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The Differences Between Male & Female Writers

So I submitted the first chapter of my WIP to Gender Genie, a program that uses an algorithm to predict the gender of an author, and this was the result.

It’s one thing for a guy to be accused of “hitting like a girl” or “throwing like a girl.” But “writing like a girl?” I’m not sure that’s so bad of a thing. Either way, I’m secure enough in my manhood to disregard the slight. However, it is peculiar how often the Genie thinks I’m female.

This is especially peculiar since my writing group consists of three women (three peculiar women, at that). What I’ve progressively noticed is a marked difference in how we critique each others work, what we repeatedly look for or identify. The girls almost always key on a character’s motivation and reaction. I almost always key on the visceral and atmospheric elements.

Perhaps this says more about us as individual writers than it does a tendency of genders. Nevertheless, it’s forced me to reflect on the ever-sensitive subject of differences between male and female writers. Do intrinsic differences really exist and how do they translate into our writing? And is it appropriate to expect someone of the opposite gender to write more like their genetic counterpart?

When I’m reading, my radar seems to first track on atmosphere and action. I’m asking questions about the story environment, the lay of the land. I’m wanting to feel wind in my face, smell the gunpowder, and hear the plop and splatter of the… watermelon.

Is this peculiar to male writers? Are men more genetically inclined toward the visceral, more fast-paced, less interior types of tales?

Whatever the answer, I’m finding my critiques often center around these visceral elements of the story. The girls — not so much. What often marvels me is how often, when the women critique a work, they ask questions like, “Would he do this? Would he worry about this? Why would he worry about this?” I mean, they really seem to dig into the character’s psyche! So while I’m worrying over the feel, mood, and pacing of the story (exterior elements), they’re concerned about whether the protag would really suffer such emotions or speak that way in the face of such loss (interior elements).

It often leaves me feeling like a dunce.

So should I just chalk it up to gender differences, to wiring? If you ask the Genie, I’ve cultivated my feminine writing side enough. I need less emotive dialogue and more blood and guts. I need to worry less about a character’s motivations and worry more about crisp pacing and descriptions.

In other words, I need to write more like a man!

It’s made me wonder if the differences between men and women writers aren’t very, very real. In fact, learning to write like the opposite gender may be less about developing technique than wrestling against biology. And the more we make it an issue of technique, the more we go against the grain of who we intrinsically are.

Oh, I dunno. Maybe we should just ask the Genie…

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{ 34 comments… add one }
  • Ike L. Obidike May 30, 2012, 6:14 AM

    Took the test now with the first chapter of my book, Shifting Sands and below is my result:

    Words: 2938

    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

    Female Score: 3037
    Male Score: 3197

    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

  • Julie Presley May 30, 2012, 6:18 AM

    I totally relate to the girls you mentioned. The atmospheric details are an afterthought for me. I struggle with descriptive detail and describing the lay of the land, as you call it. I want to get the story out, the feelings and thoughts out, then I go back and realize it might be important to paint the picture as to where those things are being felt and thought 🙂 I’ve gotten a lot better as I’ve realized this is a weak spot for me, but I still have black holes sometimes where I have to go back at the end of a few drafts and create the atmosphere. I’m far more concerned about what is actually going on than where it’s going on.

  • Nissa Annakindt May 30, 2012, 6:28 AM

    I think there are always writers who won’t follow the gender expectations. In my experience, women writers have better-developed characters, and some male writers are content with underdeveloped characters.

    In male-dominated writing fields, like hard science fiction or spy thrillers, that type of character becomes part of the genre. The same with the female-dominated genre of romance— there are no romances where the author ignores the characters’ emotional state.

    But I congratulate you, Mike, on ‘writing like a girl’. Since you are, in fact, not a girl maybe that means that in your writing we can expect the best of both male and female styles of writing.

  • Jason Joyner May 30, 2012, 6:38 AM

    Wow, I must be really in touch with my feminine side. From my second chapter:

    Words: 2284
    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)
    Female Score: 4087
    Male Score: 2569
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    That chapter introduces my female protagonist. Even when I run my action-oriented first chapter, I get:
    Words: 1195
    Female Score: 1478
    Male Score: 1407
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    I dunno Mike. It says “said” is a masculine word, but as a good writing student, I don’t use speech tags all that much. Still, fun thoughts.

  • Kat Heckenbach May 30, 2012, 6:43 AM

    This is interesting. I decided to test this with several of my stories. I chose three short stories with female protags and three with male. All the stories with female protags brought up female writer as a result. My male protag stories were split: two male writer, one female writer.

    And did you look at the keywords they use to determine this??? They’re words like “the” and “with” and “around”–not what I expected! It also looks at pronouns, so I’d bet it’s assuming a female will write about females and a male about males.

    Anyway, this reminded me of something a writer friend told me about. She has a three-book historical fiction series, the first two books with female protags and the third with a male. She was told by some male beta-readers regarding the third one that she has the guy thinking things out too much. He’s at battle, standing on a hill, and he’s musing about his past. They said, NO, he’s going to have his head in the game and think no farther than what his next move will be.

    The reason I mention this, is that it’s not just the overall feel of the book that matters–character focused vs environment focused. When you are in a male character’s head you have to have *him* think like a guy, and the same for girl characters thinking like girls.

    And my own aside here–I wonder…do romances go over so well because the writers (generally female) write the men too thinky and emotional? They guys come across as processing things like girls and so the readers swoon over the “he understands her!” factor?

    • Julie Presley May 30, 2012, 6:50 AM

      I think you’re totally right about the romance point. In my opinion, some of the greatest romances that I’ve read, draw me in because the author creates a male character that is beyond this world — he could never be real. That said, I am married to a man who is an incredible thinker, is open about his emotions and even cries sometimes in movies. I use him for inspiration in characters a lot, even though most men aren’t as in touch with their emotions as he is.

      • Kat Heckenbach May 30, 2012, 7:01 AM

        My husband (as much as he’d kill me for saying this) has been known to cry at a few movies, too. And he’s very compassionate. I do think guys can be and are, and can still be very manly! But, when he’s working on the car, that’s where his head is, 100%. Women aren’t like that–we’re washing dishes or whatever, and thinking/doing seventeen other things at the same time. We also tend to focus more on the emotional aspects of things, where men focus on more practical.

        I think I do a pretty good job of writing guys because I’m a more logical female. Math and science nerd, grew up a tomboy. I find myself rolling my eyes at most chick-lit. I’m more of a guy-book reader and guy-movie watcher–fast-paced plot, lots of action. But I definitely have my girlie moments, and my fair share of movies like The Joy Luck Club and Ever After–just not as many of them as most of the women I know.

    • heather day gilbert May 30, 2012, 10:14 AM

      I agree w/you, Kat…I don’t read much romance because the men seem nothing like the men I know (and admire). Men don’t always know the right thing to say. But I wonder sometimes if I’m too guy-like in my writing. I don’t tend to write MCs who wallow in their emotions, and I veer toward the visceral, occasionally violent scenes. I was a tomboy growing up, too, and I think I “get” guys fairly well. But never completely, because there’s always a gender divide in the end!

      • Kat Heckenbach May 30, 2012, 10:53 AM

        True about that gender divide, Heather!

        I’ve been told sometimes by beta readers that I’m not showing enough emotion in my characters and I have to go back and add it to scenes. I tend to think “plot” and then figure out later how the characters will react to it all. And while my books so far and several of my short stories are from female POVs, I have no problem just jumping into stories with male protags. And like you, my writing tends to be more violent and dark than most women writers’.

  • Lisa L Keck May 30, 2012, 6:51 AM

    works for me, since the material I submitted was from the female character’s POV. Wonder if it would change if I submitted a scene from the male character’s POV?

  • Jill May 30, 2012, 7:55 AM

    It’s my opinion that the algorithm’s off. I generally get a male rating–a strong male rating–for my nonfiction. So, scholarly writing is male??? My fiction is split. Although I do tend to focus on both atmosphere and psyche in my fiction, I still think the algorithm is off. And I tend to have male critique partners, but I don’t know if that actually means anything. Honestly, I’m about as female as females come.

    Just for the record, I threw in my latest blog story, and it has the highest female rating I’ve gotten yet (2298 vs 1963). Ironic how it’s about a dumb-blonde female robot: An Irrational Robot is a Happy One.

    Mike, if your writing focuses on character motivation as well as atmosphere, that’s probably a good sign. Your writing most likely appeals to a broad audience.

  • Aubrey Hansen May 30, 2012, 9:37 AM

    Interestingly, when I critique I tend to focus on the same elements as your lady writer-friends – “Does this make sense for the character?” When I write, emotion/motivation is still important to me (I can’t force it out if I can’t understand why my character is doing this), but I also have an emphasis on certain atmospheric elements, because I use them to convey emotion. So I do wonder if, for some people, their critiquing style differs from their writing style.

    There are times when the gender of an author can have a profound effect on the narrative. We write like we think, and men and women generally are wired differently in their thought processes. This can be troublesome when trying to portray the opposite gender – however, in my experience it’s more of a problem in 1st person than it is in 3rd. I’ve read some 1st person works written by a female author where the POV character is intended to be male, but they just “sound” female. In the course of reading my subconscious decides they’re female because that’s just the way they “feel.” So I think that’s something to be watched when you’re trying to portray the opposite gender, especially in 1st person – does it sound too feminine when it’s supposed to be masculine? I think test-readers are far more accurate judges of that than a computer program, but this is still a fun program to play with.

    For fun I ran some excerpts from my WIP through the program… For most of the scenes where my guy characters are either alone or with other men, I’m getting a masculine dominant score (although not by a huge margin). When my guys are talking to the girls in their lives I get a feminine score… I’m wondering, with the way the antilogarithm is set up, if the gender of the characters present can sway the results. If something is from a guy’s POV but there are several women in the room, there are going to be lots of “her” and “she,” which are feminine keywords. So if the excerpt you tried had several women in it, Mike, you might try one with only men to see if it changes your score.

  • Kessie May 30, 2012, 9:56 AM

    Oh gosh, I turned out female by ten words.

    Female Score: 11757
    Male Score: 11744

    I’m almost androgynous!

    But look at the words the thing looks for. If you submit a chapter full of character introspection, that’ll look female. If you submit a chapter full of world-building and action, it’ll look male.

  • Jessica Thomas May 30, 2012, 10:51 AM

    Okay, so I don’t really believe a computer can guess whether my writing is male or female, but it is kind of a fun game. I just tested three stories, 2 with female protags and 2 with male protags. The male protags were “male”. The other two were “female”. I take that to mean I’m an awesome writer. 😉

    • Jessica Thomas May 30, 2012, 10:53 AM

      Oops, but I stink at math. 2 + 2 equals 4 stories, not 3. (Although, one was actually the same story, just different two different POV characters.)

  • Tim Johnson May 30, 2012, 11:31 AM

    This is from a story that I began writing about seventeen years ago, and finished seven years afterward. I put it away to work on some other things and have been rewriting it ever since.

    Twisted Oak: Eyes of Discernment
    15 Chapters—half of book 1
    Words: 33,721
    Female Score: 37,904
    Male Score: 42,070
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    Twisted Oak: The Town of Shadows
    26 Chapters—half of book 2
    Words: 48,110
    Female Score: 50,024
    Male Score: 63,247
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    • Tim Johnson May 30, 2012, 11:34 AM

      In haste I forgot to include my facebook address.

  • R. L. Copple May 30, 2012, 12:14 PM

    Interesting. I do think, in general, the genders tend to focus on different things. But I would suggest that character motivations are something all writers should be concerned with.

    In the second novel of my trilogy, The Reality Chronicles, halfway I switch from a male point of view to a female. One “trick” is the female is more of a tomboy, so that probably helped. But, the one thing I focused on doing in writing her point of view, was to have her much more focused on relationships than the male character was. He was concerned and thought about his goals, his ministry, his role in what God wanted him to do with his life. She leaned more toward her part in helping others, how someone else would feel, and what she thought of others as persons.

    And the third book, about to come out in the next few days, both main points of view are women. And thus far, practically everyone who’s critiqued them are women, and to date, I’ve not received any comments like, “A woman wouldn’t think this or do this.” Which surprised me, as I didn’t expect to nail it so well the first time around on that aspect.

    So, maybe I write like a woman too. 🙂

  • Thea May 30, 2012, 12:27 PM

    This was so interesting that I ran an extensive test, because I could. 🙂 I have a good collection of flash fiction that I’ve written in various styles and from various points of view, and so a ran a few of them through the genie, paying special attention to the gender of the main character. My results:

    “Only Death” (surreal fantasy/magical realism, all characters are male)
    Female Score: 1284
    Male Score: 2081
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    “Dreaming of Her” (surreal fantasy/magical realism, all characters are female)
    Female Score: 2046
    Male Score: 1537
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    “Gene Therapy” (science fiction, main character is female, but has gender-neutral name and her gender is never revealed in the story. Readers have thought she’s male.)
    Female Score: 892
    Male Score: 835
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    For this one, note how close the scores are. The main character acts in a more masculine manner, and is involved in a situation that one would more typically expect to see a male in, thus the reason that readers have thought that she’s male. The genie concludes a female author, but only barely.

    “New Life” (hard sci-fi, main character is a robotic plant and so is gender-neutral, only other character is a female engineer who barely does anything)
    Female Score: 270
    Male Score: 995
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    “Swallow Troubles” (utterly ridiculous comedy -I thought I’d see if tone messed anything up- main character is male)
    Female Score: 951
    Male Score: 1282
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    My hypothesis: when it comes to fiction the genie figures out the gender of my main characters (except in the case of the one story with a gender-neutral main character).

    All the stories were over 500 words. The only thing that is missing that would really complete this is if I had a story that was from the point of view of a male and female character, because that would give a more definitive conclusion to my hypothesis. As it is, though, the results are pretty interesting.

    That and I just realized that I’m really nerdy for executing this like a legit scientific experiment. I’m currently trying to keep myself from writing stories specifically to cover all the variable manipulations so that I can more fully test this. O.o

    • Merrie Destefano May 30, 2012, 4:24 PM

      BTW, Thea, your stories sound fascinating!

      • Thea May 30, 2012, 7:04 PM

        Thanks! 😀 They’re undergoing revision right now, but the early versions are all available on a writing practise blog that I have, if you want to read them (since you sound interested -I always feel awkward putting up my links on other people’s blogs, or anywhere that’s not mine, really. I’m never sure how they’ll take it). It’s at: arpeggiosforwriters.blogspot.com

        • Merrie Destefano May 31, 2012, 9:09 PM

          Thanks for the link, Thea! I’ll take a look at them. =)

  • Merrie Destefano May 30, 2012, 12:54 PM

    Fun algorithm, Mike! I’ve run my text through this program before and it always varies, depending on what book or passage of text that I use. This time, I decided to try some short stories from my new anthology, Waiting for Midnight.

    Here’s what I came up with:

    First-person male POV had a higher female rating. [2 stories]
    Third-person male POV had a higher male rating. [1 story]
    Alternating 3rd person male and female POV [in the same story]:
    —female POV had a higher female score
    —male POV had a higher male score
    Second person POV had a higher male rating.

    So, for me, it depends on whether I’m writing in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, and whether my POV character is male or female.

    I included my scores below:
    “Dog Boy”: first person, male POV [female score higher]
    Female Score: 1615
    Male Score: 1563

    “Spring-Heeled Jack”: first person, male POV [female score higher]
    Female Score: 1477
    Male Score: 1024

    “Learning to Hunt”: third person, male POV [male score higher]
    Female Score: 823
    Male Score: 1144

    “Great Gray Cubicle”: second person POV [male score higher]
    Female Score: 866
    Male Score: 891

    The last two are from the same story, written in alternating male & female POVs:
    “Letters from Home”: third person, female POV [female score higher]
    Female Score: 1785
    Male Score: 1240
    “Letters from Home”: third person, male POV [male score higher]
    Female Score: 1059
    Male Score: 1436

  • sally apokedak May 30, 2012, 2:00 PM

    Words: 1580
    Female Score: 2797
    Male Score: 1975
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    But I like atmosphere and action. I also like to look at character motivation, too, though.

    I don’t know why “with” is a female word and “around” is a male word. That makes no sense to me.

  • Tim Johnson May 30, 2012, 5:55 PM

    I must have struck gold with this dark, somewhat satirical piece.

    Title of short story: The Grim Gate
    Words: 1139
    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)
    Female Score: 1475
    Male Score: 1180
    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    • Tim Johnson May 30, 2012, 6:13 PM

      And here’s the story in case any of you would like to tell me wether or not it reads like a woman’s writing. I’m confounded as of now.
      The Grim Gate

      by Tim Johnson

      Amid the stormy night, 3-Toad Diner’s blue neon sign glowed as a beacon, attempting to safely guide some lone, desperate ship ashore. I was that ship, Evan Fletcher–was being the operative word. You’ll probably discover that I’m dead now, after one year of relentless mental and physical torture at the hands of a secretive foe. But I’ve left this message as a warning so all would know of the horrors I encountered during a trip to a rain-soaked, sleepy town. Horrors that thoroughly stripped me of my sanity, tainting my soul with an incurable sickness, which should by now have delivered me unto the grave. But enough of my raving.

      There I was, tattered, drenched, cold and weary. I stumbled my way inside the cafe for protection and sustenance. I was shaking with fright. A man, a lawman in fact–due to his attire–was seated in a booth nearby, glancing out into the night as he devoured a plateful of food. He was rabidly gnawing away at ribs saturated with some favored brand-name sauce…

      “Easy there, buddy,” said a man from behind the counter. “Can I get you something warm to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

      I nodded, trembling. “Strong coffee, please.” I became lightheaded. But before my legs gave way, the man rushed to my side, led me to a diagonally adjacent booth that faced the sheriff, then dabbed my face with a dry towel.

      “Everything okay, Harold?” the sheriff inquired before stuffing his face once again.

      “Don’t know. Guy acts like he’s seen a ghost.”

      “No ghost,” I assured. “M-Much worse.”

      “Now you just calm down, friend,” Harold said. “I’ll be right back.”

      My head spun, my body ached, quaked, and fell into a completely irrational state of super-acuteness. And though my senses were being tested beyond the scope of human tolerance, I could still process the sheriff’s disgusting chomp-slurp routine. I looked at him again; and it was only then that I realized his food was not covered in sauce after all. He finished his last rib, peered up at me, lips pursed, then wiped blood from his mouth, which only smeared. If there was something more unsightly under heaven, I didn’t know what it could’ve been.

      “Here you go, Buddy,” Harold said, placing the coffee in front of me. “Sip this slowly now, okay. I’ll be right back with the best dish of barbecued legs this side of Gaul’s Grove.”

      I sat dazed, starring at my coffee, oblivious that Harold had already vanished through the kitchen door.

      “You in, uh, some kinda trouble? Huh?”

      The sheriff had just spoken to me, though I didn’t realize it at first. I looked at him; at his bloodied mouth.

      “Hey!” he yelled. “You hear what I just said?”

      When he spoke this time, his face was aglow with an angry grin. Those teeth: they were big, off-toned, greenish-yellow things. He was big. Very big. A tank-sized man, though at the same time had an old and withered-looking appearance. Maybe a pale complexion is a better description. Come to think of it, Harold also lacked that visual color-quality one would expect to exude from the living.

      I then imaged a town with no crime. And then imaged why, picturing that slab of meat on the sheriff’s plate as one less criminal.

      “W-What?” I managed.

      The sheriff sucked air through his teeth. “I said, are you in trouble?”

      “You w-wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

      He looked away. Took a huge gulp of his drink. The liquid streamed down his face, merging with the blood, then stained his uniform which seemed unwashed to begin with.

      “Why?” he asked, setting his glass down on the formica surface with an irritating clack. “Think I’ll take you for some kind of crackpot?”

      I slammed my fist down. “I’m not crazy! My name is Evan Fletcher! I know my name! And I know what I saw! I saw it: the gate! I went through it! W-We–my wife and I–went through it! She died in there… she died! Those things! Those awful, wretched things!”
      I slumped forward, buried my face in my hands, elbows resting on the table. For a long moment all was silent except for my sobbing, and the humming of the overhead florescent lights.

      “My wife and I… we were just curious. We were just sight-seeing, hiking through the woods. We found the gate. I pulled on the handle until the door budged.”

      Lightning crackled outside; a noise fizzled inside, and all the power failed. I looked up and into total darkness, save for the neon sign that mysteriously continued to glow with an eerie, bluish hue. The sheriff’s features were now obscured in shadow. I watched closely as his silhouette gazed straight ahead, seemingly at nothing in particular. Then his lips moved.

      “Well,” he said calmly, sincerely. “I’m sorry to hear all that.” He paused, eased from his seat, then walked up to me. “But I’m afraid you’ve got other problems now. What you did on your little adventure is called breaking and entering. I should drag you downtown, kicking and screaming. But I’ll be a nice guy this time, and just give you a slap on the wrist.”

      The sheriff’s hand slammed down on mine, pinning me to the table with an indeterminable amount of force. Seconds later, I began to feel a painful pulsating sensation coming from his palm and fingers. I convulsed as my arm discolored to black, then felt an unusual rapid surge crawl up my arm and into my head. Wincing from agony, I saw images of the forest just before the storm had come.

      My wife and I were there, enjoying a stroll down a winding path known as The Wayward Catch. We traveled deep into the woods, until coming upon a massive wrought iron door. I forced it open. We entered. And moments later were given a sample of where nightmares originate. A world full of death and horror at every turn. A place backward from reality. Where trees and plants are gnarled with a living-death. Where creatures not meant to be seen by human eyes roam freely. And where the elements churn with the blackest intent. We turned to run, but something had snatched my wife from sight. By the time I located her whereabouts, her vanishing hand into the depths a murky pond was all that remained.

      The sheriff suddenly released me, and my basic, innate faculties seemed to return just as quickly. Without hesitation, I bolted into the raging weather as he bellowed out a raspy resonance of dire revelation.

      “I don’t know about the rest of your wife, but her ribs were great!”

  • BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) May 31, 2012, 5:25 AM

    Female Score: 2124
    Male Score: 2279

    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    WOOHOO!!! Whether or not such a tool is reliable, I’m quite happy that it views my writing as male even if I’m not. My novels almost always feature male protags and I much prefer writing male over female characters. BUT it takes a lot of work to let the guys be guys and the girls be girls.

    While yes, I do spend a lot of time asking myself “why would character do this or that” I also focus a lot on the external as well in a big picture sort of way. I am atypical of most women as they appear to spend a lot of time on little things (ie. the fabric of the dress, how it looked, etc etc) and I tend to just briefly mention such things and move on.

    When I think back on the books I’ve read, I’d say I lean toward those written by male writers (both past and present fiction). One of the chief reasons is that I know I’ll get lots more action with a male writer (Typically. There are always exceptions).

  • Laurie M. June 1, 2012, 9:22 PM

    I entered two blog articles, both on the autobiographical side. Both rated me male. To be honest, this came as little surprise.

  • Kathy Frost December 24, 2012, 9:44 AM

    Does anyone have the website that lists the all the words Gender Genie looks for in male or female writing? I’d like to have a list or guidelines so when I start my revisions for my lastest WIP I can look more closely at the male POV scenes vs. the female POV scenes

  • Annie Shipsea February 7, 2018, 1:47 PM

    Why is it a slight to thought a female writer? Hmmm?

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