Middle-grade novels for girls vs boys

by Diane
(New York, NY)

Question: I have found that the plots of middle-grade novels geared towards girls seem to be less likely to follow the Dramatica model than novels geared toward both boys and girls. They often have less dramatic tension, not-quite archetypal characters, and a less detailed plot. If my story goal for a MG novel involves a girl's emotional growth, is there any reason I should alter my approach from your ideal one for novels? Thanks!


Answer: Dramatica argues that, among main characters, there are are two approaches to problem solving...

Do-ers try to solve problems by changing their environment or getting other people to change.

Be-ers try to solve problems by changing themselves to fit in with the environment and the people around them.

Also, there are two ways of thinking...

Linear thinkers (the majority of males) focus on the biggest problem they have at the moment to the exclusion of all other issues. They focus on the most important reason/evidence for doing something, ignoring smaller or less important issues

Holistic thinkers (the majority of females) juggle all perceived issues, problems, arguments, etc. trying to find the right balance between them in order to reveal the best course of action. For a holistic thinker, many small issues can outweigh one big one.

As a result, boys tend to relate best to stories that are more action driven, and that feature main characters who are linear do-ers. They relate to characters who are running out of time to accomplish the story goal.

Girls tend to relate best to characters who are holistic be-ers enmeshed in plots that are more decision-driven. They relate better to characters who are running out of options, where making the right choice is more important than getting something done in time.

Of course, these are not absolute rules. You can have a male character who is a holistic be-er or a female character who is a linear do-er. And you can have characters of either gender who are holistic do-ers or linear be-ers.

You can also have "fish out of water" stories, such as when a do-er is in a situation where he has to become more of a be-er to solve the problem, or where a be-er is forced to take action.

In the past, it was a stereotype to have a female character, a holistic be-er, who appeared very passive compared to her male counterparts.

Today, in the effort to make stronger female characters, you will see more female characters who are linear do-ers (action adventure types).

It's a little unfair, because this ignores the real feminine strength, which is the ability to juggle many issues, have intuitive insights, and find solutions that involve lessening conflict rather than fighting.

A well-written decision story, geared towards girls, will have a different feel to it than an action story and a different type of main character. But the Dramatica guidelines apply just the same.

You may not have archetypal characters, but you will still have the same underlying motivations and drives (just assigned to characters in a non-archetypal way).

The 8 essential plot elements will still be there, and the dramatic tension will be just as strong - but it will be more around a dilemma than action.

Also, the Story Goal may be different. Instead of an external goal such as obtaining, winning, or changing a situation, you may have a goal that's more internal - such as changing an attitude, gaining confidence, finding your place in the world, or becoming a different person.

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