Ways Women Writers Can Improve the Way They Write Men

wimmer147All, Writing54 Comments

Guest post by Author D.B.Wimmer

I don’t read romance novels all that much. By that I mean, I don’t really read romance novels. I have tried to read them; I’ve read review after review of romance novels that have a hundred or more 5-star reviews, and despite reading the same book, I’ve come away very unimpressed. It’s not because I feel that the writing is sub-par (though many times it is) and not because I’m not a romantic guy underneath all of my super-macho sexy exterior (I am both ridiculously sexy AND romantic, natch.) Most times it is because the way women writers portray their men is . . . terrible. Or at the very least, grossly inaccurate.

The excuse many women authors use to defend their made-up males is that they are just “fantasy” men the way they wish their men were: muscly, square-jawed, sensual men. Men who are sensitive, strong, and notice all of the little things . . . scratch that. They notice everything and know just what to say to make a girl swoon and feels just as at ease on the dance floor as on the battlefield. By that metric, male authors should be able to write their women characters that happily give sex on demand, are always the picture of beauty and sexiness, and do whatever men say with a giggle and a jiggle.

I’m oversimplifying of course, but I do so to make a point.

When writing, do you strive for veracity in your male characters? Do you want them to feel real? Do you want readers to feel the characters are so real they come alive in their minds? The hope behind these posts is to offer some insights into the male mind so you, as a writer, can write male characters that not only titillate but resonate. If you’re still with me, then take a look at this first post and see if you’re guilty of Sin #1. Also, for the purposes of these posts, our male character will be named Eric, while we’ll call the female character Amber. So here we go.

The Fatal Flaw

Your Male Characters Are Muscular Rainmen 

Eric notices every little thing about Amber: her delicate fingers, her eye color, and that adorable beauty mark. He remembers her fragrance (always sweet, never sour), all of her favorite things, and the adorable way she gets the hiccups when she giggles too much.

This little number is a trigger for me to start skimming. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but men do not notice every little thing about women. Even astonishingly attractive women get a generalized assessment. Eric waxing poetic in his head about the curvature of the folds of Amber’s ear lobes and how they blend perfectly into the side of her porcelain face happens exactly zero percent of the time. Nope. It’s a cute little idea, but no.

When most men see a woman, the first thing they register in their manly minds is whether the woman is attractive. It is that simple. Married or single, it doesn’t matter; that’s the first thing. It is not even specific to her chest, face or other body part; it’s general. Mind you, I did not say he decides whether he is attracted to her or not. That is an entirely different thing altogether. Simply put, is she pleasing to his senses? To put a finer point on this vague topic, when I first met my wife and for a matter of months afterward, I couldn’t tell you what her eye color was to save my life. THIS IS A WOMAN I EVENTUALLY MARRIED and I had to make a conscious effort to notice and remember her eye color. That is not hyperbole. I still get nervous when I get quizzed about her eye color.

In a potentially romantic encounter, men don’t see a woman for the first time and memorize all the important details. Men see a woman for the first time and remember how that female makes them feel. Men won’t remember a single thing about how your hair perfectly frames your face. So what do they remember?

How about “do I like her?” Takes you back to passing notes in grade school, doesn’t it? “Check this box if you like me, check this box if you don’t.”

It gets deeper than that, but not much. A man might see a woman who has everything in place. Her hair, nails, clothing, makeup, shoes, purse, jewelry, fragrance, are all perfect (to his liking.) He doesn’t remember 98% of that. He remembers, “I like her a lot.”

Compare it to a work of art. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people who look at a beautiful painting would recognize its overall beauty and worth without noticing every little detail that goes into it. Most wouldn’t notice the subtle brush strokes or the specific kind of medium used. Not many would know how long the artist took to make it; the number of tries it took before he/she got it right. Only a few would understand the use of masterful texturing and the subtle use of shadow and light to draw the eye.

That’s how a man sees a woman for the first time. He sees her as a whole person, makes his initial assessment and uses it until there is some interaction. It’s at that interaction point the first impression is altered for better or for worse through dialogue and actions.

Ok, so now what? How do you translate that onto the written page? Good question.

So How Do I Fix It?

First thing you do is stop writing page after page of the man’s interior monologue where he comments to himself on what exquisitely beautiful aquamarine eyes your female character has. That isn’t happening. Nope. Stop opening your mouth to argue. It doesn’t. As a matter of fact, a man’s interior monologue should be minimal if any at all. The simple reason is that we just don’t have that much in our heads. Don’t overcomplicate our brains. Unless we have something to think about, we simply don’t think.

Next thing you should do is show the reader through the male character’s actions what he is feeling. I say feeling because once again, thinking for men is an on demand activity not a constant one. Show the reader how attracted he is to your female character by his mannerisms, his speech, and his smile or smirk. Show it by how he treats her and acts around her. In essence, show the reader that a boy likes a girl the same way you know how a boy likes a girl.

It sounds simple, but I’m always surprised by how many romance novels fill a man’s head with fancy words and ideas, some even extending into minor existentialism: “Never before had I seen such a beautiful being. If she were to but kiss me once, I’d die a happy man.” Stop that. That’s just silly.

Instead, keep his thoughts simple, as they should be.

The Example

I sit down on the lounge sofa, giving my feet a much needed rest from a long day at the office. I untie my tie and loosen the collar of my shirt, folding it twice over on the black marble table in front of me. I sink back into the sofa and close my eyes.

“Long day?” A voice came, awaking me from my relaxed state. My eyes pop open and focus on a girl now crouching near me, order pad in her hand. Fugitive locks of her auburn hair swing down into her face before she pushes them back behind her ear.

I clear my throat and sit up straighter, although the soft caress of the leather couch encourages me to stay down. “Something like that,” I reply, blinking the sleep from my eyes as I attempt a smile.

She’s . . . beautiful.

“Can I get you anything?” She asks. Her eyes glance around the room assessing the other patrons.

 

It can be said that the man in this passage has only a single stated thought. Only one piece of interior monologue. Even still, we know much about him by what he does. He is a white collar working man (the tie and shirt.) He either has a stressful job or one where he works long hours, and since he goes to a lounge/bar after work rather than home, he’s likely single. Also, he thinks this girl taking his order is beautiful. Point being, you don’t need to know his thoughts to know him. Many women (like men) like a little mystery in their dating rituals. The way they are written should be no different.


About the Author

wimmer147

This is part one in a series of posts attempting to shed light on how the male brain works in order to enable more female authors to portray their male characters more realistically in fiction. If there are other things you’d like discussed email the author at douglas@douglasbwimmer.com. Suggestions and comments are always welcome.

54 Comments on “Ways Women Writers Can Improve the Way They Write Men”

  1. Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for writing this! I had that feeling that my male characters were thinking too woman-like. I haven’t yet put this in practice, but I really think it will help a lot.
    (Just in case this makes your eyes bleed, sorry; English it’s not my first language :P)

    1. Thanks Mica, I’m grateful for D.B. Wimmer’s insight too. And I appreciate you taking the time to let us know. I know and respect that every person thinks differently, but there’s no harm in getting a few ideas from the opposite gender.

  2. I definitely agree with your point about unrealistic characters. I hate romance novels (with the exception of the classics… thank you Jane Austen!) for this reason alone. And the bad writing, but let’s face it, bad writing and bad characters usually go hand in hand.

    I question whether all men’s brains literally “shut down” though. I don’t doubt that that’s a common thing, I just think it probably depends upon a lot of variables, one of them being personality type. I honestly can’t imagine someone with Ne-Ti (i.e. INTP, ENTP) ever shutting down their brain to be honest, though I have no doubt they could just stop noticing literally everything about them because they’re busy living in their own little worlds.

    But being oblivious because of not thinking, and being oblivious because of thinking of a hundred different things at a rate of 200mph are two very different things.

    1. So true, Abigail. I agree it depends on the personality and circumstance, and even genre. I must say, that since Douglas wrote this, I’m still constantly curious and on the hunt for real responses men give when they meet a woman. I’m one of those lurkers you see in coffee houses, spying on conversations. I think I’ll never understand, lol. But it’s great to think about it differently.

  3. I think a point has been missed here. Romance novels aren’t for men. There’s
    A reason women read them and love the male characters and it’s not something I would expect a man to understand. Especially the man the author of this article explains. Any man who looks at a women and his first assessment is how attractive he finds her without a reason as to why is not an overly interesting character. Overall the man you would have women write just isnt interesting. For the record I’m not into romance novels, but I understand why some are. Also I have a hard time with the reality of women and men being written differently at all. It’s about the humanity, not the gender.

  4. Thank you for this article. I am not writing a romance novel, but there are if course men in it no matter the genre. I really appreciate this input, it helped since I am not a man and how simply never personally experienced what one thinks.

  5. This article has been really helpful for me as I have been working on a novel from the male perspective. The big mistake I tend is giving my male characters too much internal dialogue. This was a great reminder of how important the show don’t tell rule is especially with male characters. I also appreciate you pointing out how most males do not notice specifics about appearances. I was using my males perspective to give the reader a sense of what my female characters, and reading this made me notice that this was making my male character come off as too feminine. Since then I have been focusing more on letting my male characters actions define his character and it has made my writing so much stronger! My other big struggle with my male character is I don’t want him to be a cliche of a male. In books men tend to be insensitive, unfeeling, and angry characters because that is how men can come off to us females who don’t understand what its like to think like a man. I want my male character to have dimension, to have the capacity to be caring and patient, and to experience deep emotions. So my big question is how to portray those typically more feminine emotions in my male characters while still keeping them masculine.

    1. Sounds like you’re writing a great book! I hear you about the mysteries of the male. From what I’m gathering, it’s all a perspective thing. What one person thinks is a great male character, others might not. As to showing the softer side, I love mixing up my cliche’s – so I can make a surly plumber also show his softer side by fostering rescue dogs. Good luck with your writing!

  6. Ok.
    1. Most men are probably not searching blogs to get tips on how to realistically portray men, so you aren’t going to get a lot of comments from men on here. If that is enough to invalidate the opinions of the commenters in your mind, you were looking for a reason anyway.

    2. When women see an attractive man for the first time we feel the impact first as well. And we don’t usually spend much time thinking about why or what tiny details are going on until after the encounter is over. So yes, we get that when a guy meets a girl it’s sometimes just a rush of, “Omg, I like.”

    And you know what, after a first few stories that would get really boring.

    2. When you are engrossed in something you don’t realise you are thinking about it. And most people certainly aren’t thinking about what they are thinking. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and when one person meets another they remember really odd and strangely precise details. What those details are vary from person to person and even from one encounter to another.

    3. So could you not find a way to improve the portrayal of the muddle and lack of self awareness and constantly ongoing stream of thought that all human beings experience from the male perspective, without writing an entire blog to basically say, “Omg, you’re women. You can’t possibly write a man’s mind. You just can’t understand us.”

    4. And yes the bubbly bimbo you described had been portrayed in pretty much everything marketed to men for pretty much all of known history. Why do you think they had to change the female characters in action movies and porn to get female viewers.

    And really hun, most guys think women are overly sensitive for complaining about the women in pornos, then complain about the guys in romance novels.

  7. Thanks so much for this break down! Even though I’m not writing a romance genre, it does have a romance in it and your explanations are very insightful and have really uncomplicated things for me. Really appreciated.

  8. Ha ha the comments are better than the ‘man-opinion’ stuff he wrote. Go Martine and Semper.

  9. From someone who is trying to write from a mans point of view this was a big help. Just wanted to say thanks and that I understand what you mean about men not having an internal monologue in their heads. I’ll use this. Thank you 🙂

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  11. My friend and I have been writing a fantasy (not a romance novel) for some time now and have been wanting to portray the male characters in a realistic light. We both have brothers, but trying to write from that perspective has proven more difficult than it seemed. This is perfect. Thank you!

  12. I’m really cracking up here. One good article on how men mentally react to women (by a guy) and virtually EVERY disagreeing comment on here is from a woman. *chuckle* I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in that.

    Great article, Mr. Wimmer! Much enjoyed reading it.

    P.S. For all of you who interpreted the article as “men don’t think”, go back and re-read it.

    1. Totally. And I may be teen but I dont agree with any of the things these women are saying. Why read this article if you dont care? Men and women think differently, so does a dog and a cat. People say men are dogs and women are cats, I’m not sure but that could be because they’re different. I found this article to be hilarious and correct. Men are different than women. If I looked at a man and pictured him thinking “Never before had I seen such a beautiful being. If she were to but kiss me once, I’d die a happy man.” I would die laughing. It just doesn’t seem like something a male would think. It sounds completely fake. Again, I’m only a 16 year old chick but come on!

  13. Did you seriously just come in here and mansplain romance novels? After blatantly admitting that you don’t even know anything about the genre? A genre written BY women FOR women? NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU THINK.

    Hey, can I get a man’s opinion on tampons? I know you don’t know anything about them and aren’t interested in them, but I really feel like we women would really benefit from a *man’s* perspective.

    “By that metric, male authors should be able to write their women characters that happily give sex on demand, are always the picture of beauty and sexiness, and do whatever men say with a giggle and a jiggle.”

    That actually IS how men portray women basically constantly.

  14. I think it’s definitely according to the man. I think men who are writers, musicians, and other artist types are definitely more observant of others (including women) and their surroundings.

    1. He never said we weren’t CAPABLE of it. He just pointed out that we do it when we WANT to, not just because it’s the only thing running through our heads.

  15. So was Shakespeare like the exception to this rule? Last time I read Romeo and Juliet it was Romeo waxing literally poetic about Juliet, in an inner monologue. What about Da Vinci, Newton, Einstein? Nothing was going on in their heads? I get this article is being general, and that for most guys its about their senses and not intellectual thought, but still…we’re these historical geniuses just freaks of nature?You’re telling me Mozart didn’t notice small details? Or do men only notice small details about things only they find important, ie not women?

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  17. Thank you for this! This is great advice! I’m currently writing my own story (not a romance) from a man’s point of view, and I find myself often wondering “How does a guy REALLY think in this situation?!” Now I know . . . or am starting to.

  18. I have to disagree. I think some men may be just like you said, but my husband is observant of everything around him. A woman’s eyes is one of the first thing he notices about them. Of course he is an artist and that may have a lot to do with it. I wish I was as observant as he is. It would make me a better writer of descriptions.

    1. Honestly I believe all these comments and this guys article are all correct. You just have to comprimise some things. I believe that some people are more observant than others, and some people focus on thier thoughts more often than others, male or female. most of the time romance novels are crap. But every once in a while there is some savior, who- (yes, writes a detailed thinking man sometimes, but he still has simple action based dialouge as well) but makes he story based on the plot of action or some other genre mixed in. There are observant artists in the world, male and female, and I believe that those kind of people DO notice details at first sight. But there are some people, like in his article, that yes, observe everything quickly at a fast paced glance, and then varify without even thinking; “woah, pretty.” I believe it all depends on who you are, or what your character is and what kind of genre youre writing.

      1. You’re absolutely right, Lily. The more I learn, the more I realise that even the romance heroes who are not realistic have a purpose in that genre. And I write romance now and love it. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  19. Before I really delved into the writing world, I worked full time as a child advocate for at risk kids. Because of that, I choose to invest in brain research so that I could not only see where these kids were coming from, but also what a happy, healthy brain is supposed to look like on a PET scan. I’ve been at it for almost 10 years and no matter what new information is released, or what study is done, or what findings are recorded… it all boils down to this:

    Male and female brains are wired very (very!) differently.

    All of the women who posted naysayer comments can argue all they want; it doesn’t change the fact that men’s brains are different from women’s. They react differently. They see the world differently. They view a problem differently. Their brains are just different.

    The reason women have a hard time with this is because the only viewpoint they’ve ever had is their own. Because something is so, is-a-five-pound-robin fat obvious to them, then it must be obvious to a man. After all, her eyes are right there. Right there! How can he not notice those beautiful blues? Alas, the males in fantasy books are just fantasy.

    To drive this point home, a man’s brain shuts down (literally turns off, literally not thinking, literally nothing going on up there) a bunch of times during the day. A woman’s brain never shuts off. Never. Never ever. Therefore, it makes sense that women would have more inner dialogue.

    Try this… I double dog dare you, next time you see your husband/boyfriend staring off into space, ask them, “What are you thinking about?” I can guarantee you that their answer will be, “Nothing.” There is no reason to get angry with them or accuse them of lying. They aren’t dreaming about the way your lips caressed their skin or how your dress twirled around on the dance floor. If you were to scan their brain at that moment, it would indeed show “nothing.” (Women, I know it’s hard to understand, but it’s true. Take a deep breath, grab a pint, and a romantic comedy. Then cry your pretty ocean aqua blue eyes that glimmer in the moonlight to sleep.)

    However, with that said, it doesn’t mean that a man can’t be kind, caring, sweet, and romantic. After all, they do still having feelings (even if they don’t share them.) They just express them differently than a woman would.

    Now, get over it.

    Sheesh.

  20. I know exactly what you’re talking about and I’m female. Despite being a romantic, I find myself picking up novels and going “ha! No sane man thinks like this.” Personally, that never fails to ruin it for me. Guys CAN be romantic, my brother has proven that, they’re just not as sappy and given to rhapsodizing as the bulk of romance writers want us to pretend.

  21. I might be in the minority here, Douglas, but I agree with your points. This might sound blindingly stupid, but guys are wired differently, whether some of us want to admit it or not. I’m female, and I’ve had the same experience you’ve had with romance novels. So far the ones I’ve read are extremely unrealistic, but I guess that’s the point. It’s a fantasy. You didn’t come across as contemptuous to me.

    A female writer can get away with that sort of thing in a romance novel, but in certain genres that’s just not going to work. I guess some folks don’t want to hear that. I once read a story written by a female writer in which the main character, a rough tough Jack Reacher type, was sitting at an open air cafe waiting for someone. It was well established that he was a capable, take charge guy. And let me say right now, this was a thriller, not a romance. Anyway, Mr. Macho saw a woman. He was interested in her. What I found jarring is that he sat there thinking about what nice clothes she had on. A guy like that would have focused on her boobs or legs first, but no, he liked the cut of her clothes and even wondered where she bought them from! This went on for a page at least. Very jarring and took me right out of the story, especially since this MC had no problem using violence and definitely was not gender neutral. I even wondered how the editor let this pass. I read the rest of the book and sure enough there were more lapses like that one. Totally OOC.

    I appreciate your advice and this article. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Laverne. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. While, in romance books you can certainly get away with more fluffing up the male perspective, and indeed there are those men out there who are romantic, I agree that the average Joe is a little different than women.

  22. I wrote a post about gender in response to all the ‘how do I write a man as a women and how do I write women as a man’ and as someone who identifies as neither, you write a person first. There isn’t a whole lot of difference.

    1. Hi Cait, you have a point there. I definitely found that I’ve been over thinking things when writing from the male POV. I love Douglas’s tips for insight into ways a man thinks, but I’d also love to see your post. Feel free to provide a link so we can all share another viewpoint on this topic.

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  24. That’s great to know, but it isn’t men who are reading the romances where all men are “muscly, square-jawed, sensual men. Men who are sensitive, strong, and notice all of the little things”. It’s women, who are in loving but often unromantic relationships with men who only think to parrot ‘I love you’ when prompted. They call it women’s fantasy for a reason.

    1. Point well taken, Jessa. I am aware that the primary audience for romance is women, and as such I may be speaking out of turn. I did try to preface the article with the query, “Do you strive for veracity in your male characters?” and if the focus of romance is fantasy, for some that may be a question that doesn’t need answering.

  25. Well Wimmer147, I have a problem with this. Articles like this coming from people who “don’t really read romance novels” tend to touch a nerve for me. Yes, many men I know have no idea what colour my hair is. In fact, they wander around, completely oblivious to the people they’re with, and only respond to their own need for attractiveness. However, luckily for me, I happen to know many men who are artists themselves and notice the slightest details. Your article assumes that romances are written for the male reader, and that women writers as you call us, should write real men. It also assumes women write their heroes with a lack of honest characterisation. In most cases, romances are not written for men. If the hero responds in an unrealistic way, the reader will let the writer know they’ve written a ridiculous character. Sorry, but it’s the truth. And for the record, regardless of the gender of the character or the genre, no character is well-written when there is extended interior monologues or introspection. But that’s just my opinion.

    1. Hi Georgia. I understand where you are coming from and you are right. Coming from someone who prefaces their blog post with “I don’t really read romance novels,” much of this may sound like it’s coming from a place of contempt or at the very least, inexperience. That’s fair. My thought in writing this is that while romance novels are primarily written for women, I do enjoy a good romance as long as the characters are well written and believable. In my experience with romance, those are few and far between, so this blog post was born. It’s very possible I’m just reading the wrong books or haven’t found an author or authors who weave the realistic romance I’m imagining. It’s also quite possible that since the genre isn’t one that caters to males in general, I may be out of luck. However, I agree as well that interior monologues in excess are a sign of a weak and underdeveloped character. Also, if I’ve misused the term “women writers,” I apologize. As I’ve seen it used on social media and other places, there was no derogatory connotation, so I thought it fair to use.

  26. Thank you, Ashley! Happy you enjoyed and got some value out of it. I can understand that, and there’s definitely a large section of the female writer populace that does thrive on exactly that fantasy male idea. I think that’s great! However, I’ve a suspicion there’s a sizable audience out there that would appreciate a little more realism in their romantic lead as well.

  27. I love they way you wrote this, its true yet humorous! I think most women want a guy to notice every little thing about them in real life, so that is how they write them.

    1. Lol. I definitely know men who can think for longer than three words too. I think it’s fascinating to see how each different person reacts to different life situations, and am very grateful Douglas gave us an insight into one of those scenarios. Thanks for your comment, and I welcome your input.

    2. Hi Eirenehogan! I agree. I think that most men are very capable of thinking for longer than three words. No question. The idea I was (perhaps somewhat clumsily) trying to convey was that in general, the male mind is not a constant stream of thought as it tends to be portrayed in romance as well as fiction in general. It coasts along until there is something important or something that requires the larger gears to crank into action, at which point it churns until it’s solved the problem or the situation is concluded. This isn’t a slight on intelligence or capability, just a difference in how the inner workings do their processing. Given, this is only my viewpoint as I can only draw from my experiences and those I come into contact with, so opinions naturally will vary. However, I think it’s a valid point of view.

      1. Wow, men insist they’re not dummies or neanderthals, yet, after an article like this, one has to wonder. Gotta love a man who says they don’t pay attention to women, BUT, and here is the really important part. Men DO pay attention to things like cars, computers, sports, etc. Why is that I wonder. Maybe because those things are important to them. You wouldn’t catch a man glossing over a sports game or a suped up car engine. Men can recite every sports statistic for their favorite football, basketball, baseball and Nascar hero. Men can tell you every single aftermarket improvement they put on their Camaro, Mustang, Dodge Ram or Ford F150, yet, they can’t remember the color of their wife’s eyes?? Men need to stop telling women they don’t think, that nothing is going through their minds and simply admit that they just don’t feel like sharing their thoughts with a woman. Men think! And if they are quiet, they are thinking really hard about something that is at the top of their list, work, cars, sports, sex, take your pick. They may not think like the men in romance novels, but they do think and to claim otherwise insults our intelligence.

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