Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Man's Perspective on Writing Romance by H. L. Wegley

H. L. Wegley
When I started drafting my first novel, Hide and Seek, I ran headlong into a big problem. My heroine was a woman. Showing what was going on inside her head, and her resultant reactions, would be difficult. And showing romance from a woman’s perspective, well … my wife just laughed when she heard I was taking on that challenge.

My initial approach was to minimize the problem, make my heroine very unusual, not a typical woman. I opted for a woman, let’s call her Jennifer, with a 200 IQ and one so beautiful that her beauty gave Jennifer another whole set of problems, stalkers and other sorts of unwanted attention. This created a yet another problem. Most women could not identify with Jennifer. While they might put up with her for one book with an interesting plot, minimalism was something I could not continue using if I wanted to have women readers.

It was time to learn to think like a woman. So how does a man do that, particularly where there is a lot of romance in the story?

The answer starts with acknowledging not only the basic differences between men and women, but also the extent of those differences. In my first draft of Hide and Seek I wrote a scene where my hero meets my heroine for the first time. I split the scene showing half in his POV and half in hers. My women test readers thought the guy was either immature and silly or perhaps even immoral. They thought the woman was neurotic or, at a minimum, overreacting. What an inauspicious beginning!

So my problem of writing romance became a double-edged sword. On one sharp edge, I had to portray my male protagonist in a way that appealed to women. On the other side, the woman had to seem real, likeable, a person women enjoyed identifying with.

From my test readers and my understanding of men, I learned that the strong male responses of my hero must be toned down, only showing a subset of his thoughts, the ones women want to see. The bare truth here is that most women handle the fully exposed male mind about as well as a 25-year-old man handles re-runs of the Golden Girls. The good stuff women want to see is present in his mind, but the other things residing there can cause a lot of misunderstanding.

The other side of the sword, showing what happens in a woman's mind and how she reacts to words, actions, and situations, was an intractable problem for me. I needed help, transcending what a test reader can provide.

I was polishing my fourth book. More than half of this story comes from the heroine’s point of view. It was time for me to learn to write a woman's thoughts, actions, and emotions, including a lot of romance. Again, my wife rolled her eyes and laughed. I understood why.

The way I saw it, I had two choices. 

One was to read a lot of books written by women and study the heroine’s point of view—a long process. But I had taken up writing fiction after retiring. My years of writing are limited, and I certainly didn’t plan to get a PhD in women’s psychology before writing a romantic novel. I needed a short cut, a really short one.

I met an author-editor, a woman, at a writing conference and scheduled a session with her to help me through a couple of problem pages in my WIP. Immediately, I saw that she was a person who could help me. 


I hired her to do a thorough, in-depth critique of the entire manuscript, with special emphasis on the romance scenes. When she sent my MSS back to me, it had detailed comments throughout, explaining what my heroine should do, feel, and think, and explaining how I had made her sound neurotic or immature at times. I learned more in the month of rewriting this manuscript than I would have learned in five years of reading other people’s novels.

The editor who helped me is Christina Berry Tarabochia.

For the writers who may be reading this article, if you struggle with writing romance, especially characters of the opposite sex, my recommendation is to find someone who will critique your book deeply enough to show you the problems in the way you portray the opposite sex. Pay them—it’s well worth it. You can learn a lot in a short period of time.

It would've been interesting to put in this post some of the before-and-after scenes from my heroine’s POV, but it would've simply become far too long. I’m sure it would have gotten some laughs.


Dora here. What about you?
Have you encountered a particular challenge in your writing?
How did you overcome that challenge?


Purchase Link
A computer security breach within a US defense contractor’s firewalls leads investigators, Lee Brandt and beautiful, brilliant Jennifer Akihara, onto the cyber-turf of terrorists, where they are detected and targeted for elimination. Lee leads them on a desperate and prayer-filled flight for survival into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Will Jennifer’s pursuit of truth about the conspiracy, and the deepest issues of life, lead her into the clutches of terrorists, into the arms of Lee Brandt, or into the arms of the God she deems untrustworthy? 

H. L. Wegley served in the USAF as an Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. He is a Meteorologist who worked as a Research Scientist in Atmospheric Physics at Pacific Northwest Laboratories. After earning an MS in Computer Science, he worked more than two decades as a Systems Programmer at Boeing before retiring in the Seattle area, where he and his wife of 46 years enjoy small-group ministry, their seven grandchildren, and where he pursues his love of writing. 

HLWegley.com
The Weather Scribe
A climate of suspense and a forecast of stormy weather

12 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Harry.

    You wrote, "The good stuff women want to see is present in his mind, but the other things residing there can cause a lot of misunderstanding."

    I get that, but I'd like to know more of your thoughts on the way women portray men in romance. Do we make them too wimpy/sensitive sometimes, or do women do a reasonably good job in portraying a man? Are there things/attitudes you would recommend (keeping in mind romances are mostly read by women)?

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    1. I've read several books from DiAnn Mills, Lynette Eason, and Terri Blackstock. Women authors with their experience do a reasonable job of telling the story from the man's POV. What they show will resonate with women but... Let's cut to the chase -- a man's first response when meeting an attractive woman is highly visual, more so than women might believe. If she's helpless and in danger, the attraction is even stronger. With a man's protective instincts, he will be ready to march into battle for her. Once he sees she's arrogant, selfish, or has other abrasive character flaws, the attraction can turn on a dime. But it usually takes a little time observing her before the man is repelled by the bad stuff. I would recommend that women authors show a little of the visual attraction, perhaps frequent glances that show the man's interest. If this is done in deep POV, then you should add some internal thoughts the man is having. Watch an old Hollywood movie where a group of guys are talking about the attractive woman they all just met. Listen to their comments. They will initially talk about what they saw, not who they saw. They usually get the man's POV right. But, keep in mind, this could be a turn off to some women readers.

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    2. Very insightful, Harry. Thanks. As I said, romance is read mostly by women, so I can see where "the truth" might need to be toned down. :-) But it's good to get it from the male perspective.

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    3. Great question, Sandra!

      Really interesting post, Harry. I appreciate you sharing your experience and perspective. My crit partners have told me that I do well writing in the male POV, but they're women. LOL I do think you're right that female readers might not want to know what all takes place in the male mind. And because men are so visual, we also have to be careful to tone some things down when writing for the Christian market.

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    4. Dawn, You're right about toning things down. I tried the opposite once, making a "caricature" of the hero's thoughts when the beautiful heroine walks into the room. The right and left sides of his brain get into a internal-dialogue argument about his reaction. I thought it was hilarious. None of the women who read it found any humor. The whole scene had to be rewritten before Hide and Seek was published.

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  2. Great info, Harry! I struggle with making my female lead too perfect, too. But you're right, those imperfections help readers able to relate to her. And it's a great idea to get test readers of the opposite sex. I'll have to find some guys that like to read my genre.

    BTW - your comment, " ... I learned that the strong male responses of my hero must be toned down, only showing a subset of his thoughts, the ones women want to see," is probably a good idea in life as well as writing. LOL!

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    1. I agree about real life. We all have initial reactions to people, but they aren't nearly as important as the reactions that are going to last.

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  3. Love this post, Harry, and the way you presented it. Also, what an awesome reminder of the value of networking at conferences and working with a talented editor to address our problem areas! (Pssst...Annette, sending you a cyber hug of thanks! Love my awesome PBG editors!!)

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    1. Thanks so much for hosting me, Dora!
      Gotta' run now. The teen-age girl from my previous story is all grown up now and boy is she in trouble. She needs the help of some bug-eyed, over-protective hero. :)
      Hope you have a meaningful Good Friday and a joyous Resurrection Day celebration.

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  4. Harry, thanks so much for the shout-out! I had a great time working through your manuscript and slapping your hero around. ;)

    My critique group is all females, but we are skewed the wrong way. Our male characters are always easier to write and more fun to read than our females. We're working on that. LOL

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    1. You are so welcome, Christina! I'll send you a copy of the epilogue some time so you can see how the story finally ended. No big surprises, but hopefully a bit more satisfying for my heroine and for women readers.

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