There was a recent thread here on the use of the masculine gender pronoun when referencing a person of unknown gender. I saw an entry today on this very issue on The Passive Voice blog ( http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ ) and thought some of you might be interested.
The blog references a paper by someone from the Yale University Department of Cognitive Science entitled The Extinction of Masculine Generics. Below is the URL for that paper.
Some interesting food for thought for anyone interested in this subject.
I feel really bad right now. I've realized that I've let my MC down. I just received some feedback -- really good, thoughtful feedback, from people who know their stuff. It was what I needed to hear, but not what I really wanted.
It turns out, that at least in my introduction, my MC is coming across as wimpy and unlikeable. How upset he'd be if he knew people thought this! I know he's not that way. How did I manage to make him come across as such? I'm the translator between him in my head and the outside world. I'm the one who needs to show everyone that he really is a good guy. I like him a lot. It's important to me that other people do, too. And I've let him down.
So now the real work begins. Revising. Editing. Chopping. Adding. I have to re-work this entire introduction. My whole story depends on an event in this introduction. This is some major reconstruction I've got to do. It is quite daunting. But I have to do it. I owe it to my MC.
So, I joined this intriguing and informative site and was given this blog -- a wonderful blank canvas to expound on any matter that might strike me. But what to write? I had nothing I really needed to say, yet. But today, I do. I need to vent and I have no other place to do so. My frustration has finally made me blog. I didn't want to complain on the boards. I really don't want to complain at all. All I want to do is explain my anguish, even if it's only to myself. I need to type it to work through it.
A year ago last December, I decided I was going to write a novel. It was something I'd wanted for years. As I thought about it more, I realized I had actually always wanted to write. I just never had. A great novel seemed beyond my capabilities. I was in awe of authors who could create intriguing, intricate plots. I loved really getting a sense of a time and place that was different from mine. I had some vague notions about plots I might try and themes I might explore, but I wasn't entirely certain what I'd write.
At the same time, for years, I'd had an idea for a character in my head. He had a lot in common with me, but he was different -- in most ways, he was better than me. I wasn't sure what to do with him, though. I had also toyed with the idea of writing some sort of epistolary type novel, but updated so rather than through letters, characters might meet and communicate through electronic bulletin boards or listservs or some sort of other online group. I liked the idea of exploring relationships, particularly the reasons why people get married and how those ideas might change over time. But again, I just wasn't sure.
I decided to do something drastic. I told my husband my New Year's resolution was going to be to write a novel. It was scary, but I did it. Why? Because I knew if I told him, he'd force me to do it. Not that he'd do something like say "sit down now, and write your novel." No, what he'd do is wait for time to pass and if I'd made no progress, he'd say something like, "So how's that novel working out for you?" or "Yeah, I see you've been working hard on your alleged novel." Something that would make me want to tell him to go f- off. But he'd be right.
So, what did I do after that? Nothing. Six months went by and I hadn't written a single damn word. Then the Universe sent me a signal.
My local bookstore was having a writer's workshop, taught by a local, successful, published author. "This is it," I thought. "This is what I have to do." I signed up.
Everyone else in the class had been writing for years. They had all kinds of stories they'd written. They had ideas and plots and characters for their novel they were about to write. I had nothing. I had to write fifteen pages of a scene from my non-existent novel for everyone to critique. What on earth would I write about? I had characters and scenes and dialogue in my head, but no plot. Everyone else had great ideas. They might need help with dialogue and some description, but they had the plot down. Great. You could learn to do dialogue. You could learn to write a scene. But how do you develop a plot? I had nothing for my characters to do.
The day finally came where I had no more time. I had to write something. I sat and thought while staring at my blank Word document. I thought about my character and I thought about my general interest in exploring relationships. What if something happened to my character that makes him think about his marriage and about relationships in general? I didn't really want him to get divorced -- just maybe think that it might happen. I had an idea. I wrote a scene with his wife and then with some other family members. I got some good feedback and people seemed to like it. I revised it and expanded it and soon I had 375 pages, and huge backlog of complaints from my family about how I was ignoring them.
Now I had a 375 page, roughly 100K word novel and nothing to do with it. That was almost worse than having had nothing. What to do? What to do? I forced my husband to read it. He said he liked it. He said it was good. What other choice did he have? I still wasn't satisfied.
Several friends said they wanted to read it. I asked if they were certain. Yes, they assured me. They really wanted it. I sent them all 375 pages. A couple of them finished it. So what did they like or not like? I was dying to know. "Oh, I don't know," they'd say. "I liked the dialogue." Okay. That was good. I liked that. "What about it?" "I don't know. I just liked it." All right. Not really getting anywhere. "Anything else?" "I liked that I could see parts of you in the characters."
Hummm.... That wasn't necessarily so good. I don't think that would be particularly compelling for a reader who didn't know me. On to someone else.
"I liked it. Good dialogue. You misspelled 'compliment' on page 355."
Oh, is that it? Is that really your only thought? Please -- tell me something else. Anything else. Please...
I didn't get anything else.
Okay. Well a few others still had it. I'd ask occasionally how it was coming. "Oh it's good. I've been busy, though. Maybe next month I'll finish it. I'm reading it."
After six months I decided to stop asking. Obviously, they weren't finding it very compelling. I'd prefer that they hadn't started reading it at all. Then I could understand being busy. But if you started a story and really liked it, you'd read it, even if you were busy. I had the feeling they were avoiding me. They always avoided the subject. They must have thought it was terrible but had no idea how to tell me. Or it was too tortuous for them to slog through another single page and they just couldn't force themselves to do it.
What to do? What to do? Now I was even worse off. Now I had imaginary friends. I kept thinking about them. I really enjoyed spending time with them. I wrote two more stories about them. I killed one of them and I cried. I cried for a story I had made up on my own head. Now I have the additional worry that maybe I'm just a little bit insane. Or maybe more than a little bit.
Okay. I'm regrouping. I'm working on the third story just for fun. But I have no one to get any feedback from. Not on the whole novel or even on any parts of it. Hey -- I found this writing forums website. I liked critiquing and reading about the art and craft of writing. Cool -- they even have a virtual writing workshop. Maybe I'll post something there. No one knows anything about my third story. I miss that class I took last year.
Two weeks before you can post to the writer's workshop. No problem. Not quite ready to post yet, anyway. I'll look around the site. Two thoughtful critiques required first. Okay. I did four. Many of the pieces posted already had lots and lots of critiques. And at least twenty posts. No problem. I love giving my thoughts. I don't know if people like receiving them, but hey, they're easy enough to ignore.
I see that some people are admonished for posting pieces for feedback before they met the requirements. I see that the moderators really don't like that. I agree with them. Who could blame them? The rules seem pretty clear. I find it pretty irritating when people can't follow clearly delineated rules. Humm... but it doesn't look like I'm even able to post to the writer's workshop part of the site. I wonder how people did it? I guess it doesn't matter -- I couldn't post yet, anyway.
But I became more curious -- how did they even do it? I poked around the site. Every other part of the site had a Post New Thread button. There was no button in the writer's workshop. What was I missing? Why could everyone else figure this out except me? Why would I be the only one without a button. I looked and looked. I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. I decided to ask.
The answer was that it was probably a technical problem. Oh yeah - and I shouldn't bother them anymore with this issue. They must be bothered a lot with this stuff. I don't blame them for being annoyed. Oh well. I wasn't sure I should post anyway. The passage I was considering posting might be too racy.
This morning I was perusing the site and was looking through the writing workshop section. Wow -- what's that near the top of the page? Post New Thread! Yeah! I could post now if I wanted. I guess it was a technical problem. I guess the private message I had sent worked. Should I post? Now that I can, do I want to? I thought and thought. I'm spending enough time on this site anyway. I should be brave. I'm going to post that section. I do need to know if it's too racy. I don't really think it is, but I should find out. No one else knows about this story. Is it even viable? Ok. I'm going to post it.
I clicked on Post New Thread. Wow -- it really works. I cut and pasted. I did a bit of revising. I did a quick introduction. Do I want to Post Now? The button at the bottom of the page wanted to know. It was waiting patiently for my answer. Do I really want to post? Yes. I should just do it. I clicked Post Now.
"I'm sorry, but you do not have permission to post." Really? I thought. I went back and tried again. Of course the result was going to be the same. But you never know. No, I knew. It wasn't going to let me post.
And now the button is gone again. I don't know why it appeared in the first place. Maybe just to mock me.
Okay. The Universe is telling me not to post. But it didn't have to do it in such a mean way.
Damn you, Post New Thread button!!!!! I hate you now. I'm not sure I want to see you again.
Separate names with a comma.