How I Learned to Write Like a Man

Image: CarbonNYC via Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/4mYJMk

Does anyone else think it’s ironic that a bunch of women write in male point-of-view? Granted, ninety-something percent of romance readers are women, so we probably get away with it. Sometimes.

Yes, I know there are men in existence who are in touch with their feelings, who aren’t afraid to talk about relationships and are in tune with a woman’s moods. They probably apologize on cue, celebrate the first-kiss-anniversary with their sweetheart, and know the lyrics to their special song.

I don’t want to read about this man. He sounds like a woman.

In fact, if the hero is too sensitive, too thoughtful, and too perfectly romantic, I lose interest. It doesn’t feel realistic, because that’s not how men typically behave. Most importantly, the overly tamed, super-urbane male character doesn’t appeal to the instinctual qualities of male/female attraction. It’s the contrasting natures and the reconciliation of those natures I find captivating in a love story.

The devotion goes both ways, but it manifests differently for men and women. Now I must generalize and simplify to make a point. But I’m not talking about exceptions, I’m highlighting human nature.

Biology engineered the male gender to be larger, stronger, more logical, and more aggressive. A man shows devotion in the way he provides and protects, and he doesn’t make a big fanfare about it. In fact, he wishes the lady understood that when he slays her dragons, it means he loves her. He’d rather not gush.

A woman is intuitive. When she falls for a guy, it’s not only because he is brave or clever or protective, but also because his efforts to please her are inspiring. She sees the good in him. She wants to take care of him. Her affection soothes him, and she brings out his better qualities. The contrast between the warrior who fights her battles and the lover who treats her gently is thrilling.

If I don’t get this dynamic between the hero and heroine, I’m not convinced of the romance.

When a male character reads between the lines of a conversation, fretting about why the heroine seems upset, I cry foul. If he uses the word “relationship” more than twice in a paragraph, I think “Yeah, right.” If the hero babbles on and on about childhood events which contributed to his emotional limitations, I roll my eyes. I simply can’t imagine a masculine character behaving this way. It pulls me out of the story. I hear romance-author-fantasy in the voice rather than living-breathing-man.

That doesn’t mean a male character must communicate in grunts and smash beer cans on his forehead in order to be manly. If he acts boorish and insensitive, he’s unlikeable – unless he redeems himself somehow. Even a sympathetic hero makes mistakes as he figures out what to do about falling in love, so does the heroine, but that’s the point. It should feel real.

Image: Eric Fischer via Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/btiXXM

Some writers really get male POV right, and their heroes come to life. I’ve thought about what makes them successful, and found a few tricks that helped me. Here’s what I did to improve my male POV scenes:

•  I observed men. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I listened to men talk; family, friends, and co-workers. I even eavesdropped on conversations at the gym and the checkout line at the store (for the sake of research, of course). I took note of the topics they discussed, how they expressed ideas, and more importantly, I noticed what they didn’t say. I paid attention to their wording, the length of phrases, and non-verbal cues, which are as equally important as dialogue.

•  I read more fiction by male authors. M.L. Buchman, a male romance writer, portrays sparkling lifelike male characters. It probably helps that he is one. I also consulted Orson Scott Card, E.M. Forster, Alex Bledsoe, Dan Brown, and Tom Clancy. Reading more books written by men gave me ideas of how to represent thoughts, dialogue, and motive through the filter of male POV. I still read articles on AskMen.com and browse the Q&A forums. This helps me understand what men care about, what they worry about, and what makes them insecure, annoyed, or satisfied.

•  I indulged my inner scientist. I found loads of gender research available on the internet and at my local library. I learned about how the male brain works and how a man uses his senses to interpret experience. It’s different than the way a female thinks. The wise authoress doesn’t give her male character her own physical and emotional reactions; chances are, the male will have a different perception. I studied mannerisms, watched interviews, and found that environmental, geographical, socioeconomical, and racial variables affected male behavior.

•  I edited until my POV sounded like a man. Any dialogue or narration coming off as highly emotional, wordy, or flowery, I changed to a more action-oriented, factual style. Keeping in mind that men excel in spacial, logical thinking, I gave my character big-picture ideas and motives. I discovered men simply don’t worry about the same things women do; instead of being reflective, I let my hero be a pragmatic problem-solver. Lastly, to check that my word choice sounded masculine, I copied and pasted the male POV scenes into the Gender Genie [No longer online. Try the Gender Guesser instead.] I edited until the computer guessed I was a male author.

I knew I was on the right track when a beta reader commented about my hero, “He sounds just like _____!” If I manage to write believable male POV, my lifelike character will convince the reader he’s a prince among men when he defies stereotypes by being romantic, sensitive, and tender. He’ll just do it in a manly way.

Readers, what makes a character feel real or not?

Comments

  1. jeff7salter says:

    enjoyed this one from last year, Moriah.
    As you may well imagine, I deal with the same issue, though from the opposite goal post.
    I my case, I worked in a profession — librarianship — which was primarily populated by women … for some 30 years. With daily exposure to a wide variety of female behaviors, dialogs, emotions, motivations, etc., I stored up a vast data base of first-hand grist for how my characters appear on my pages.
    Is my portrayal of female POV effective?
    I’ve had more than one contest judge refer to me as “she” when making a complimentary point.

    • I’ve read your female POV scenes and know firsthand you’ve got us pegged, Jeff. I bow to the master 🙂 Incidentally, I’m glad you’re in the library profession – I take my kids every week to our library, and they adore the male librarians. They know where the best paper airplane origami books are, as well as books on insects, superheroes, monster trucks, etc. You [“your kind”] are needed!

      • jeff7salter says:

        thanks for your kind remarks.
        About the library work, however, I should clarify that I’m retired now — took an early retirement in mid 2006. No way I could write and work full-time… though I know many of my colleagues are able to manage it somehow. Plus raise a family and be a spouse. Don’t know how they do it!

        • Me neither. I always drop everything when I try to juggle. And I bet there are hundreds of spacerocket-savvy boys out there because you were a librarian. Not to imply that’s the pinnacle of your career, but as a mom, I appreciate role models who encourage my kids to read. And I’m glad you’re writing full time. How great is that?!?

          • jeff7salter says:

            I’d like to think I made a positive impact — however small — on both the customers (patrons) and the staff with whom I worked.

            • Oh, I bet so. Simply being in a library makes me happy. Surrounded by books on every conceivable topic, and all. How great to do that every day. Or does the wonder wear off after a while?

            • jeff7salter says:

              entered the library field, partly because of my life-long love of books. As I rose through the ranks, I got farther and farther away from those books and mostly dealt with problems. Rarely had time to read and certainly not on the job. It was difficult to do any creative writing because I was writing all day long in very dreary business-related activities. It was time for me to retire.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Densley wrote about how she learned to write like a man. As a romance writer, I think this is something we all struggle with at least a little. We want our […]

  2. […] and paranormal romance author Moirah Densley blogged about writing like a man. Her post is well worth reading. Some of her suggestions to adopt a more “male” POV […]

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