Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Writing for Guys"

My writer-friend, Paddy Lock, and I spent an informative and hilarious afternoon recently at the Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, California, listening to authors Michael Reisman and Ben Esch talk about how to write middle grade and young adult novels for and about teenaged guys.

As you may know, Michael is the author of the middle grade novels, The Gravity Keeper and the soon-to-be-released The Octopus Effect, and Ben (a "repeat guest" here at YA Fresh) authored the young adult novel, Sophomore Undercover.

Both Michael and Ben say they write the kinds of books they wished they could have found as kids. (For what it's worth, this is also true for me.) While they both strive for realism and authenticity in their characters, Michael goes more for fantastic ideas like ways to defy physics, whereas Ben says he bases many characters and adventures on people/events from his past.

Ideas that they (and audience members) shared with us for writing for boys:

--whenever possible, listen in on teen boys' conversations, both in real life and reality TV shows;
--revisit your yearbooks and re-read what your guys friends wrote for deeper insight on what they might have been thinking or feeling;
--listen to kids' movies with your eyes closed, focusing on the patterns of the boys' speech.

Other interesting notes:

--action draws in boys more than emotional drama;
--guys don't discuss personal things face-to-face; maybe in the car, or painting a room or other side-by-side position;
--guys typically use fewer words and have shorter conversations, especially with girls or about relationships.

On the topic of teen romance (which of course, made my ears perk up), Michael told us that boys are even more confused and conflicted than girls. And while girls have the outlet of discussing their feelings with each other, guys can't bring themselves to even talk about it, so, he said, "We just hit each other." Which got a big laugh.

Other members of the audience, who shared insights from both literary perspectives and as mothers, were literary agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency and multi-published author Amy Goldman Koss.

Here's a picture of Michael, me, Amy, Ben taken during the book signing session:

Some seriously big smiles there, as you can see, remnant of good conversation and laughs.

So check out Ben, Michael's and Amy's books via the links I posted, and if you have any questions about what I've presented, or further questions on the topic of writing for boys, please leave them in the comments. And if I can't answer them, we'll invite Michael and Ben here to take over.

14 fresh comments:

Lisa Miles said...

Awesome advice! Thanks for passing it along.

Anonymous said...

Ben & Michael are adorable ... good writers, too! It was fun!
xo Amy

20123 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paddy said...

The talk inspired me to dig out my middle grade WIP again, and see if I can make it work!

Leigh Purtill said...

Sounds like this was a great workshop - wish I could have attended. Both Michael and Ben are terrific presenters, lots of fun!

I have a question:
Will boys read a book - even one that has a lot of action and/or fantasy - that has a female protagonist or does it have to be male?


TinaFerraro said...

FYI, we periodically get some mere symbols left for us, and that's what happened in our "now deleted" comment...

And Ben and Michael, Leigh has a great question, and I'd love you to answer it!

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Sounds like an awesome time, and I love the advice!!

Shevi said...

Leigh, the Maximum Ride books are very popular with boys, not just girls. In fact, maybe even more popular with boys. Max is a girl.

Janie Emaus said...

It sounds like I missed a terrific afternoon.

Ben Esch said...


Thanks so much for posting this and it was great seeing you at the workshop last Sunday. It was really cool getting your perspective during the talk and it's always a thrill to get on YA Fresh. God I love this website.

Okay, let's move on to the question:

Leigh: First of all, I want everyone to know that this is not just any Leigh. No, this is in fact, superstar author Leigh Purtill, yes, THE Leigh Purtill and if you like words you should check out her website at

Now to try to answer your question (which is a really good one, by the way):

I think that guys will read an action heavy book that has a female protagonist. Shevi had a good example with the Maximum Ride Books and Michael Reisman mentioned the Skulduggery Pleasent books by Derek Landy. I think a really, really great example of this is "The True Meaning of Smekday" by Adam Rex.

So, I don't think that having a female protagonist will kill your guy audience. Of course, if the book is packaged with a super girly pink cover, then that's gonna make things a lot more difficult.


Amy: Thanks for calling us adorable, and I think you're a pretty spectacular writer as well. :)


Leigh Purtill said...

Thanks for your answer, Ben! (do I really warrant a THE? wow...) I've been thinking about trying to get a boy audience but wasn't sure about the narrator. So action, yes, pink, no. And thanks also to Shevi - I've never read the Patterson books.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I really have to work to find great book for my 7th grade boys! I'll be using this post for sure.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks, these are great tips! I called my husband in to help me write a one-on-one basketball game dialogue once. It was incredible how much of my original dialogue we had to take out and replace with what guys would really say to each other. Mostly trash talking. I was so clueless!

TinaFerraro said...

Welcome to our new readers, and thanks to all for your comments!