Allow me to state the obvious: I am a woman.
Allow me to state the not-so-obvious: I write a lot of male protagonists.
By “protagonist” I mean, the primary focal character. In works with several “main” characters, the protagonist is the big hero, the point of view character, the “PC” in video-game terms. The one you could pick out and say, “Yes, this is his story,” if you really had to.
Three out of four stories on my Works page have a male protagonist. When you take in the WIP’s that I’d rather keep to myself for now, that ration rises to four out of six. Adding in ren’py games makes it five out of eight. There’s no particular reason for it, mind you – this is just how the stories come out in my mind.
Apparently, this is a problem.
See, I’ve had more than a few of fellow YA nuts – including a panel of agents at DFW Con – tell me that selling YA fiction with a male protagonist is hard, because most YA readers are young women. And that, well, baffles me.
Allow me to re-state the obvious: I am a woman. I am also young. I am also a huge YA fan. And I read lots of books with male protagonists.
Admittedly, this might be a little skewed. After all, I mostly read (and write) the sort of books that would fall under Barnes & Noble’s “YA Fantasy and Adventure” section. Plus, I really, really hate YA paranormal romance right now. Yes I know it’s the big seller. No I don’t care.
But when I look over the list of my favorite YA protagonists, I find a decent mix of heroes and heroines – from Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen to Quentin Jacobson and Margaret Simon.
So I don’t really get where this bit of advice is coming from.
I’ve heard people throw around the statistic that teenage boys don’t read. I’ve also heard the statistic the college kids don’t read, which is why you never see the high school-to-college transition and why there’s this huge gap between graduating college and becoming a “real person” that never gets addressed.
What I dislike about this is that I never actually see any data on the subject. It’s all based on implications and general sweeps of logic; i.e. “It’s hard for me to get my teenage boy to read, so teenage boys must not read.” You never get any hard data or pie graphs on the subject. And I need pie graphs if I’m going to take a study seriously.
In addition – as Justine Larbalestier points out in this excellent blog post – what people mean when they say “boys don’t read” is that boys don’t read novels. They read comics and non-fiction and sports guides and video game magazines and online news feeds. Which is equally baffling because, uh, it’s still reading, people.
Plus, who’s to say that if you write a novel that includes aspects that they like about those things – like a genuinely good superhero novel, which I’m sadly yet to find – that they won’t pick those up, too?
But of course, the real problem in some people’s minds is that I am (to state the obvious yet again) a woman writing books about boys. Which is apparently ridiculous because I don’t have the experience to understand what boys are really like, just like male authors can’t write about women.
Frankly: that’s bullshit. See: Harry Potter, again. Also the Animorphs series. Also the Uglies trilogy, the Midnighters, and all of Deryn’s scenes in Leviathan.
And you the best thing about all of those books? They’re not written “for boys” just because they have a male protagonist. Hunger Games wasn’t written “for girls” just because it had a female protagonist. Good books in general aren’t written “for” the gender of their lead character. They’re written to appeal to people who like reading good fiction.
That’s what’s really important, I think.