Friday, January 8, 2010

Romance from the Guy's Perspective

In the comments for my open post a few days ago, Julie mentioned wanting my opinion on writing romance from a male perspective. She also requested a post on writing "Dad" characters, which I might talk about later.

But anyway, one of the things you first have to understand when writing a romance from a male perspective is that most guys are not nearly as observant as romance novels make them out to be. I speak from experience when I say that, nine times out of ten, it's better for the women in our lives to tell us -- in a direct and clear manner -- what they want for their birthdays/Christmas rather than leave it up to our discretion. (Ask my wife about the first necklace I gave her if you want an entertaining story about my lack of observation skills.)

In SON OF MAGIC, the main female character (Astrid) is in love with the main male character (Swain) and has been for years. They're best friends and spend practically every moment they can together. Does Swain realize that Astrid's got a crush on him? Of course not.

Now, barring the fact this makes for more entertaining reading, this is a common occurrence with men and women who are friends first and romantically involved second. At least one of them (typically the guy) is clueless as to the other side's attraction. He knows he likes spending time with said girl, but beyond that he's entirely oblivious to how madly in love with him she is.

How to write this?

Well it depends on your male character's attitude. Is he the calm, courteous type or the angry, jealous breed? Does he talk a lot or is he mostly terse and uncommunicative? Is he brilliant and driven by a desire to succeed or does he lounge about and let events act on him instead of the other way around? All of these character traits determine how he reacts to the woman in the story.

One of the things to remember as well is that most guys won't put up with a woman who doesn't know her own mind for long. If she's hot one minute and then cold the next, he's more likely to give up (unless the point of your story is to unravel that aspect of her personality).

This is why romance novels are so skewed -- the men in those novels are conceived of from a woman's perspective with how she feels a man should act in a given situation. A man reading those novels (of which I've read precisely one) looks at this and goes "Wait a minute. No guy would ever say/do that."

TWILIGHT is a particular offender in this category. No guy in their right mind (even a vampire) would climb into his crush's room and watch her sleep. He'd know that's creepier than anything except maybe Hannibal Lecter in a tutu.

Anyway, I hope that answered your question Julie. Feel free to ask any followups if you want.


MeganRebekah said...

I've realized that I lack a strong male critiquers for my book. My brother-in-law will read it, but I don't know if I trust him to speak for the male population :)

I'd love to hear/see more on this topic

Matthew Delman said...

Megan --

The other thing you have to wonder is if your audience demands accurate depiction of male characters. TWILIGHT did explosive business despite the mass complaining about Edward's stalking problem, so that goes to show you that it doesn't always matter if a guy would act that way so long as he acts in your depicted way consistently.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Ditto what MeganR said. I found this post fascinating. In fact, I read it several times before making it to the comments. Thanks, Matt! More of this, please. :)

Susan R. Mills said...

Great advice, Matt. I needed to know some of this. Can't wait to hear what you have to say about dad characters.

Anita Saxena said...

Very insightful post Matt. I've learned over the years that what you read or watch isn't always a true depiction of men. Throw that in with growing up with a bunch of gay guys (because of the figure skating aspect in my life) and it totally affected what my expectation/ perception of a "guy" was. My boyfriend often reminds me of my skewed perception, especially when I think he's acting too brash or too manly.

Why won't you go ballroom dancing with me?!?
Or share coffee and discuss Twilight with me?
And then he reminds me that straight guys don't do that.

Matthew Delman said...

Anita --

See I would happily go ballroom dancing if my wife suggested it. Then again, I've made much of the fact that I'm not the average American male.

And I have discussed Twilight with my wife ... if by "discuss" you mean "mock."

Rick Daley said...

Writing romance from a male perspective? I can sum it up in two words: Penthouse letters.

Just kidding (kind of). I agree with Matt that the male perspective on romance is much more straight-forward than the female view. Men are very simple creatures, and this simplicity can sometimes confound the women we love (or long for). We crave The Act. While I know women also crave The Act, they crave the Build Up just as much, wherein lies the romance in most cases.

But for a woman, the Build Up is more likely to involve time, conversation, gentle touches and kind words For a man, the Build Up can often be streamlined to the expedient removal of clothing. Not only are we simple, we are highly efficient.

Also, from my experience, most guys that are the extra loving, doting, bring-you-flowers-and-share-their-innermost-feelings kind of guys have a real problem doing that with just one woman at a time. Not all, but most...this is why you find more romantic males in fiction than non-fiction.

In regard to TWILIGHT, I think what made it resonate so strongly is that it turned the male/female elements of desire on end. Typically, is the male craving the female but she won't let him go there. Having the female so devoted to the male and having the male always say no is a unique spin.

Julie said...


I devoured this post! I never thought you'd take me up on it, when I suggested and I'm thrilled you did.

As I'm sure several other females are. I think the secret if (like me) you're writing for a mostly female audience is to do what you said with our male characters and then take them 10 or 20% in the other direction making them still a dude but more every woman's fantasy guy.

But if you're writing main stream you can't cross that line - like you said.

Harry Potter is a good example of subtle romance that doesn't make the guy readers want to hurl or roll their eyes.

Harry doesn't obsess over Ginny. But he does pull out the Marauders map in the 7th book to watch her dot moving around. Its perfect and not too mushy, just shows his loneliness and his desire to be a normal boy in love with a girl.

Rick also had some excellent points. I'm sure your right about the romantic guys being players- so their still focused on the act and probably a little better at getting what they want. TWILIGHT is a mystery to a lot of people but I think everything the author got away with can be justified.

Edward reads minds except Bella's so some of his desire to stalk her is because he can't hear her thoughts and he wants to why.

I have no idea why people love it so much (including me). And in reality she came up with the best excuse for all the foreplay with no "main act".

If you thought physical contact would kill a girl you were interested in you would probably take things slower. It gives Edward the perfect excuse for not behaving like a typical guy.

I tried to come up with reasons to keep my guy character in my first novel from doing more that kissing (the whole YA audience shrinks as your characters get more physically involved). He ended up seeming very parental (yuck!).

Its a tough balance, especially if you are trying to please those female readers.

So Matt and Rick - what makes you roll your eyes or want to hurl the most when reading a book (romance or not)?

Thanks for doing this Matt, it was a fantastic post

Rick Daley said...


I don't like a weak and indecisive main character, or someone who is consistently doing things that just aren't rational. It doesn't mean the plot has to be believable,

Also, a book has to have activity. Not necessarily action, but a lot of internal monologuing will turn me off.

This is all general...can't say I've read much (if any) in the romance genre.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Great posts and comments. In my weekly crit group we have one guy in a group of women. It is interesting how he will say sometimes that guys wouldn't talk about that or like that. I think it's true women often write men they way they wish them to be or, at very least, as they interpret them. Perhaps, we could all use gender-mix in our readers since I've seen the reverse, as well, when men write a woman I don't believe.

Julie said...


you make an excellent point. As I'm revising my current WIP I am now craving the male opinion on my 14 year-old boy love/friend interest of my MC.

If any male writers want to do a read swap of 2 or 3 chapters I'm looking for a man.

My guy hasn't cried, so I've done something right (thanks Bane!) but as far as everything else goes he might be a little too good??

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Matt, this is an awesome post, I love hearing the guys POV and yay thanks for confirming that no normal guy would spend all of his time watching a girl sleep! Hehe!

Joshua McCune said...

Um, TWILIGHT's been mentioned too many times in this post/thread... the autodestruct timer has started. Everyone's been warned.

Julie, SM gets women (#1 reason that book did so well), but she doesn't have a clue about men (she does have a clue about what women want men to be -- but they still won't cry, though they might glitter:).

Julie said...

Bane - another convenience on SM's part - vampires can't produce tears. Its not that Edward isn't sensitive enough to cry, he physically can't (poor sparkly Edward).

See how she gets around the issues without making her men seem like chicks or gay.

The fact that he can lift a truck over his head balances the Shakespeare quotes and beautiful penmanship.

I'm starting to think SM is a genius.

But I do wonder why tears can't flow but seminal fluids can???

Joshua McCune said...

Yes, but does it sparkle?

Julie said...

Bane - Lol!!

It must sparkle. If you're going to take men so far over the edge why not make their juice sparkle?

Sorry Matt, Bane and I have morally corrupt your comment thread.

Okay - Rick gets some credit for the Penthouse mention.

Adam Heine said...

So the lesson we can take from TWILIGHT is that girl's want to be stalked. Or does that only work if you're hot, sparkly, and immortal?

Matthew Delman said...

Unfortunately I think it only works if you're hot, sparkly, and immortal.

Or if your name is Robert Pattinson.

Julie --

By "too good" do you mean too concerned with the female MC's feelings? Or too perfect of a guy for said MC?

Because I have known guys who are all-around good guys who teach kids how to sing in their spare time, are funny, smart, and polite. They do exist, it's just uncommon.

Matthew Delman said...

Oh and Julie? I mentioned Hannibal Lecter in a tutu in today's post. I think we're adult enough to talk about Edward's ... umm ... excretions. Oh god I gave myself a full-body shiver with that last bit.

Must go watch a movie with lots of explosions now to wipe my mind clean of the imagery.

Julie said...

Matt - sorry you had to suffer through those horrid words.

The girl in me is happy to admit reading all 4 Twilight books in one week and loving them.

But I've now developed a special love for poking fun at it.

I think the moral of the story is, if we need to write a real man, listen to you, if we need a fantasy man SM knows how to get the job done.

I always have a heavy romance in my novels but I would like to tackle a real guy MC and see what i could do.

I read a great book recently by a female author called "I Know Its Over".

Appears to be typical teen pregnancy YA book, but written from the 16 year-old guy's POV. It was real. He was a real guy, not a jerk.

Just a regular boy dealing with real issues. its amazing how little this is done.

I'm thinking it my be my next challenge.

Stephanie Thornton said...

On my list of upcoming posts is the difficulty in writing convincing male characters. I've actually had to check with male friends and my husband to see if I'd written something totally out of character for a male.

And yep, I had. I think women write men the way they want them to act. I have a feeling the street runs both ways. I've read a few books written by men with a female protagonist that had me saying, "A woman would never ever do that.?

Natalie said...

This was awesome Matt. I've definitely been guilty of making my boy characters too perceptive/sensitive. Luckily my husband always catches it, and I tone it down.

And I totally agree with Stephanie. The street goes both ways. I've read many books written by men in which I cannot identify with female characters.

J.B. Chicoine said...

Great post, Matt.
I had the tendency (writing 1st person, male), to inadvertently apologize for perfectly normal ‘guy responses.’ I didn’t want him to come across as a pig, but I was actually diminishing his masculinity. Fortunately, my male beta reader always called me on those diluting passages—it’s pretty tricky business getting into the mind of a man…

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Having worked with a lot of men (engineering, science), I often find it easier to write a male POV. There's a straightforwardness that I like about it. And I have a lot of observational data to draw on . . . !

Thanks for a great post!

Penny Dune said...

I'm a late comer, over from Guide to Literary Agents...I think. Yes. Great post. It's true, you have to know what your audience wants. The tides shift though and seeing women love guys who act like guys is appealing. I married a real good guy--likes kids, smart, funny polite(usually), and he still acts like a doofus half the time, so I write him... and bits that aren't. ;) LOL

Christine said...

I came over from the Guide to Literary Agents, too. The comments hold true for creating a believable male character in any kind of writing, not just romance. I use my husband, brother, and various bits of guy friends to try and stay on track. Great post and discussion--thanks, all!

Olivia said...

Oh yes! Writing a romance from a guy's POV isn't always easy. I'm glad to find stuff like this. Reading my manuscript over, I realize just how clueless my main character really is.