The Male Perspective

I’m hosting a panel at an upcoming conference on Romantic Elements in F&SF: The Male Perspective. What does this mean? The conference coordinator has in mind a talk on how men and women each approach romantic male characters.

I can tell you my response as a woman writer. In romance fiction, we use two viewpoints, male and female. We are aware that males think differently than females but we also want our romance heroes to be sensitive guys. So while he may start out noticing the heroine’s physical attributes, he also has to be attracted to her on a deeper level.

Since men aren’t always as well connected with their emotions as women, he won’t recognize this deeper attraction yet. And even when he does acknowledge his feelings for her, he may not be able to speak them aloud.

As a romance hero, there has to be an inner torment or conflict that keeps him from making a commitment. He has to come to some revelation and change his attitude by the end of the book. The female lead goes through her own emotional journey. Whether the setting is in outer space, a futuristic time period, modern day, or the past, these defining characteristics remain as genre conventions.

From the male writer’s viewpoint, how does your hero behave toward an attractive woman? Do you bring his emotional responses into play or does he just focus on how he’s hot to get her into his bed?

Love scenes, in both hero and heroine’s viewpoints, are written by female writers (excluding the erotica genre) more on an emotional level than a clinical act. Here’s where I expect a divergence from the male writer. Is your focus different? How about the aftermath of sex? Does your hero reflect on what it meant to him or does he jump into the next action scene?

Does gender as well as genre make a difference? For example, in thrillers and perhaps also urban fantasy, the characters have less time to reflect on emotional issues. How does the writer deal with the action hero’s romantic relationship in this case?

Do you feel a female writer has a different sensibility when writing male characters than a man?
Does your hero have a romantic relationship with anyone in particular?
Do his views regarding the female protagonist change through the story or the series?
How do you approach sex scenes: open or closed doors?
Is your hero an Alpha type (strong and stoic) or a Beta hero (sensitive, in touch with his feelings), or a bit of both?

How do you approach the male viewpoint in a romantic relationship?

18 thoughts on “The Male Perspective

  1. My protagonist, Jonathan Grave, tries very hard not to deal with emotions. They make him uncomfortable when they flow from others, and he’s skilled at keeping his own locked away. He knows he’s done terrible things, but he’s confident that he did them for the right reasons and that he can’t undo the past. He just moves forward. Or tries to.

    Sex is alluded to in my books, but never shown. Because of the tight timelines of the stories, that kind of personal interaction of necessity falls outside the boundaries of the plot.

    Jonathan admires smart women, and cannot abide stupid people of either sex. He met his love interest in the first four books in the series, Gail Bonneville, because she was a cop trying to track him down and doing a grand job of it. Above all, he admired her. The love and the intimacy came later.

    John Gilstrap

  2. Well, we are women writing a male protag. We think we have a pretty good take on his psyche but at times we have to resort to a consultant — my husband Daniel. We had a scene once where Louis walks up on a babe sunbathing topless. I asked Daniel, “how would Louis react?”

    Daniel said, “he would look but pretend not to.”

    Worked for us!

  3. I think John G’s comment was right on target. The modern male is usually aware that he’s not supposed to be “caught” looking–by either the object of his attention, or by his Significant Other. So there winds up being a surreptitious struggle between his instincts and his frontal cortex. On the other hand, I think most men are delighted when women check them out. They do seem to mind when we ogle another guy’s car, however.

    When things deepen to the level of love and romance, I think things are getting easier for both genders. Having more women empowered in all levels of society has enabled both genders to “learn” more about each other’s language. And that language is changing all the time. I recently became aware that young people draw a distinction between “hooking up” (having sex) versus being in a relationship. Evidently hooking up is no big deal to them, but a relationship is. Who knew?

  4. I think it would be wrong to say that guys are less in touch with their feelings than women. Guys are just more likely to think that their feelings are none of anyone else’s business. Guys are more likely to see talk as cheap and action as evidence. The story is told that a man said, “On the day we got married, I told my wife that I loved her and it that ever changed I’d let her know.” This is true for everyone, but especially for guys, that love is not an emotion but an action. For a guy, that action may come in the form or changing the oil in his wife’s car, or going shopping with her, or helping her with the dishes. And while most guys will tolerate their wives telling them that they love them, what they really want from their wives is respect.

  5. This conversation reminds me of the old joke…

    A woman was sitting outside on her porch, drinking a glass of wine with her husband. During a quiet moment, the woman said, “I love you.”

    The husband said, “Is that you talking, or the wine?”

    The wife said, “It was ME talking to the wine.”

  6. These are great responses, and I love hearing the male viewpoint.It helps to increase our understanding of the opposite sex when we have these kinds of exchanges. And it will certainly be helpful in our writing. I especially like Timothy’s remarks that a guy shows his feelings through action rather than talk.

  7. Timothy hit is pretty well.
    Love is not a feeling its an act of your will.

    My male characters are military, law enforcement and CIA guys who live pretty violent lives, but are not devoid of emotion. One of the primary protags in several of the books, USMC Master Gunnery Sergeant Marcus Orlando ‘Mojo’ Johnson, deals with his emotions by writing poetry. Mike Farris on the other hand bottles up the violent parts and doesn’t really project the romantic side clearly. Both are married to female LEOs (one’s an AK State Trooper, the other and FBI Analyst) who understand men’s mind a bit better than most.

    I had thought I wrote my female characters in a decent female voice, but after narrating several ‘Chick-Lit’ novels written by female authors I’m not so sure I have written as much from a female perspective as I thought, if those novels are prime examples of how women think.

    I don’t write sex scenes, only allude to them and seldom at that. It just doesn’t seem to fit for whats happening in my books.

  8. Basil, I’d use romance novels as more of a gauge of what a woman thinks rather than chick lit, which deploys a particular type of voice. But that’s just my opinion and I’m biased since I write romance. Women think about relationships and analyze their feelings a lot more than men. Go see who buys all those “How to Improve Your Life” books and such in the bookstore.

  9. Maybe I should read a romance or two to see what makes them tick.

    I may have misspoke when I said ‘Chick-Lit’ as the books I narrated were supposed to be thrillers, but they were extremely feminine perspective as far as I could tell with most of the focus on what the female protagonist was thinking, and her internal/emotional reactions to the main male character vs. man style thrillers with most of the focus on accomplishing the mission regardless of how the protag feels about it. The sex scenes involved a lot of inside the lead’s head perspective.

  10. Perhaps a Friday conversation at some point could discuss the difference between genres. For instance my quandary over Chick-Lit v. Romance v. Feminine Thrillers v. Thrillers in general.

  11. Basil said: Perhaps a Friday conversation at some point could discuss the difference between genres. For instance my quandary over Chick-Lit v. Romance v. Feminine Thrillers v. Thrillers in general.

    I like this idea. I second Basil’s motion for a Friday discussion on Nancy’s topic.

    We’re all in this together, and the coolest thing I find about TKZ is the collaboration I feel from everyone who posts.

  12. “Perhaps it was their shared concern for Jon, the shock of Faith’s death or shared regret for their previous fight. They’d made love before they slept and it made everything feel so right. It happened like that for them, from angry to incredible in a blink. He hoped things were as good as they’d seemed.”

    This, from my WIP, showed one man’s view. The love/sex was magnificent and linked from his perspective. Yet his awareness of his partner’s view was uncertain.

    IMO masculine view tends to be more up front and clear. Women’s assessments may be more complex and enmeshed (paradoxically both more emotional and analytical).

    I think I’m saying the same thing others have said in a different manner.

    Complex topic Nancy!
    (I wrote more clearly earlier and somehow allowed it to be snarfed by the preview gremlin – hate that!)

  13. Nancy, I am going to do my utmost to NOT open a can of worms here but you are trying to analyze a man as if he’s a woman. He’s not. Few of the questions you’re asking will help you get a handle on what motivates a man.

    Men are not driven by their emotions. It’s true, but unimportant. The majority of men are in fact driven by a deep sense of honor, loyalty, respect, all that sort of thing. Women don’t get men (and vice versa) because women don’t view the world through this lens. And I do mean we (men) interpret every interaction during our waking hours through this kind of lens. Call them blue glasses if it helps.

    Now here’s the worms part. I so am not trying to offend here so please take that into consideration. Women view the world through pink glasses – of love, compassion, nurturing, caretaking, all that sort of thing and I’m probably doing a bad job of describing it for obvious reasons.

    It’s not a perfect representation of all men and women, more like 75-25, but you should get the point. Neither gender is better than the other. We are both equal, yet different. It’s is one of the great mysteries of marriage that two people are bound together in order to learn to love each other when each is fundamentally different from the other. It is a level of relationship and love that is beyond the grasp of many and beyond the comprehension of many more.

    Anyway, back to Earth. Men do feel emotions. They just don’t base their entire existence on them. Make your male characters driven by an honor code of some sort, and you will write realistic male characters. As a bonus, this can be your built-in conflict for his lack of commitment, or more properly stated, his prior commitment to some higher priority.

    Some specific inline comments:

    “From the male writer’s viewpoint, how does your hero behave toward an attractive woman?” The same way he behaves toward a man. He assesses the situation. He weighs the possibilities in his mind. Is he interested? Is she? Can he get her attention? Should he walk on by? Then he either opens his mouth or keeps it shut. Feelings play a role here, but they are one of several means to an end in the assessment rather than being front and center. Timothy’s comment is on target here.

    “Love scenes… Is your focus different?” I think any of these could be correct depending on the personality of the man. Is he making love out of genuine love, boredom, or duty? What is his temporal emotional state at the time and his longer term relationship with the woman? Also, how recent were his last several sexual acts? A man’s body needs time to replenish the seminal fluid and during this time arousal can be greatly affected.

  14. Well said Daniel. The Bible says God created mankind, male and female he created them, then goes on to say Adam was created alone and Eve was later extracted from Adam. Therefore, two parts of one whole, which means whoever can think like both halves at once is a whole person.

    by the way…how much recharge time we talkin’ here? an hour or so maybe?

  15. Basil, I think you got it. The female perspective does involve more action/reaction, reflection, and analysis of feelings. And sex scenes do involve the emotional component. But this would be good Friday debate topic.

  16. Daniel, thanks so much for your insights. This is such a difficult topic, isn’t it? That’s why the book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, was so popular. But this type of info is really valuable to me in writing the male viewpoint, so thanks for sharing.

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