A Little Tenderness? WIPpet Wednesday

Wednesday’s almost flown the coop here in NZ, and all this bashing on about being at the start of the timezone is coming back to bite me today. So before the date ticks over, here’s my WIPpet Wednesday offering and a request for help!

In honour of it being the 1st of May, here is the first paragraph (as it stands) of my current work in progress, The Fall of the Kings. It is told in Josiah’s voice:

Gareth looked at me with such tenderness, I was almost undone.  When he reached across the table and grasped my arm, only the iron discipline forged as Overseer prevented me from breaking down and giving my grief full reign.  Never mind he was the longest serving of the twelve kings of Gaelladorn, and I the Conscience of the Kingdom.  Because of my exalted position no one had as much as patted me on the shoulder since Alyssa died.

Now, if you could see my schedule at the moment you would know I need help on many levels just now. However on the writing side I’ll keep it short and sweet.

When I first started writing Josiah’s story, this paragraph launched me straight into his head. It was the first time I’d ever written in first person, and it appears to be the only way I can write him. Yet as much as I love this character, I’ve had constant feedback that this paragraph makes people immediately assume the POV character is a woman.

Hmm, methinks this is a problem.

Because I’m still a bit precious about this paragraph (I haven’t hit hard edits yet), I tried to get around it by putting Josiah’s name at the start of the paragraph to indicate POV (man, man – but kind of soft lovely man really), and paragraph three alludes to his wife (Alyssa), but I’m really wondering if tenderness is the right word for a couple of old blokes having a moment.

If it were set in NZ, Gareth would just nod sagely and say, “Mate!” in a long slow meaningful drawl…

Is tenderness the problem? Is there a better adjective? A more manly one? I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas or impressions.

A big shout out to my fellow WIPpeteers! We’re very friendly and love company. If you want to join us, just post a section of your Work in Progress that has some correlation to the date (trust me the correlation can be very loose), and click over to this linky to add yourself to the WIPpet crew! Many thanks as always to the lovely K.L. Schwengel for hosting!

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34 thoughts on “A Little Tenderness? WIPpet Wednesday

  1. I’ll admit (with great trepidation, and while shielding myself with a wok I just happen to have here) that I thought it was a woman, too. It could be the word “tenderness,” or maybe it’s just because I’m used to female characters being “undone” be men, particularly those who look at them with tenderness, before being swept away in waves of whatever.

    Perhaps a touch more scene-setting? Is there something that would indicate it’s a man’s arm Gareth is grabbing? Does Josiah think a man shouldn’t need this comfort, even though he’s grateful for it? By the end of the paragraph I know it’s a man, but perhaps there could be something else before.

    *ducks and holds wok up to deflect projectiles*

    I like the beginning, though. And the names are fantastic. 🙂

  2. I totally didn’t think it was a woman at all, though that could have been because you told me it was Josiah’s POV so I went in knowing that. I would have to agree with Kate, though, that it might be the word ‘undone’ doing it. I’m trying to think of something else but “lost my composure” is all that’s coming to me, and that sounds kind of dull.

    Fyi, though, I am totally a sucker for vulnerable male characters, so language that might seem a little too flowery for a man to some is totally okay by me.

    1. Yes – starting to see the undone. He is coming undone (and continues to do so), but probably wouldn’t describe it that way himself. Thanks – I appreciate your feedback.

  3. I think I remember reading this on Aimee Salter’s blog? Anyway, The voice is great, but I agree with you about the word “tenderness.” If you replaced that word, the rest of it would be find, I think. Nothing’s coming to mind, but I don’t have my handy thesaurus nearby either. I’m curious to read more, though.

    1. Thanks Michelle – I did post it on Aimee’s blog a while ago, and it’s still sitting in it’s unpolished form. I’m glad you’re a bit curious though, I’ll try not to kill it in the rewrite!

  4. Poor Josiah. *Huggles*

    I’m going to agree with Kate, here, and say it’s the words “tenderness” and “undone” that would give me the impression that the speaker was female. Although, since you stated that the paragraph was from Josiah’s POV, I read it as a male speaker. A sensitive male speaker.

    Maybe you could have Gareth say Josiah’s name first, in a meaningful drawl, before he grabs his arm. That way your reader’s know for sure.

    1. He needs ‘huggles’ poor poppet (he’d be mortified to hear me say that).

      Yes, I agree with the comments. He is a sensitive, lovely, man, but I’m going to need to be careful with the female descriptions while in first person with him!

  5. Another lovely post Raewyn. I understand your problem about the tenderness part, but at the same time I think you’ve shown us Josiah’s pain really well and that’s a good thing. Maybe you need to think about reworking the beginning of the paragraph because it’s a little bit confusing as to whether the scene is between a man and a woman or not. But it’s still a great extract.

  6. I have to agree with Kate and Jessica that it was the first line and specifically the words ‘tenderness’ and ‘undone’ that made me think it was from a female POV. Despite the fact you said it was Josiah’s POV I had to look back and double check the name to make sure it was a man rather than a woman (although as others have said it’s evident that it’s a man’s POV by the end of the paragraph).

    As an alternative to tenderness how about compassion? Might sound a little more manly? I really like ‘I was almost undone’ but it does sound like something a woman would say rather than a man but that’s only because I read that first line as the tenderness meaning love (romantic rather than friendship-type love) between the two characters rather than the look of tenderness being because Josiah is grieving for Alyssa. I’m not sure what an alternative would be or how you could make the grief obvious in the first line but that would clear things up. It’s a really strong opening though.

    1. Thanks Kate – that is really helpful. Tenderness does have a romantic overtone, I’m going to really give that male bonding some more thought.

      Strangely my grandfather, an old gnarly farming type was a real softie when it came to grief (at least the side he showed me).

    2. That’s exactly the word I was going to suggest. Compassion can be manly. In the Bible, Jesus is often described as compassionate. Conservatives (male ones) in the United States often are willing to claim “compassion” as a worthy attribute. Compassion also usually denotes a sympathetic caring that moves one to action on behalf of the other, so depending on where this is going it could be perfect.

      1. Thank you so much for a male perspective! Some of the most wonderful men I know are compassionate – there is a real strength in that. Only a few years ago (quite recently in my christian journey) I read John Elrich’s ‘Wild at Heart’, which really opened my eyes to the true masculine strength of Jesus. More good food for thought!

  7. I might need to borrow Kate Spark’s wok for a moment. Maybe the word “understanding” would work better?

    When my Dad was mourning, most of the guys around him would sort of press their lips together and nod, often with a tear glistening in their eyes, but you couldn’t exactly call the expression tender. Their expressions almost mirrored the hardness of his pain. Any physical contact tended to be firm and bolstering, not gentle. Hugs were accompanied by good back poundings, handshakes firm, etc.

    Anyway, I hope that is helpful.

    1. Thanks ReGi – it is helpful. Funnily enough to watch these two it might have looked something like that – it was an arm squeeze and a look, but the language is obviously too feminine. However knowing that I’ll hopefully do better in the next draft!

  8. O no, how sad. And he sounds like just a youngster too. I think you could make him not sound like a girl by having Gareth say something kind to him. “It’ll be ok, lad,” or something a little more universal than “mate.” 🙂

    1. Oh no – even worse – he’s an older man (whoops). And don’t worry neither of these characters would ever say ‘mate’. It’s a bit of a joke in NZ that kiwi men can have a whole conversation using only the word mate using different inflections. There’s a running gag on a children’s show to that effect…

      Thanks for your thoughts though!

  9. I think it’s a combination of ‘tenderness’ and ‘undone’. They are both very female things, and together really hit the double wammy. Although, that’s going to come back to bite me because I have a male character (whom I won’t name) who tells a female character (also not naming) the she is going to “undo” him. I would substitute ‘understanding’ and then come up with some other way to express how it affects Josiah?

    1. Absolutely – I knew tenderness was dodgy (although I love men who can be tender), but I hadn’t realised the undone thing until just now. I can’t think what possessed me to write from an older man’s first person POV, but will have to watch for feminine language in future.

      Ooo can’t wait to read your ‘unnamed’ characters having that conversation. I love the idea of someone becoming undone. Guess he’ll have to do it differently in this story!

      1. I find it somewhat (dare I say) easy to write from a man’s POV. Almost easier than a woman. Maybe because I was always a tomboy? I’m not very feminie? My dad and brothers provided great role models? My best friend growing up was a boy? Or I’m not in touch with my feelings/softer side? *shrug* Any combination of the above I guess.

        You’re a strong enough writer, you’ll find the voice.

      2. Thanks for the vote of confidence! I guess our experience and perspective does effect how we relate to different types of characters… This writing thing is such a jouuurrrnnneeyyy.

  10. I love this paragraph. And this character! Don’t let yourself be undone by a little phrasing issue.

    I do think those two words are at the center of the problem. I’m not sure about the specific words, but I’d maybe substitute a synonym for “honesty” or “openness” rather than tenderness. I’m not sure about “undone”. I think if you find a way to introduce Josiah as male, you can keep that one.

    Another idea: In my experience, men experience emotion (and talk about it) very differently than women. I think Josiah might see this on more of a practical level, though his reaction to it is emotional. Perhaps rearrange? Give the movement of the touched shoulder first and Josiah’s appreciation, followed by the emotion it breeds in him? Just an idea.

    Good luck! Like I said, I already love this. I think once you find the fix, you’ll love it too!

    1. Ah my friend – I’ll do my best! So nice to see your name pop up (not that I am missing you terribly – no sirrie… I’m tough).

      Thanks for your thoughts, all good advice as per usual – will help with the rewrite! As you can see I haven’t reworked it much (*cough*) / at all since you last saw it.

      Take care – and have fun tomorrow!

  11. There might be other words you could use instead of tenderness, but you could also give Alyssa’s name later and simply say “since the death of my wife.” That would show relationships and suggest the speaker is male. 🙂

    1. Yes that would probably do it! I love it how you can read a finished, published, polished book and it just conveys all this kind of information so seamlessly you don’t even pause. Then when you’re drafting it, it’s more like climbing over loose rubble… or boulders…

  12. I was another one who didn’t see the paragraph as coming from a woman’s voice…but again, I did see the name before I read it.

    My take? The first sentence as a whole is a bit off-setting. You reintroduce the “being undone” concept with the “give my grief full reign”, and by leaving out the look of tenderness, you make the reader wonder just that touch more whether Gareth is being sympathetic or unkind.

    That’s just me though. The style is pleasing either way. It depends on the effect you are trying to achieve.

    1. I’m glad not everyone thinks he sounds like a woman (phew), but yes I think the whole start of the story kind of poured itself into that first paragraph. The paring back process is going to be fun.

      Thanks for your comment!

      1. Paring back isn’t “fun”, but it can be fun, if you take my meaning. The final product can be so enjoyable that all the work feels worth it.

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