A recent study by Shawn Nielsen of the University of California has revealed that the contraceptive pill alters the way women recall an emotional narrative. I hear you saying “What’s that got to do with writing?” but bear with me.
Female participants watched two slide shows: one emotionally charged, the other similar but less emotional, and the first thing they discovered was that all the women studied recalled more slides from the emotional story. No surprises there. But what did trigger interest was the fact that women on the pill remembered the central plot better (big picture of the story), whereas those not on the pill were better at recalling the peripheral details.
And this might seem like a leap, but straight off the bat I started to wonder if female writers who were instinctive plotters were more likely to be on the pill, through menopause, or have less fertility hormones running through their system for some other reason. Is that why they have more of a ‘big picture’ focus on their stories?
If the study’s revelations on hormones affecting story recall could be extrapolated across genders, it would explain why a predominant number of men (readers and writers) and a certain number of women are more interested in thrillers, courtroom dramas and cleverly plotted who-done-it novels. Men do tend to be attracted to plot driven stories, or at least to those where the goal and conflict is more important than the emotions of the characters. And at the risk of making a sweeping generalisation, a fair proportion of women are attracted to stories where the character’s emotions play a vital part in the decisions made and the actions taken.
So are hormonally fertile women writers are more likely to be drawn to the types of genres and stories that are ‘character driven’, writing them via the seat-of-the-pants method (as opposed to plotting)?
Should we stop thinking guys are insensitive and women are soppy and just accept that our current hormone balance is likely to dictate what resonates with us and (importantly) what we’ll remember of the story we’re either writing or reading?
There’s grist for a hundred blogs on this and I just wanted to kick-start the conversation, controversial thought it might be.
Feel free to comment!