "men from the boys" is which of us can keep all those thoughts to ourselves and not allow our impulses to control us. The good guys (those not thinking wholly about just having sex with every woman they meet) actually do want to have a lasting emotional relationship with a woman. While we might not easily admit it, we want to be able to reveal deep feelings to a woman without it devolving into a blubbery mess. We want to be able to reveal something intimate or personal without our significant other going "Awwww, how cute". We still want to be seen as a man after showing a bit of emotion. Why? I can't answer that for you. But it's there at some level in just about every guy.

    If you want more of my thoughts on the subject XiXi, toss me an email. I'm not an expert or anything, but I'm more than happy to give you my perspective. And good luck :)

  2. LOL, the timing of this is perfect... I just decided to change the 1st person wip into 3 rotating 1st person povs (for now, I may make it 3rd, not sure yet). The two new povs are guys. I was worried about it at first, but they are so very different from one another, and brothers, that it made it easier for me to bring their voices to life.

    I'm a little worried that my voice is not genuine enough, but I have gotten a lot of advice from my darling husband about how teenage boys react to certain stimuli, and I think it has made my work much better. I'm not going to crow about it until an actual guy reads the ms, but I think it's going to make for a much better story.

    I bet you're writing Adrien's voice better than you think. The reader connection is probably because your male mc's problems seems sort of whiny compared to your female mc's struggle. Maybe he just needs to begin his story with more conflict, to match hers.

    Good luck, and thanks for the link, I can use it!

  3. Love this post because I have the same insecurity about writing boys. I don't want them to come out like a girl's dream lit-boy, but I don't want them to be a boy stereotype either.

    So yes, thanks for the link, and I agree with Tere that you're probably doing better than you think. Unless your beta is saying THIS DOES NOT SOUND LIKE A BOY, that might not actually be your problem. :) It's okay! We will struggle on together!

  4. Maybe you've announced this somewhere in here and I missed it, but are you writing The Forever City in first person or third? Just curious.

    Also, sorry about the stalkerish anonymous comment, hehe. I'm still under the influence of a very paranoid Asian mother.

  5. Eric - Lol, this is interesting stuff. I may or may not take you up on that offer somewhere down the road.

    Tere - Yup, there are probably multiple reasons for my Adrien issues. I do love him as a character, but I think Clare's scenes are the best and my favorites. It probably comes through.

    Krispy - We need to read more books with boys! I'm working on it. Actually, of the first five books I've finished in 2011, four of them feature male MC's or were written by a man. I think I'm doing good thus far. ;)

    Anonymous - THE FOREVER CITY is in third person limited with two POVs, Clare and Adrien's. Thanks for dropping by!