Wednesday, 22 July 2015

GAME: Can you tell the difference between boy/girl POVs?

My latest project, Matryoshka, features two out of four male POVs. I'm starting to regret that, because as a girl, I'm much more confident about writing in a girl's mind.

To write boys properly, I embarked upon a mission of research, and a lot of guides seemed strange to me. Such as, "boys don't notice detail." "Boys are more emotional." So are you saying there aren't meticulous, logical boys? (This actually is part of my MC's characterisation, so eeek.)

I decided more first-hand experience was needed, so I started re-reading books with boy POVs. I also compared whenever possible with a girl POV in the same book to eliminate issues with the author's personal style. (My science skills are showing through!)

So today, I've compiled 4 pairs of POVs from multi-POV novels, selecting excerpts with as little indicator to plot as possible, for you to guess which is which! You can click "Answer" to see the answer, and let me know how you did in the comments :)

Which of these POVs are boys and which are girls?


Note: for sake of simplicity, all pronouns will be female. All characters are called Alice Jones.

1. Unwind



Excerpt 1: Alice's always kept her eyes the color they came in. Brown. She never even got tattoos, like so many kids get these days when they're little. The only color on her skin is the tan it takes during the summer, but now, in November, that tan has long faded. She tries not to think about the fact that she'll never see the summer again. At least not as Alice Jones. She still can't believe her life is being stolen from her at sixteen.

Excerpt 2: Kids around her all check themselves. Like her, no one is badly hurt, although some are making more of a fuss than others. The chaperone tries to calm down one girl who's hysterical.

And in this chaos, Alice has a sudden realization.

This is not part of the plan.

The system might have a million contingencies for state wards trying to screw with things, but they don't have a plan of action for dealing with an accident. For the next few seconds, all bets are off.

Keep scrolling for the answer!



Excerpt 1 is narrated by Connor, i.e. the guy, and is in fact from the very first page. Excerpt 2 is narrated by Risa, and I had to dig a little to find something not too specific to her plotline and ended up with an action scene. Risa's excerpt has shorter paragraphs because of this, so I'm hesitant to draw that conclusion. But when I test the passages on Hemingway App, a tool for writers to evaluate how difficult their writing is to get through, Connor's passage is still Grade 4 and lower than Risa's Grade 6.
2. The Winner's Curse

Excerpt 1: Weary, she shut her eyes. She wondered if those two days of idyll would turn out to have been a stroke of bad fortune. That time had let her forget who she was. It played tricks with her mind.

Sometimes, at the edge of sleep, she thought she heard music.

Excerpt 2: She shouldn't have been tempted.

This is what Alice thought as she swept up the sailors' silver off the impromptu gaming table set up in a corner of the market.

"Don't go," said one sailor.

"Stay," said another, but Alice cinched her wrist-strap velvet purse shut. The sun had lowered, and caramelized the color of things, which meant that she had played cards long enough to be noticed by someone who mattered.

Keep scrolling for the answer!



This one shouldn't be too hard to guess. Excerpt 1 is Arin, the boy, and Excerpt 2 is Kestrel, a girl. Problem is, it's still hard to draw a real conclusion. It seems that Kestrel's sentences are longer, uses more complex words like impromptu and cinched and caramelized, but then again Kestrel belongs to the upper class, while Arin's spent some time as a slave. So it isn't that strange Kestrel uses more complex language than Arin.

Let's see what our next sample says:

3. A Darker Shade of Magic



Excerpt 1: Her feet carried her through St. James Park, down an ambling dirt path that ran beside the river. The sun was setting, and the air was crisp if not clean, a fall breeze fluttering the edges of her black coat. She came upon a wooden footbridge that spanned the stream, and her boots sounded softly as she crossed it. Alice paused at the arc of the bridge, Buckingham House lantern-lit behind her and the Thames ahead. Water sloshed gently under the wooden slats, and she rested her elbows on the rail and stared down at it.

Excerpt 2: Alice hesitated. She knew she could win against one street rat, and thought she might even be able to win against two, but three? Maybe, if they'd stand still, but they kept shifting so she couldn't see them all at once. She heard the snick of a switchblade, the tap of the metal bar against the street stones. [snip]

Alice didn't wait. She slammed her body into his foot, hard, and he gasped and let go. Only an instant, but it was enough for Alice to do the thing she knew she had to do.

Keep scrolling for the answer!


Excerpt 1 again belongs to the boy, Kell, while Excerpt 2 belongs to Lila. Kell was raised with the prince while Lila is a street thief, and these two scenes are inherently different anyhow, but the first excerpt does have more adjectives and adverbs. Minor differences, so I decided to use HemingwayApp to test these two.

HemingwayApp disagrees with my "minor differences" statement, and rated Kell's excerpt as Grade 9 and Lila's as Grade 4. Makes sense considering their education levels — a quick test on The Winner's Curse shows that the more privileged Kestrel also has a higher Hemingway Grade.

UPDATE: I've recently discovered that Lila is actually genderfluid (see this tweet from the author!) Had no clue about this when initially doing this analysis, but I'm glad we managed to include examples outside the gender binary. See conclusion for more thoughts!

4. A Song of Ice and Fire



Excerpt 1: Her father had been fighting with the council again. Alice could see it on his face when he came to table, late again, as he had been so often. The first course, a thick sweet soup made with pumpkins, had already been taken away with Ned Stark strode into the Small Hall. They called it that to set it apart from the Great Hall, where the king could feast a thousand, but it was a long room with a high vaulted ceiling and bench space for two hundred at its trestle tables.

Excerpt 2: Her favorite haunt was the broken tower. Once it had been a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell. A long time ago, a hundred years before even her father had been born, a lightning strike had set it afire. The top third of the structure had collapsed inward, and the tower had never been rebuilt. Sometimes her father sent ratters into the base of the tower, to clean out the nests they always found among the jumble of fallen stones and charred and rotten beams. But no one ever got up to the jagged top of the structure now except for Alice and the crows.

Keep scrolling for the answer!



The first excerpt is Arya, the girl, while the second is Bran. This is a great comparison because both passages are exposition passages. Plus, Arya and Bran have similar upbringings as Ned Stark's children and are both interested in swordfighting but are restrained from their dreams. According to HemingwayApp, Arya's excerpt is at Grade 10 while Bran's is at Grade 8. So the boy does speak more simply here, despite most factors being balanced.

Conclusion & Evaluation ('cos that's scientific)


Our data shows that boy POVs tend to be simpler than girl POVs in terms of writing style. The sole exception is A Darker Shade of Magic, which really isn't a fair comparison since I didn't know Lila as genderfluid when setting up this test. *shrugs*

Popular hypothesis supported, I will try my best to adhere to this trend as I write Matryoshka. However, I don't plan on sacrificing backstory or characterisation to social roles, so there's that.

In the spirit of science, it should be worth noting that according to the chi-squared test, the results are not statistically significant. Write away, friends, and never fear.

(Interested in more analysis of popular books? Check out my villains death post here, and download the accompanying breakdown:

Find out how villains die in bestselling series!

How many did you get right? What's the main difference between boy/girl POVs?


Twitter-sized takeout:
Want more insights into my writing process? Let me write monthly letters to you!

35 comments:

  1. I did better than I expected--3 out of 4 right! (It was A Darker Shade of Magic that tripped me up.) Even though I think that considering the differences between boy and girl POVs is important, I also don't think that boys are these exotic creatures who are different from girls in every single way. I think it depends on the individual character much more than on any cultural stereotypes.

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    1. Yay, that's really good! Mmmhmm, I definitely agree, individual backstory and personality should definitely play more of a role in determining a character's voice, but the pseudo-scientific investigation was quite interesting :)

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  2. This was very interesting. I think I only got the last one right. Maybe one of the others. . . but I can't even remember now. I didn't even really guess. I just wanted to know if there was an actually difference so I was more interested in the answer. :P

    Really, though. I don't think there's an rules/guidelines that an author has to strictly adhere to when writing different gender POVs. As long as the author stays true to the character's individual personality and traits, it should be fine. There are so many people out there in the world. There are analytical guys out there as well as girls. Both girls and guys and can be emotional. While others of both gender seem more stoic and unmoving. Some are intuitive while others are completely oblivious to the undertones of a conversation or the body language of the speakers. I think it's more about the person in general than their specific gender.

    But at the same time, if someone told me my boy character didn't sound like a boy, I would ask why. Because I want to know. There could be a huge difference that I'm underestimating.

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    1. Haha, that's perfectly all right! I absolutely agree there shouldn't be hard and fast rules, and any benchmarks should be subverted sometime. Personality doesn't discriminate based on gender or sex or really anything at all, and it's important not to fall back on tropes when writing. Really great examples you raised here.

      And I would also be interested in that, if a beta or anyone raised that comment! I actually did this little investigation because someone mentioned some contemp books don't have a good handle on teenage boys' voices, but like I say, my results aren't technically significant.

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  3. Oh, this is really interesting, since I write both boy and girl POVs as well in the frame of OtMS. (Do Finn and Charles actually think/talk like boys? NO ONE KNOWS. I HOPE SO.) There are definitely differences between the two because of subtle social distinctions, but I think it should have to do more with individual character traits than gender. And I like how you noted which characters were more privileged than others! That's an important part of POV that I feel like a lot of writers forget.

    It'd be an interesting experiment to try writing a gender-neutral/genderfluid character's POV, because a) representation! and b) you'd have to throw conceptions of gender binary out the window and I think that'd be a valuable experience. (I tried it once for a short story and I'd love to have a go at it again sometime.)

    I got all four of these right, but I was pretty much cheating, since I've read ADSOM and TWC ;)

    PS: If you're interested in pursuing this further, Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races is narrated via alternating boy/girl POV, and I thought it was super well-done. (And I thought it was a brilliant book overall to boot, but I'm sure you're well aware.)

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    1. Well, you know, it's not like I can tell you whether they feel like boys, but Finn and Charles are both adorable and REALLY, CAN YOU ASK FOR MORE? No, no you cannot.

      I definitely think that privilege and education level should be reflected in the voice of a character -- I mean, someone who spends 99% of their time in high-level echelons of society is hardly likely to be up to date with the latest slang and such. And YES THAT WOULD BE FUN. I'm still stepping carefully with different genders, but it would be sooooo fun. And which story is that? I MUST READ IT AT ONCE.

      Or perhaps you're simply talented ;P

      PS: I did not know that, but *whispers* I read the first few pages once and simply didn't feel interested enough to nab the entire Kindle. Sooooo. Maybe not.

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  4. This is so fun! I got the first three right, but I think that was only because I read the books- and I was still kind of unsure. The last one I couldn't decide on! I kept going back and forth. More often than not, I don't notice a huge difference between male and female POVs- more differences between characters, you know? Like, with Connor and Risa, they were SO different as characters, it was easy to figure out who was who. But male versus female? No, that would have been MUCH harder. Like the example with ADSOM, the female isn't always the more well spoken or mild mannered one. In fact, I think it bugs me when POVs ARE gender stereotyped too much. So this is probably good news!

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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    1. Thank you, Shannon! I hope to include more interactive content in the future :D And yeah, Bran and Arya sounded SO CLOSE to me too! And mmm, yes, how characters are portrayed as people are so much more important than what gender or sex they are. But still, the scientist in me had to investigate.

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  5. Ah, wow, this is an incredibly interesting post! It's something I haven't really thought about, I must admit - but I tend to write male and female POVs relatively equally, so that could be why. (Both of my CPs are guys, as well, so I think that also helps when I need to see if the boys in my WIPs are thinking + talking realistically.)

    From what I'm seeing of your evidence, though, I'm not quite sure the whole "male POVs are simpler" is really a cut-and-dry solution - because that implies that the male gender as a whole can be defined by the fact that they are less complex and intricate human beings than females, which, obviously, isn't true at all (and needless to say, is also a gross and sweeping generalisation).

    Perhaps we should look at this issue less from the viewpoint of "what gender?" and more from that of "what character?". Character traits should truly be the thing that determines a strong voice - and although we could talk about biological differences all day, at the end of it I think it simply boils down to crafting people who leap off the page and speak for themselves, no?

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    1. Ahaha, essentially all my CPs/betas are girls, so I was internally freaking out like, "what if Thomas doesn't sound like a boy and NO ONE TELLS ME?!?" Therefore I decided science was the best way to confront this issue.

      It definitely is not quite that simple. I'll admit my hypothesis for this investigation is that they would be more or less the same, with differences backed by differences in upbringing or whatnot. But the evidence proved me wrong and I dutifully recorded the results like a good little scientist.

      BUT I WILL CONTINUE MY INVESTIGATION AND PROVE MYSELF RIGHT. I WILL.

      I definitely agree, personality, should define a character more. Still, unrealistic voices can happen for different age groups, so they may yet happen for gender.

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  6. You know what's strange? I was reading this and I thought, there's no way I'll be able to get these, it's not like your gender comes across in your voice. Then I got 4 out of 4 right. Oops. :')

    I loved this post, it was really interesting! I think 'boy' writing tends to be simpler, like you said, with less emotions and descriptions. Also, I learned today in class that boys tend to use money thinking short term, while girls focus on long term. E.g. if boys were given $50 or a chance to win $75 from a coin toss if it lands on heads instead, most boys went for the $75 while girls stuck with the $50. Odd, isn't it? Supposedly boys are more impulsive. Hmm.

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    1. Oh, and I know you said that research said boys are more emotional, but I meant in my comment that they do not often describe their emotions much in books. If that makes sense. :P

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    2. When I say emotional, I actually meant acting on emotional impulse, so really we were saying the same thing. *high-fives* I had that hypothesis of them being equal in voice as well, but it appears I was proved wrong. Still, full marks are always to be celebrated! :D :D

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  7. It wouldn't show me the answers :/ I find the different ways boys and girls see the world very interesting though :) I hang out with quite a few boys and I've defiantly noticed they often miss the small details and tend to be more into action than theory.

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    1. Whoops, sorry -- Like I said, I am trying to figure out what's wrong with the HTML. Hmm, yes, I hadn't considered live specimens a possible avenue of investigation. What's that you say? It's not ethical? Please, I'm an evil scientist. :P

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  8. This was such a good idea, Alyssa! I got half right and half wrong (I had read one of the books, unwind, but I still got it wrong, so there you go. Maybe cause it was an action scene?). I've never really thought about girl-boy POVs, but obviously this is great (and fun, I must admit) research for Matroshkya. (Did I spell that right?). It's really interesting. I have a brother, and I must say that he definitely complies with the boy part. Also, I think boys are more likely to make jokes if they're feeling emotional then actually talk? I don't know, I guess it depends on the boy.

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    1. Thank you, Shar! I did try to trip people up, so no worries there. And it's actually Matryoshka, but hey, close enough! Mmm, I'm glad my data correlated with real-life observations -- but yes, it depends on the particular boy as well.

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  9. This was such a great post because it tackled something I've always struggled with. Any time I've attempted to write from a male POV it has never sounded genuine to me, and I had no idea how to make it sound authentic. This has given me some excellent tips! :)

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    1. I'm glad this was helpful, Fionnula! Thanks for dropping by :)

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  10. The post wouldn't show me the answers, but I still found it interesting analysing the excerpts to see which ones I thought were male and which were female. For me, the distinction generally lies not in how much detail is given, but what the character describes. I probably generalise a bit much, but usually to me, if a character mentions what material something is made out of, for example, or goes to great detail describing a colour, that indicates to me that it's a girl's POV. Boys don't seem to dwell on things like that as much, at least in my experience. When boys describe, it seems to be more gender neutral things, or without the extra embellishment of describing colours or materials, or that sort of thing. A generalisation of course, but it is certainly interesting to think about the differences between male and female POVs. My current project has both a male and a female POV, and this is something I'm having to start thinking about myself.

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    1. Whoops, sorry about that -- which browser are you using?

      OHHH, I hadn't thought about noticing different things. It could still be a social construct, of course, but that is a really interesting point. And yeah, I think we all worry about whether our POVs and voices are genuine. I'm glad this post was interesting to analyse!

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  11. I love this! :) I've never thought to compare POVs - um, admittedly I didn't get that many right, but it's fascinating to see the differences. I wonder if the authors did it intentionally or not? (Side note: the links were working earlier, but mysteriously do so no longer! It might be differences in computers, but I thought I'd let you know anyway.)

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    1. Thank you! I think all the best authors write with intention -- really, I don't think it's possible to write something truly spectacular without intention. So I would say yes, even if it's just part of defining the character's voice.

      (Oh dear, I hadn't even done anything yet. I think it's an issue with different computing systems, but I am Googling it!)

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  12. Well, I can't see the answers, but I enjoyed analyzing these! Although the only one I'm pretty sure I got right was The Winner's Curse. I don't imagine a boy owning a velvet purse... ;) But I guess I could still be wrong!

    This was really hard, because any differences are really subtle. But I feel like the main differences would come in to play with more dialogue. In novels, it's easier to distinguish(or so I think) between male and female characters by what they say out loud.

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    1. *wrings hands* so sorry about that! It worked on my computer, but I am trying to see what went wrong in the HTML. And yes, you are indeed correct on that one ;P Ooh, I hadn't thought of working with dialogue, because I was thinking of writing narrative voices, but that is an excellent point!

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  13. This is such an interesting topic! I personally believe that a boy or girl can have ANY personality so there's no "wrong" way to write them. Like I've heard writers saying boys can't be too happy or gaspy, but they totally can. Hmph. ANYWAY. I actually could do any of the excerpts because the girl pronouns just made me think girl and my brain could move past that. BUT I LOVE THE THOUGHT OF THIS.

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    1. I definitely agree, personality can belong to any gender at all! But I was more hesitant on building voice, because I had heard comments from other people about some YA books with un-authentic boys' voices. SO I PANICKED AND RESEARCHED. And well, that was sort of the point of swapping out all the pronouns *bites nails* But I'm glad you were interested anyways!

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  14. I got three out of four correct *twirls around happily*

    I only write from the perspective of boys (for my novels. I can do short stories from a girl's perspective), and it does have an overall different feel to when I used to write from a girl protagonist's perspective. But it just comes SO much more naturally to me to write as a boy than it does as a girl. I had a slew of unfinished novels written from girls' perspectives, and then last year I finished my first novel, and it was from the perspective of a boy (and before that, the only unfinished book I'd ever been remotely happy with was written from a guy's perspective, too).

    I do think that details aren't as prominent when the perspective is from a guy, but I don't know if I necessarily agree that they're more emotional. Actually, I think they're just as emotional as their girl counterparts, but they don't express it as much. One of my characters can go on and on and on about how something is making him feel and then say "whatever" (he's adorable, dammit. My favourite ever).

    Anyway, there definitely ARE differences between girl and guy perspectives, and I really hope I'm doing my boys justice!

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    1. Yay, that's a really good score!

      Ooh, that's interesting how a fictional boy's voice comes to you more easily even though you're a girl writer. I would love to hear more about that on your writer blog if you ever have time -- curious how sometimes the more abstract and distant are easier to write.

      Yeah, a lot of those guidelines didn't sit well with me because while they might be true generally, there are always exceptions. (As they say -- "not all men." :P) And eek, your character does sound adorable!

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  15. I didn't get any of them right and I've actually read Unwind and some of A Game of Thrones. Like, my brain just accepts the gender given by the pronouns and I'm just like, "Yup, okay, they're all girls." And I just didn't do well at all.

    And I guess that's not always good, because guys and girls do obviously use different thinking and speaking styles, and my brain is just way too... accepting, I guess, of what I'm reading.

    *sigh* Well, now I don't know how to feel about the guy and girl POvs I've written... blah.

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    1. Well, like I said on Twitter, the point of this game was to force us to reread without perceptions of any sex and/or gender. To be honest, I went into this expecting them to be more or less the same, excerpted the bits expecting that, and plugged them into HemingwayApp to find myself wrong. So you're not alone there, and I wouldn't take this as a sign to worry about your writing at all!

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  16. The only ones I got right were from Unwind because I just read that a few weeks ago and recognized the passages haha .. I've always had a hard time judging male/female POV, so that may be why I don't usually like books where it alternates each chapter. Interesting post!

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    1. Ahaha, coincidence! (I think not. But I digress.) I LOVE alternating PoVs, but I've never tried to divide it by gender or sex alone before -- I rely on those handy chapter titles or whatnot the author uses to benchmark it, and normally I don't have an issue. Thanks for dropping by, Madilyn!

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  17. What a fun yet informative study, Alyssa! It sort of reminded me of that experiment Robyn wanted to do with John. :) Also? I got 2 out of 4 but only because I read A Game of Thrones. In fact, when I got to item #4, my goal shifted: guess WHOSE pov chapter it was taken from.

    Takeaway? It really depends on the character's CHARACTER, you know what I mean? Although I must say, as a boy, I tend to have more things to say in my head. ALTHOUGH (again) that's true, too, of many girls I know. But I find it more frequently in stories where the pov is that of a boy.

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    1. Thank you, Shelumiel! I'm not actually sure what book/movie that comes from, ahaha. And OOH, that is a challenging task if you don't remember all the plot details. Personality is definitely important, but thank you so much for that little tidbit :D Like I said, you're my first boy comment, so I daresay my results are skewed XD

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