For those of you who have kids, or even if you don’t, if you’ve spent much time around children, you know that it doesn’t take long to realize boys are different than girls–very different. So, when we write for them, why shouldn’t our writing be different as well? The truth is, it has to be.
You will find books that are targeted to both boys and girls, especially for pre-readers or early elementary levels. Once the child reaches a higher reading level, however, you’ll notice how books are typically geared to either boys or girls. You’ll find that some girls enjoy reading “boy” books, but the converse of this is hardly ever true.
As a writer, what this means to you is that you need to target your writing to either boys or girls. If you don’t feel comfortable writing strictly to girls, but also don’t want to eliminate girls from your target audience altogether, you can learn to write for boys in a way that also appeals to girls, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
First, I’d like to offer a few straightforward tips for writing for girls vs. boys:
1. Boys need to get into the action immediately. Don’t waste ANY time on background info or establishing characters within your first paragraph. They want to know from the start that your book will keep moving. Girls can handle some background information upfront. They’re more apt to stick with you as you talk about your characters’ families and explain why they act the way they do. But even with girls, you can’t wait too long to let them know the good stuff is coming!
2. Keep the action moving when writing to boys. You’ll need to set up lots of conflict, dangerous situations, “man” moments of ego-defending, and what not. Be sure you are always showing and not telling. Boys do not want to read through a lot of narrative. They just want to go from action scene to action scene. They want to be caught up in danger and suspense. This means you’ll have to develop your characters through conflict situations or other forms of action, as opposed to describing them. Obviously, you’ll need to have some action breaks; just make sure they’re not too long.
Although girls also enjoy action, it’s not as paramount to them. You’re not expected to keep them on the edge of their seat the entire time. You can use more description when writing for girls and go into more detail regarding your characters. They tend to use their imaginations more when it comes to the people in your story–their personalities, what they sound like, how they look, etc. Boys will use their imaginations more to picture the action!
3. When writing for boys, use dialogue to move your scenes along and to help develop your characters. Don’t use dialogue just for the purposes of having two characters communicate. Boys will get bored. With girls, you can typically get away with this. Girls like to talk, and they like for their characters to talk. Sharing information is how girls get to know others, so they expect that for the characters they read about as well. Of course, you don’t want to drown your “girl” books in dialogue, but you can certainly use it more freely than you can with boys.
4. When you develop a character you want your boy readers to look up to, this character should be like an average boy. Don’t make him the best-looking kid at school, or the one who gets straight A’s. Your “hero” should be a character boys can attain to. Show that your hero has faults; he doesn’t have to be perfect to be a hero to your boy reader.
With girls, you can make your heroine a little more unrealistic. Again, she shouldn’t be perfect, but girls like to have a true princess they can look up to–someone who embodies what they really want to be like. You shouldn’t stress physical appearances in your heroine, because girls are more apt than boys to do whatever it takes to look like someone they think they should be. But you can give them qualities that they will have to reach for. Also, incorporate a sense of romanticism that helps them escape into your heroine’s life.
5. With boys, try to keep details to a minimum and use strong verbs instead to keep your story moving along. They really don’t care what the inside of Joey’s tree house looks like and how his dad helped him decorate it. All they want to know is how it serves as the perfect spot to fire water bombs on their little sisters.
Girls are more into the details, and you can afford to spend some time painting a vivid picture to help put them into your scene. They almost need to have a complete description of where they are and who is there with them before they can really engage in your action. Boys just don’t care.
Of course, these tips assume some generalizations of boys and girls. But for the most part, this is how your boy and girl readers are. With boys it’s all about the action! If you watch boys play together–or even by themselves–you will notice this as well. Girls, on the other hand, are more relational and verbal, so you need to appeal to this part of them to get and keep their attention.
There is a way to write for boys that will also capture a girl’s interest, but it’s definitely a balancing act. You absolutely need to have action, but at the same time, make sure you have strong relationships form between your characters. These can be relationships of conflict or they can be friendships, but without the relational elements, you will lose your girl readers. And boys can handle the relationship moments as well, just don’t draw them out too long. Make sure to hint of action on the horizon and use fast-paced dialogue to keep your boys hanging in there.
An additional way to appeal to girl readers in “boy” books is to sprinkle the story with description. You must do this very carefully and with a light touch or your boys will start yawning. Best thing to do is to write a scene a couple of different ways then test it on girls and boys. See what they liked and what they didn’t. Keep rewriting and testing until you get both sides saying, “This is awesome!”
Next time, I’ll focus on writing for the teen market—a whole different set of issues here!