Friday, November 05, 2010

Angst Suspense

Recently my husband was ensconced in a suspense novel I'd already read. He was enjoying it very much, as I had. "But you know," he added, "when I reach the parts where the female protagonist is angsting, I just skim. That's not really part of the story anyway."

I looked at him like he was from Mars. First, there wasn't that much "angsting" in the book to begin with. Second, when it was there, it was very much a part of the story. Okay, maybe not part of the action/chase scenes, But part of the character's arc, which is equally important.

And this, ladies and gentlemen is the difference between male and female readers.

Don't believe me? How's this. Picture two men watching a football game on TV. One's having serious marital problems. Here's the entire conversation about the matter:

During a commercial, with both men's eyes still glued to the TV: "You and Teresa doing okay?"

Shrug. "It's hard. You know?"

"Yeah, I know."

Meanwhile the wives have gone out for a two-hour lunch, during which the entire time is spent examining the couple's failing marriage from every possible angle.

Now, is it any wonder, when males come to read suspense, that they want more action and less characterization?

Granted, I'm speaking in generalities. Not all men or women will fit the mold of which I write. But I'll tell you, after seeing 21 books published, I've run into this again and again with my own readers. And, after reading hundreds of suspense novels, I've seen it many times in other authors' books.

I laughingly refer to much of the suspense written by men (particularly in the ABA) as "male suspense." Which means heavy on the action, light on the characterization. No character ARC. A lot of men love that. As a female, I find it shallow. After 50 pages in, I'm thinking, "So what? I don't care about these cardboard characters, so who cares what happens in the plot?"

There may well be men who'd refer to suspense written by females as "angst suspense." You know, too much of that characterization stuff and too little action. 

Ah, me. In the end, I write the kinds of stories I'd like to read. And if that includes some "angsting," so be it. Actually I try to live in both worlds--writing suspense that is fast-paced, yet character-driven.


Timothy Fish said...

I don't know what "male suspense" you've been reading, so I can't speak directly to it, but it seems to me that just because a book has a lot of action doesn't mean that there is no character arc. In fact, there wouldn't be much of a story if there wasn't one. I think the real difference is that since men don't "angst" so much, the author has to show the character arc through action rather than the characters sitting around talking about it.

Kathy Cassel said...

stopping the plot for romantic interludes constantly--not okay

I was thrilled to discover two new suspense series--only to find that both were wayyyyyyyyy too heavy on the romance. When you're being chased and you're hiding for your life are you really going to be noticing his glimmering (or whatever) eyes and feel sparks when your hands accidently touch. Really! The only sizzle should be from a taser in suspense. Keep the romance out. ANd I'm sure you know these are NOT your series I'm talking about but I don't want to mention any authors here.

Unknown said...

I guess this is the reason my brother told me that all female writers who try to write in a male point of view "just don't get it." :0)

Mark said...

maybe I am not a typical guy, but I like some "angst" and some insight into the characters - not just a straight foward suspense novel

Lance C. said...

One difference I've noticed is that when a character (of either gender) in a suspense novel written by a man dives into his/her own head, his/her thoughts move the plot along. At the end of the thinking jam, he/she makes a decision or learns something, which then affects the plot.

In many suspense novels written by women, characters (of either gender) will turn the deep mental dive into the equivalent of that two-hour therapy lunch you mentioned -- and at the end of it, either fail to learn anything, make a decision, or do anything differently. The "angsting" (love that word!) just stops the story.

I'm in the middle of one of the latter now. As frustrating as it is, I want to finish it just so I can see how this (very successful) author has managed to spin out a multi-book series centered around a female character who spends so much time inside her own head -- which isn't a very interesting place, IMO.

Sheila Deeth said...

I shall enjoy discussing this with my husband. Thanks.