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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing Between the Sexes

Please welcome guest blogger Leigh Michaels

Let's say when you're wandering through the bookstore, you flip open a book by someone called Chris Smith, and you read this:

Max, incidentally, had spiffed himself up for the feds and/or the press by putting on a tie, a silly one decorated with nautical flags. Elizabeth was still wearing her tan suit, but had removed her jacket, revealing one holstered .38 and two holstered 36 D's.

Now based on the name our author goes by, Chris Smith could be either sex. But I'm betting you have a pretty clear picture in your head of Chris Smith, just from those two sentences. And I'm betting you know whether Chris wears boxer shorts or underwires.

How about this one? Is the author male, or female?

Reluctantly turning off the tap, she reached for a thick purple towel, winding it around her hair, turban-style. Wrapping another around her torso, she stepped from the shower and surveyed her steam-filled bathroom with a sigh. The old house didn’t have vents to carry away the humidity, so she removed her towel to wipe, ineffectually, at the mirror. She saw the blurred reflection of a tall, slender redhead with very pink skin. I look like a lobster, she thought, applying the towel to her still-damp skin.

Or this one?

She looked at the mirror as she toweled off. Not too bad for a thirty-six-year-old with an adolescent son, she thought to herself. Her breasts had always been smallish, and though it had bothered her when she was younger, she was glad now because they hadn’t started to sag or droop like those of other women her age. All in all, she was pleased with how she looked this morning.

Or this one?

Her eyes narrowed. “Does this have anything to do with my being sick?”

Warily he asked, “What do you mean?”

“Are you trying to get me to rest more?”

“If I am, do you have a problem with that?”

Men and women think, act, and talk differently -- and vive le difference! But when women write the actions and dialogue of male characters, those guys often come off sounding like girlfriends. And when men write the actions and dialogue of feminine characters, those gals often come off sounding like tough guys.

Why is that a problem? Because when readers encounter a male character who doesn’t sound masculine, or a female one who doesn’t sound feminine, they may stop believing in the world the author is trying to create. You may get by with that if your audience is the same sex you are – but if you’re aiming to broaden your readership, here's a place to sit up and pay attention.

In WRITING BETWEEN THE SEXES, we’ll look at the behaviors and traits which most commonly lead us to tag someone as feminine or masculine, and how to use those behaviors and traits to create realistic -- but not stereotypical -- characters of the opposite sex. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Leigh Michaels is the author of 80 contemporary romance novels, with more than 35 million copies in print in 25 languages. She currently writes single-title sensual Regency-period romance. She is the author of On Writing Romance, which has been called the definitive guide on how to write romance novels. A six-time finalist in the RITA contest for best traditional romance, she  has also won Reviewers Choice awards from Romantic Times and the Johnson Brigham award from the Iowa Library Association for outstanding contributions to American literature. She teaches romance writing online at Gotham Writers Workshop and many of her students have gone on to be published in romance fiction. She wrote her first romance novel when she was 14, then went on to write and burn five more books before her first submission was accepted and published.

WRITING BETWEEN THE SEXES runs from April 5, 2010 through May 2, 2010

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