I don't think it's a surprise to anybody here that I have a bit of a soft spot for "the ladies." Now, don't get me wrong, I've never been a guy who really "chases skirts," though I did go through a bit of a girl crazy phase (and what guy hasn't?). I've also never been one of the guys who prefers the company of women to the company of other guys (for every random adventure with Holly and Sherri at OBU, there was either a regularly-scheduled Manly Movie Night or an impromptu NHL Hitz/X-Men Legend-a-thon). Looking back over my life, I've always preferred--and for the most part, managed to achieve--a balance of equally strong friendships between my guy-friends and my girl-friends. I've even had several of (possible bad Spanish alert!) mis amigas comment on how well I (generally) "handle" women--which is funny, because I somehow seem to strike this balance between the "obnoxious older brother/pest" role to the "supportive/protective older brother" role and the "chivalrous gentleman" role as the relationship/situation demands, often going from one to the other and back within the same conversation.
Why am I bringing this up? Because! Lately I've been realizing how this pattern has greatly influenced literary tendencies, and it interests me. Feel free to move on if you're bored ;-)
I've been mulling over a short story I've been trying to finish for awhile and wondering why I just can't get excited about finishing it, as much as I love the concept and as easy as it should be to wrap the whole thing up. An odd thought came to me this evening while I wondered at my current conundrum: Maybe it's because there are no females.
Now, my initial reaction is that a story I like should be a story I like regardless of the gender of my characters. Especially if it's one I'm writing. And especially if I'm pleased with the way it's going. What does it matter if there are any girls or not?
Then I thought back on everything else I've written in the last five years. There's usually a pretty strong male-female balance in my characters. There's a lot of dualism going on. I've never really written a story where there wasn't at least one woman who is equally important as the leading man or vice versa. That goes for my plays, my novel, any shorter stories I've tried. Even the play I wrote for a cast of three of either gender, I had the stage directions written as if the performers were two men and one woman. Even when I was a kid writing stories on the back of old homework assignments, I usually had to work a girl into the gang somehow.
And then there's this story. I had a grandmother, and she's pretty essential to the story, but she died in, like, chapter two. And then there's a mom, but she's more a non-factor, she and dad are pretty much a single entity with two heads. My protagonist goes to a boys' school, has male professors, and runs off with one of his classmates to have an adventure. And now they're on the side of a mountain going on an amazing adventure with nothing but one another to lean upon...and, they bore me. Interestingly, I originally plotted this story almost immediately after I wrote The Hero Squad vs. The Princess Snatchers in 2005. Back then, the plan was to have a boy and girl share the adventure, not two boys. Maybe I shoulda stuck with that? ;-)
As I further entertained this line of thinking, I thought back to the last few books I'd read. I'm currently working on Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, book one of his epic Wheel of Time series. It's very good, though it's very long, and the pages are quite dense. (Most books I've read with this many pages have had shorter pages. These pages are packed with words!) It took me a few days to get into because A) my schedule hadn't been allowing extended periods of reading, and B) I didn't find anything particularly engaging within the first few scenes. In the last two days, however, I've become hooked and have debated not blogging in order to read more (hence lack of blogging lately). Looking back, the "hooking point" seems to have coincided with the introduction of a few interesting female characters. Astounding! A similar thing happened when I was reading Stephen King's Cell not long ago. The two leading men were good characters and interesting to read, but the story itself sort of dragged during the initial zombie apocalypse. (It wasn't really a zombie apocalypse, but it was pretty similar) The book really started picking up for me when Alice joined the party. (Fun fact: I can't actually remember the two "more important" characters' names; I think one was Tom?) She was about half their age, so there was no romantic spice added, but her very presence and the fact of her femininity added a new dimension to each of the men. (There was no romance anywhere in that book, come to think of it)
Conversely, I just finished Roald Dahl's Sometime Never, and while I can't say it was a dreary book solely for the fact that there were no female characters, still, the fact remains that there were no female characters. Wistrix Donn was a bad book for a lot of reasons. Upon reflection, however, none of the female characters had anything particularly feminine about them (please note: by feminine, I don't mean "weak." I consider Tolkein's Eowyn a supremely feminine character, warrior chick and all). The only character whose femininity was a necessary character trait was the vixen who seduced men to kill them. The others, really, could have been men and the story wouldn't have changed much at all.
Examples abound on both sides (and I can find some counterexamples, too, but most of the ones in my experience are non-fiction; I've also never been a huge fan of single-gender plays like True West or Steel Magnolias), and while no one factor can really be singled out as the determining factor as to why I've liked some stories, both read and written, and not liked others, I have to concede that there is, at the least, a coincidence of correlation.
Are you still reading? Because this is probably boring to you, but it's really fascinating to me.
All of this is to say that I'm discovering a new way my life informs my artistic choices. I love women, but not just in the typical male-female attraction way. I love the added dimension that women give to men. I love the many different shades of the male-female dynamic. A night out with three guys is an entirely different experience than a night out with two guys and one girl, and it doesn't matter if the girl is a major tomboy (not many girls are still true tomboys into their late twenties, you notice that?). The entire dynamic of the evening is changed. Women add spice and dimension to men, and hopefully men do the same for women. When God said it was not good for man to be alone, it wasn't just because man was lonely, it was because he needed a woman to unlock other parts of who he really was--and not just romantically. When I write, I find everything my male and female character do together interesting. The way they joke together, the way they fight each other, the way they fight together, the way they pray together, it all interests me. I truly believe they bring out the best--or at least, the most interesting--in each other. "Male and female created He them." That is one of the greatest services He ever did unto mankind.
I'm not saying that, if I were actually headed for an unknown adventure on a mountainside, I'd rather go with a woman than with another man. I am saying, however, that given a choice, I'm sure the adventure would be a lot more interesting with one of each ;-)