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?

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