This past Sunday was just another day until I got an email telling me I was a finalist in the Rose City (Portland) RW Golden Rose contest. Woo-hoo! Talk about making my weekend!
The coordinator sent back my entries with scores and judges comments. As typically happens, there was one judge who loved it, one who thought it was pretty good, and another who thought it was so-so.
As I read through the comments, though, I was struck by one in particular. At the beginning of my book, when Nate and Susannah meet, he makes what I think is a very “typically male” observation of Susannah.
Here’s the setup – they’re in Hookham’s Circulating Library and Nate has approached Susannah. He’s taken with her, but she’s not that interested in him, yet he can’t (or won’t) make himself scarce, as she’s asked him to.
“Good gracious.” She put her free hand on her heaving chest and Nate’s mind descended into licentiousness. Wouldn’t he like it to be his hand on her heaving chest? His manhood certainly thought so.
“I believe I asked you to withdraw.” Her voice was as prim as his former governess’s.
It took the equivalent effort of a thousand men to drag his eyes away from her breasts and to her face. Somehow, he managed.
The judge made this comment:
“Is her bosom truly that spectacular, covered up as they are? This might be a natural reaction from a middle-school boy seeing a large-breasted woman topless for the first time, but a well-seasoned rake shouldn’t be quite so impressed.”
Um, Nate’s a guy, right?
I took an unofficial poll of male friends who were willing to answer my questions (there weren’t many, probably because I’m friends with their wives) and the resounding opinion of these men (all heterosexual) is that if a woman has breasts, and in particular, if she has exposed cleavage, they’re GOING to look. They will be drawn to them like moths to a flame.
And it turns out there might be some truth to that. Dr. Larry Young, a social neuroscience researcher, and Brian Alexander, proposed in 2012 that men are drawn to women’s breasts because of bonding.
When a woman has a baby and nurses, oxytocin is released, which promotes a deep connection between the mother and child. The researchers think that men are biologically driven to achieve the same sort of bond with a woman. Men are drawn to women’s breasts because stimulating them during intercourse will release oxytocin, as well. “This hormone is also responsible for creating the evolutionary drive for strong nurturing bonds between lovers, according to the authors.”
Whether this science is right or not, I have no idea. But it sounds good.
This begs the question of whether what I wrote about Nate and his gravitational pull to Susannah’s breasts is overkill. I don’t think so.
I got dinged from several readers early on for making Nate too “girly” in what he says and does. So I doubled back and tried to “think like a guy.” But I’m not sure I’ve gone far enough!
According to the Gender Guesser, a free online tool which guesses the gender of the person writing, there’s still a girl at work (me!). At Gender Guesser, paste in at least 300 words from your manuscript (the more the better), and find out whether it seems a girl or a guy wrote it. (Hint: if you’re writing the male POV, you want it to seem like a guy wrote it!)
Historical and paranormal romance author Moirah Densley blogged about writing like a man. Her post is well worth reading. Some of her suggestions to adopt a more “male” POV include:
- Read more books written by men
- Observe men – what they say, what they do, and especially what they don’t say
- Study research about gender differences. Learn how a man’s brain works, study interviews of men, and find out what affects male behavior
- Edit your manuscript until it sounds like a man. Go for pragmatic, big-picture problem solving instead of emotional reactions.
So while that judge thought Nate’s preoccupation with Susannah’s breasts was overkill, I’m starting to think it’s not enough. I need to take a good look at Nate, what he says, how he acts, and what he does to make sure that when I’m in his POV, it really is a guy readers are seeing – not a girl in guy’s clothing.
What challenges have you had writing the male POV? Anything you’ve learned that you can share?