What's so funny about that?
Photo Caption: ‘cognitive dissidence’:
Writing a Blaze in a Blizzard.
I write romantic comedy and meta-romances (romances about romances) because I don’t believe a man can actually write a genuine genre romance! (I consider imprints like Love Inspired and Harlequin Romance to be ideal examples of genuine genre romances. )
I won’t even read male romance authors.
“What’s the point”?
Since I read romances to gain insights into the machinations of the female mind, reading a male author would not make any sense. Of course, I’ve read one or two romances by male authors (with ambiguous pen names) but I believe I have always caught them out. It seems that with these authors I always have a, “No women would ever say this!”, experience.
A few males do write ‘romance-like’ novels, I’m thinking of Nicolas Sparks, but these attempts are a long way from being genuine genre romances.
Three Things Men Need to Know to Write Genuine Genre Romances
Men need to know:
1. what women want and find sexy in a hero.
2. what type of ‘romantic behavior’ women want and why this is so important.
3. how a female feels as she gradually becomes romantically interested in a male.
While the first point above may be difficult to ascertain, the knowledge is possible assuming that women want what women should want in a hero from the point of view of ‘natural selection’.
The second point is almost impossible for a man to discover without a through understanding of how women think and look at life. Since many men believe that the romantic behavior women prize so highly is mostly just ‘female silliness’, they are not in a position to learn what they need to know. The very idea of a ‘feminine mystique’ would seem to relieve men of the responsibility of even trying to understand women.
The third point is totally impossible. Men always know their exact state of interest in a female: there is no need for heat, curling toes, jelly knees or flip-flopping stomachs. In one sense, all these female sensations are foreign to a male.
Given these three levels of difficulty which a man faces in writing a genuine genre romance, I don’t think men can actually do it.
The Difference Between Men and Women and the Difference it Makes
While ‘Political Correctness’ would have us believe that there is very little difference between men and women (and what is different is a result of culture and not biology), men and women a polar opposites in some important ways.
Males are capable of fathering hundreds of children in a lifetime. Females are restricted to only a dozen or so children. In a biological sense, males have two approaches to successfully passing their genes to the next generation.
(1) Have as many sex partners as possible and hope enough of the offspring survive until they are old enough to reproduce.
(2) Stay with one (or just a few females) and help raise a far fewer number of offspring with the hope that a greater number will survive to reproduce themselves given this extra attention.
I believe that males have all the biological urges to follow choice (1) but social evolution has proven that option (2) seems to work best in insuring a male’s genes are passed to the next generation.
What Men Universally Want in a Female
It is easy to discern what men want in a female. A recent survey found that, in all societies on earth (with no exceptions) men prefer younger females with promenade secondary sexual characteristics. Such females look healthy and seem more able to have viable offspring which they will also have the stamina to care for after birth. (Males did not sit down one day and figure this out. Nature selected for males who just naturally favored maternal looking females.)
What Women Want in a Male is More Complicated.
I should point out that I’m not talking here about ‘wants’ as in the sense of, “I want a new purse.” I’m talking about ‘wants’ that are hardwired into the female mind. These are wants so basic that no thought and no language is required for them to be expressed.. It’s like being thirsty and wanting water. No language is necessary to feel thirsty. Indeed these ‘wants’ were in place long before man developed language.
What Women Should Want in a Mate from a Biological POV.
When I first started my study of the romance genre, I set out to discover what women wanted in a hero. To this end I conducted a ‘thought experiment’ similar to the philosophical analyses I was trained to conduct in college. Here is what I concluded women should instinctively seek in a mate.
1. A big, strong, healthy, alpha-male, who is older and more experienced and who is therefore more capable of acquiring resources. (Probably by being a good hunter). An older male has proven he has survived a few winters. A bigger older male would also be expected to be better able to defend his mate and any offspring. To do this well the male should also be very protective of his mate and offspring. (This should make protective behavior seem sexy to the female).
2. An intelligent male. Next to physical strength, health and courage, intelligence has a paramount survival value. All things being equal, the smarter individual has a better chance of survival. A female should find intelligence sexy in a man.
3. A male who is nice to and protective of children. If a female is going to pass her genes to the next generation, she needs her children to survive until they are old enough to reproduce. A female cannot depend on having hundreds of offspring. She must insure that her children are provided for. As such, females should find being ‘kind to children’ sexy in a man.
4. A man with a sense of humor. A sense of humor is very high on the survival list. Males are often very much stronger than females. If a male goes into a rage, he could easily kill his mate and offspring within minutes. A male with a sense of humor has a safety valve to let off steam and is less likely to go into a rage in the first place. Women should find having a good sense of humor to be sexy in a man.
Surveys Have Confirmed My Findings
Over the years there have been several surveys about what women find sexy in a man. In all the surveys, which I have read, all four of the attributes I have listed above have appeared in these studies. Since I came up with my list before I read any surveys on the topic, I believe my list is both logical and defendable from a biological POV.
The only item above not often found in romance heroes is the sense of humor. I do feel this is a major gap in romances which authors could exploit. This is why I have created a list of 108 ways to show your hero has a sense of humor. (Richard Castle in “Castle” has a very good sense of humor.)
Julie Lessman is doing a great job showing how to add humor to romances in her two part series on the subject. Part I has been posted with Part II still to come.
The Female Advantage
Female writers have a big advantage over male romance writers. A woman writer will always get the female part down correctly at even the deepest levels. Furthermore, the female writer does not have to get the male exactly ‘right’. All she has to do is get the male ‘right’ in the eyes of her female readers.
The Male Disadvantage
The male writer has to get the heroine ‘right’ and that is almost impossible to do at all three levels. His advantage in having insider knowledge of the male mind actually is not much help in writing romances. A lot of genuine male behavior is not particularly attractive to women.
What Difference these Differences Make
Men understand love better than women and women understand romance better than men.
I know many women will think this is statement is wrong but consider this:
Love is not a feeling. Pain is a feeling. If you experience a sharp pain, which only lasts a few seconds, you still know that you felt pain. There is no doubt.
However, if you have a sharp feeling of love, which only lasts a few seconds (and then goes away), you would not say that you experienced love or that you were in love for those few seconds. Love is very different from a feeling.
Men know that love is actually a ‘set of expectations’. Love is not a feeling that a man needs to get ‘in touch with’.
For example, if a man tells a woman, “I love you,” this action creates dozens, if not hundreds, of obligations.
Saying “I love you to a woman” means:
I will help you move when you change apartments.
I will take your side in disputes.
I will pick you up at the airport.
I will visit your parents.
I will go places with you that I don’t want to visit.
I will fix your car if I am capable of doing that.
I will not date other women.
I am open to the idea of marrying you.
The above list can run into hundreds of obligations. Each obligation is a reason why a man is very reluctant to say, “I love you”. Saying these three little words opens the door for the woman to say: “If you loved me, you’d…”.
The Test of Love
If you want to know if you are in love you don’t have to check with your emotions. Simply ask yourself if you are ready to do all the things a person in love is expected to do. (‘Runaway Brides’ may have felt they were in love but when they took the time to ask the right questions, they decided they were not in love.)
Women Know the Importance of Romance
Photo Caption: “Serious Romantic Behavior”
While level 1 reveals what women find sexy in a hero, level 2 is also crucial in selecting a mate.
A female knows that an alphamale is of little value if he deserts her and her offspring when a younger female attracts his attention. Romantic behavior is not ‘silly women’s stuff’’ – it’s a matter of survival. Romantic behavior has a strong biological basis. However, in most cases, romantic behavior is not important to a male.
“The Big Things You Have to Do – It’s the Small Things that Determine Your Sincerity”.
From the POV of ‘mother nature the male’s job is to provide the big things: food, shelter, clothing and protection. A male thinks providing these basics is enough in most cases. He sees little value in romantic behavior. Men often like this joke: the husband tells his new bring, “I love you and if I change my mind, I let you know.”
What Women Want From A Hero
It is almost a cliché to say that mothers have warned their daughters that ‘men are dogs’ and ‘all men are after just one thing’. Women are told not to believe men when it is probable that they are just trying to have their way with them. How can a woman be sure a man is really interested in her as a person and not as a sex object? This is a very important question from a biological POV. Survival requires that mates stay around.
The Accoutrements of Romance
Women want to be loved, cherished, respected, desired, appreciated, envied and even lusted after. A woman also wants her man to be loyal and supportive. She wants to be taken seriously. It is also important that her man’s passion be such that it can only be satisfied by her and not any available woman. This passionate fixation on just one woman, the heroine, is very romantic and it also carries a strong survival value.
Romantic Behavior as Evidence of Real Love:
Paying attention to a woman shows a genuine interest in her as a person. An authentic lover should be interested in all aspects of his woman’s life. (For example: her hair, her perfume, her wants and desires). It is romantic to notice that a woman has changed her hair style or perfume or mode of dress. Not noticing these changes may be a sign of lack of interest or caring. (It is also very unromantic.)
A man is not ordinarily worried that his wife is going to run off and leave him with the kids. He doesn’t need or ask for romantic reassurances.
Romances Provide What Women Want
Romances are not primarily read to find out how the story ends. Romance readers know how the story is going to end. Romances are more like comfort food. Romance novels vicariously provide the female reader with the ‘romantic feelings’ she needs and may not be getting. Romances are like emotional vitamins. I believe romance novels are very healthy for women.
By vicariously becoming the heroine in a romance, the reader can experience the feelings of being loved, desired, cherished, respected, successful, envied and sexy. Unfortunately, as in eating chocolate, these comfort feelings wear off in a rather short time. The reader soon develops a craving for another romance. Indeed: romances can become addictive. The best romances writers know this and make concretive efforts to provide the reader with an abundance of these vicarious experiences.
(Consider all the scenes where other women look at the hero with envious eyes much to the joy of the heroine.)
The Importance of Respect
Respectful behavior is romantic. In modern romances it has become important to show that the hero is willing to stop at any point in the love making process. His respect for the heroine is stronger than any lust he is feeling at the time. Even more romantic is the hero who puts the heroine’s pleasure first. This is treating the female as being even more important than himself.
Sincerity Is More Important than the Behavior
Men don’t think much about romantic behavior. They don’t need it themselves. What little romantic actions they perform, they often do out of a sense of duty.
What men don’t understand is that if a woman has to ask for romance, (calling in the middle of the day just to say ‘I love you’) the romantic behavior by itself has no value as a genuine indication of affection.
Women are so good at writing romances that men have very little chance of competing with them at the level of being published.
Examples of Romantic Behavior:
“The Price of Victory” by Sandra Leesmith is one of the most ‘romantic’ books I’ve ever read. The hero does dozens of romantic things for the heroine because he is deeply in love with her. He is older and he knows what he wants.
From “The Price of Victory”
The heroine, Debra, thinks she cannot love Sterling, the hero, and still have a racing career. She is young and dedicated to her career.
The hero speaks:
“Being with me is right. Continuing your training is right. You’re trying to put logic into what your heart feels. That’s why you feel disoriented. What you need is to bring your heart into your mind.”
He brushed away her tear with a corner of her towel.
She looked deeply into his eyes, searching for the truth he always seemed to have at his fingertips. “I don’t understand.”
His smile warmed the chill inside. He guided her off the trainer and began walking with her around the room. “Tell me what you don’t understand.”
“How do you know all these things? How can you be so patient?”
“I’ve lived my dream. I’ve accomplished what I wanted to in racing. So I’m ready for other things.” He paused and pulled her around to face him. “You are just beginning. You must follow your own dreams. I understand that.”
“I know. Basically, that’s what I have been doing.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“What is it you truly desire? That is what you need to focus on.”
Sterling is a solid gold hero.
From “Yuletide Hearts” by Ruth Logan Herne.
“Callie snorted. Very unfeminine, but then that was the story of her life. Unloved. Unfeminine. Uncherished.”
In these few words we find the foundation of so much of the hero’s romantic actions. The hero, Matt, a former Marine, does all the things that Callie needs: he makes her feel feminine, loved, and cherished at many points in the story. He treats her son like is own but the piece de resistance is when Callie discovers he bought a $500 quilt that the family lost in their financial collapse.
Callie’s father Hank explains:
“Then things went bad and I couldn’t pay for the blanket, Maude hung on to it, and I went into town the other day to buy it.
“What’s this got to do with…”
“It was gone,” Hank continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Matt bought it for you. Maude said she wrapped it up real pretty. Said she knew he was smitten weeks ago and told him about the quilt, and he told her he was going to be sure Callie had the best Christmas ever.”
Tears pricked her eyes, but they were different tears. Tears of anticipation and hope, not anger. “He bought it for me?”
Matt is a true hero
“The Sweetest Gift” by Mary Connealy.
In this story, the hero is Graham a farmer and the heroine is Addie.
In the story the hero gives up what is very most important to him in order to give his new bride what is most valuable to her. This is about as romantic as it gets.
From “Oklahoma Reunion” by Tina Radcliffe
Kait is the heroine and Ryan is the hero. They are at a wedding reception for the hero and heroine of the last book,“ The Rancher’s Reunion.”
All eyes turned to him, but his gaze was on Kait.
She shivered again and wrapped her shawl closer around her arms.
Was it the breeze from the open tent flap, or was it Ryan’s eyes upon
her, his heart there for everyone to see?
“Today we are gathered to honor Annie and Will."
“Life is a short journey. If you can’t spend all your time riding your horse, you may as well spend it loving well. It’s not a surprise that guys have plenty discussions about life and love. But as you probably already guessed, we don’t know a darn thing about any of those topics, except the horse part.”
I don’t think I could have said it better, ‘we don’t know a darn thing about any of those topics.” And that’s why men don’t write romances. QED
What examples do you have or that you thought really stood out as ideal romantic behavior? Please share.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~In honor of Vince's visit to Seekerville, we're giving away a Seeker book prize package to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.