Writing the opposite sex

Men are my favorite part of romance novels and hands down my preferred characters to write.  Why?  I grew up around men, never had any sisters, and because of that, tend to be bewildered when it comes to certain female behaviors.  For example, I take less than a minute to order off a restaurant menu. When I go to the hair salon, I’ll chop my hair off on a whim and not cry about it later.  And yes, handbags the size of houses are just plain odd. 

Stereotypes aside though, I do love romance novels (a decidedly feminine interest, or so I’m told).  In a well-written romance sexual tension and witty repartees cannot be beat and although the experience hinges on a relatable  heroine, the hero should tantalize the reader.  Otherwise we’d be reading chick-lit wherein bad boyfriends with bad teeth and bad manners reign and maybe, just cross your fingers, the heroine is slightly happier in the end.  (OK, chick-lit is not that bad.  BJD and the like were very, very good.)

More often than not, creating compelling male characters results from toeing the male pov line, which next to your complicated heroine’s brain should be refreshingly simple.   Heroes are action oriented beings, moving the plot along at a quickfire pace until confronted with the sole problem they cannot conquer and immediately solve: lust and subsequent love for the heroine.  Rationality doesn’t work in dismissing the hero’s interest just as flat out charm fails in gaining the heroine’s affection.   They must fight and fight dirty to end up happily ever after. 

This is where writing by gender (or switching it up) comes into play.  Vexing the heroine is a beloved sport and the hero often accomplishes this with masculine observations, i.e. vulgar and/or amusing honesty.   Although contemporary romance might be the exception, this direct manner of speech does not work so well with the historical heroine, no matter how feisty she may be.  Men can get away with so much more than women:  noncomittal grunts, the cliched pleated brow, the stalkerific yet somehow compelling stare.  They don’t even have to talk to get their point across!

Male characters also have freer license to act unreliably.  They can make demands without being regarded as high maintenance or bitchy.  They can be unbelievably rude, sexually frustrated, evasive, and dense without these flaws overshadowing their character.  Display this behavior in a woman and many readers are going to assume there’s something imbalanced about her. 

But the most rewarding aspect of male characters is that you, the writer, can forget using all adverbs and many adjectives, throw out vague modifiers, and stick with strong verbs.  “Would you kindly step aside?” becomes “Get out of my way!” and so on.   There’s also the fact that men get to bellow and bark, which is a minor cherry on top. 

Now Get Working:

Writer’s Digest has a great article to jump start your thinking on “How to Write Intriguing Male and Female Characters.”  For reference, I also like to read work by alpha dogs like Hemingway and then scale back degrees from there in terms of speech and observation.  His style is sparse and to the point, some may even argue masculine at its best.

Hope you enjoyed!

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