Monday, August 30, 2010

What Would A Man Do?

Think Alpha. Now tell me which sentence works for this Alpha scenario. Two men are arguing. Things heat up.

The man took a swing at him, and Brody shrank from his touch.
The man took a swing at him, and Brody dodged the blow.

When I’m not writing, I’m editing. Well…actually…I do a heck of a lot more editing than I do writing. I have two loves in this wild and crazy world of publishing. I guess as long as it’s about words and how to string them together in order to create a story of love and romance (and sexy stuff, lol), I’m just plain hooked!

I’m senior editor with Passion In Print Press, the mainstream erotic romance imprint of MLR Press owned by author-publisher, Laura Baumbach. I love every second of my job. But there are times in which I have to step back and think. I’m sure all of you keep hearing that editing is subjective. Well, it is. One editor’s opinion may very well differ from another’s. And there are times when an editor simply has
to take a chance too. It’s those moments that give me sleepless nights.

One thing I’m hearing a lot about these days is male POV. It used to be that romance books were written all in female POV. Not so anymore. Giving both sides of the love story has become a mainstay of the genre. But! Let’s face it. The vast majority of romance writers are women. And women don’t always get male POV right. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Which sentence did you choose above? If you chose sentence number two, you’d be correct. Let’s examine why. First of all, I said “think Alpha”. So we’re talking about a big old strong-willed-chest-beating dude. Lol Well, not really—although he can be, of course. But you know what an Alpha is. And an Alpha would never “shrink” from anything or anyone, would he?

“…and Brody shrank from his touch.” Key words to look at are “shrank” and “touch”. In this instance, a fight scene, those words are a bit too soft to use in connection with an Alpha. The word “dodged” rather than “shrank” fits with an Alpha—and you just know he dodged the blow just to deliver one to the bad guy, don’t ya? Now let’s take it a step further. Look at the words “shrink” and “touch”. Whether you are writing in male POV or female POV in this particular case truly does not matter. Immediately, you’re probably thinking that in female POV that a woman may very well think of her Alpha as “shrinking from his touch.” After all, she’s a woman and would think like a woman, wouldn’t she? Yes, to a degree. But even in her POV if she says the word “shrink”, she is basically painting her man yellow. Yep, she is. And if she uses the word “touch” it softens the sentence. So in this case—her POV and a fight scene—the author should use stronger words or it affects the way a reader sees the hero.

You might be thinking about Beta heroes at this point too. Okay, let’s take a look at Betas. Betas are supposedly the imperfect heroes with Alphas being the perfect heroes. Well…maybe not. But more about that in a bit. When dealing with narrative or dialogue for a Beta, you have to make some changes. The Beta’s personality traits are different—they might not be physically the same as an Alpha either.

So, which one of those sentences fits a Beta? Before you decide, think about the circumstances of this fight scene. And think about this too: Just because you are writing a Beta hero, it doesn’t mean he isn’t strong and capable of defending himself or his woman. And this is where it gets tricky. Is the heroine watching this fight scene? Does he have a good reason to back down? Which is exactly what “shrinking” would mean. These questions are why I lose sleep over edits sometimes. It’s where all that subjectivity comes into play.

So I weigh everything and make myself crazy. Here’s what I’d do as an editor: If the fight scene is from the male beta’s POV and the heroine is nowhere around, I’d probably think it was okay to use “shrank from his touch.” I mean, hell, Betas are smart. Who wants to fight? I’d honestly prefer NOT to use “shrank from his touch” but I do have authors who would want to use that phrasing and insist that their hero is NO hero--or that they don't want their hero acting "all Alpha". And in essence, he really is a hero--Beta or Alpha. If he has a good reason for backing down, it does make sense. Backing down in front of the heroine also makes sense if he has a good reason to as well. She may not know that reason too. Which could make for some nice layering of relationship angst within the story. But think again. Would a Beta allow his ass to get kicked while his woman is watching? And he most certainly WOULD NOT “shrink from his touch” if he was defending his woman, now would he? I don’t care if he DOES cry when he has an orgasm, he’s not going to let his woman get hurt! Betas are heroes who rise to the occasion. Against all odds, they save the day with their quiet, unassuming, non-Alpha ways. So be careful. Dig deep. Think about the scenario you’ve painted and think about the psychological and physical characteristics you’ve given your Beta.

Are you sufficiently confused yet? No? Okay then let me try again. LOL

Gammas. WTF is a Gamma? That’s the new hero. Alphas are supposedly perfect—pushy, take charge, stubborn, physical. Betas are supposedly imperfect—sensitive, kind, caring, never pushy or stubborn. Gammas are supposedly a combination of the two. Apparently they can beat their chest while cooking a gourmet meal. And in erotic romance, I guess that translates into giving you a foot massage while spanking your butt!

So which of those two sentences is right for a Gamma? Hell if I know. LOL C’mon…I’m an editor—not the all-knowing, all-seeing high priestess of romance. LOL Again, dig deep. Check your scenario. Check the personality you’ve given your hero. Make sure that you’re not letting him say or do something that he would never say or do. That’s what I’ll do when I’m reading your story. AND lose lots of sleep…zzzzzzzzz.

And about that perfect Alpha and imperfect Beta? Looks to me like Alpha just got knocked off his pedestal. I mean a foot massage and a spanking? A gourmet meal and he can beat his chest? What could be more perfect? Heck…perfection is in the eye of the one who loves ya! Just make sure the hero you paint is consistent in his actions and reactions.

So what got me on my POV soapbox today? I read an article about two or three weeks ago in which I agreed with the author on some points but disagreed with her on others, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I also have an author friend who was recently “called out” by a reviewer on some of her “dialogue”. The reviewer thinking it didn’t fit. Hmmmm… I didn’t agree with the reviewer.

About that article. In the post, the author pointed out that males, IN POV, would NEVER go on and on about hair color or the way a woman dresses. And to some degree she’s right. Would a man really look at a woman’s eyes and think of them as “azure blue”? Or would he think of them as “two perfect sapphires”? Her hair as “sun-kissed brown”? Would a man, IN POV, think of a woman’s dress as being “silver lame with a bateau neckline”? Would he actually say the words “Belgian lace”? No, I don’t think he would. So I agree with the writer—somewhat.

But there is something she didn’t stop to consider. While a man would not go over the top and describe a lot of detail, not come up with obscure colors and descriptions that most men would never think of, at the same time, we must consider our target audience. Who reads what we write? Women. That’s who.

So is it sufficient for a male, IN POV, to simply say, “her dress was silver”? Sufficient to say, “brown hair”? C’mon… let’s get real here. Women don’t want to read that. I DON’T. Give the gals some oomph! So what do I suggest? The words need to sound like a man but at the same time not be too flowery or involve details that a man would probably not know about (Belgian lace) or think of.

As a writer, here’s what I do, and as an editor, what I’d suggest you do:

First, think about the woman reading your book. Your readers want to know what that dress looks like. But they don’t want the male to sound totally unreal. Finding a happy medium is not always easy but CAN be done. Okay, the dress is silver lamé with a bateau neckline. But the vast majority of men don’t know the difference between bateau and T-shirt. And lamé? Hells bells, it’s all denim to them. LOL

So try breaking down those fancy names for color or fabric, those fancy words for style and see it through the guy’s POV—whether he’s Alpha, Beta, OR Gamma. How about this?

Women were always late. Brody checked his watch for probably the tenth time. Where was she? He glanced toward the ballroom’s entrance, executing the perfect double-take. In the doorway stood the most beautiful woman—his woman. And what a woman she was too. The silver dress she wore hugged all her gorgeous curves and wrapped around her just the way he wanted to mold his body to hers. Only the tips of her shoulders and the enticing curve of her collarbone were exposed, hinting at what lay beneath. Even in the room’s soft lighting, he could see her nipples hardening, pushing against the thin, shiny material.

Her blue eyes stared at him, conveying a message he’d rather not decipher right here in front of everyone. If he did, she’d be out of that flimsy dress in nothing flat, backed up against a wall, and screaming his name. As she brushed her fingers through her dark brown hair, the candlelight changing the brown to gold and red, he shifted, uncomfortable with the erection straining the front of his pants. God how he wanted to take her! And their audience could go to Hell.

You be the judge. Did I give the reader a description that was all male? Can you see a man thinking these things? Do the words silver, thin, shiny, and flimsy give the reader an idea of the type of fabric without saying silver lamé? (Maybe not exactly, but how’d I do?)How about that bateau neckline? Did I break that down in terms a man would think of? Does the reader understand that the dress is not low-cut and shows exactly what a man would see? And those eyes of hers…is there any doubt they are blue and that they are sinfully blue? Who cares if they are azure, lol, but is the message that man wants to see, is seeing, getting across to the reader? What about the hair description—that was tricky and I’m not really happy with it. lol

But overall, did I give the reader what they wanted? Keeping in mind, of course, that my target audience is female. Did I achieve the goal of making the words sound male and at the same time satisfy the curiosity over what that dress and woman look like?

Getting male POV right is incredibly hard to do. I think we all know that. But if you simply take a step back, think about just WHO your hero is, how he would act and react, think about the fact that just as women don’t know all the “male language”, lol, the boys don’t know ours either…AND in addition, remember your target audience and what they truly want…well…you’ll be okay.

Hey!!!! It’s time to announce the Blog Makeover Contest Winner sponsored by Natalie Dae. Don’t forget to stop by Ellora’s Cave and check out Natalie’s books. You’ll be glad you did. I know for a fact the woman was born to write romance. And HOT romance at that!

So who’s the lucky winner….drum roll if you please…


And in case you’re wondering, Nat will be running this contest again sometime in the very near future. So if you didn’t win this time, you just might the next time! Keep checking back for updates as to when.

Thanks for visiting with me today. I’ll be back next Monday with more mischief. And I already know what I’m blogging about too. And I hope you like the subject matter. *wink*


Anny Cook said...

Great post! And great example. Thank you!

Natalie Dae said...

Fab post, Tess!

Well done, Nicole! Feel free to email me at: nataliedae AT googlemail DOT com, and we can discuss what you'd like for your blog. I'm UK, so will be going offline soon, but I'll get back with you as soon as I can.

Unknown said...

Great post, Tess!

Congrats Nicole.

Tess MacKall said...

Hiya Anny! Glad you like the post. Not sure my example was the best I could have offered but I tried real hard. lol Thanks for stopping by.

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Amber. Glad you stopped by.

Tess MacKall said...

And congrats again, Nicole! Can't wait to see the new blog look EM sets you up with.

Madison Scott said...

LOVE this post. One of my biggest peeves when reading is when they don't get male voice correct. Great examples.

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Madison. I so agree. It's not easy, but an author needs to get it right for sure.

P. Robinson said...

Interesting topic. All of my Lifestyle Series books are from the male POV. I often think of what my hubby would do in various situations and go with that. He helps me a lot!

Tess MacKall said...

Having a man around to draw from does indeed help. Having a man read male POV helps. Hubbys work just fine, Kissa.

Every once in a while, when I'm in doubt, I have a male friend read something for me. I've gotten some good tips for sure.

Best tip I ever got was: Make sure he cusses every once in a while. LOL

Fiona McGier said...

I have 3 sons, a brother, a communicative husband, and many male friends from college that I am still in touch with. I think that writing from a male's point of view is a way of giving women readers insight into the male mind, the way that reading a romance written by a woman is a way of letting a male reader know how to decipher what they insist is impossible: what do women want! Men think differently, and that needs to be worked with, as you illustrated. Good job!

Hales said...

Great post I remember you bringing male pov up before :) You should teach a week long class I'd pay to take it!

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Fiona. Glad you enjoyed the blog. Stop by again!

Tess MacKall said...

Hiya Hales!

I'm planning on doing a workshop on POV in general. And I'll get into male vs. female POV when I do that. I sort of made a promise over at Publishing Trove that I would. lol So I've got to keep my promise. I've just got to find the time to do it. Glad you stopped by!

Tess MacKall said...

Oh...but it will be a freebie class, Hales. I'm not in the workshop business. I simply try to help clarify a few issues here and there.

Lex Valentine said...

Male POV is really hot to read when done right and it can be a lot of fun to write too. I wrote on book totally from the hero's POV and I was amazed at how different the whole story felt. And the notion of using the male POV more when writing het got to me take a class by Dr. Debra Holland at my local RWA chapter. It's on understanding men and boy oh boy does she bust open some myths! Great job on the Alpha, Tess!

Tess MacKall said...

Howdy Lex! You are soooo right! Writing male POV CAN be a lot of fun. We get to step outside of our panties and grab a jockstrap, develop a swagger, and just generally write our names in the snow with that famous appendage. LOL

I've got a first person male POV I'm working on. I love it. I have a partner in that mainstream endeavor (although it WILL be sexy, lol, just not erotic). And my partner is a man. He has told me numerous times that he would never know it wasn't a man writing the scenes.

It's just a matter of developing the right mindset. Sometimes we'll slip up too. But that's okay. No such thing as perfect, ya know!

In my books I always do sex scenes from female AND male POV. Men feel more than just the Big O and it's important that readers see it---in my humble opinion.

Thanks for the comment!

Anne Rainey said...

Guh, male POV will always be an issue with me. This is a great post, Tess, and I've just copied and pasted it into a document. I know I'm going to want to read it again in the future. :)

One of the things that's difficult to remember--at least for me--is that my writing style will NOT appeal to every reader. Thankfully it does indeed appeal to some. :)

C. Zampa said...

I must have some mixed up I love writing male POV and actually write it better than the female's. Maybe I was a guy in another life? LOl...

I think, Tess, it's because, as you illustrated, men think more basic...well, most do. And I love that pure, simple, basic thought process. It just flows so well.

I do think some male characters are more eloquent than others, and there POV tends to be more 'flowery', a bit eccentric, and it seems natural for them.

Good post! I truly enjoyed it!

Kelley Heckart said...

I thought your excerpt was a good example of male pov. A man would notice how a dress makes a woman's body look--how it enhances her boobs, etc.
One thing I noticed about men is that when they are frustrated, they get angry while a woman would cry. I try to remember that when writing in male pov.
Thanks for sharing this.

Tess MacKall said...

I don't think you have too much to worry about, Anne. I've read your work. lol

And what a lovely compliment to know you've saved the post to read again. Thank you. I'll be doing a workshop on POV in general in the coming weeks. I've worked on it some already, but it will require a great deal of detail and I plan to leave no stone unturned.

And you're right. We can't appeal to every single reader. But as long as we strive to be the best writers we can be???? Well, we'll find our following. You have a great many fans already, Anne.

Tess MacKall said...

Yes, Celtic see it differently. It isn't just about the dress for's about the body in it. lol

Thank you for the kudos.

And you are so right about how men express themselves. Men are most definitely given to bouts of anger when frustrated while we females tend to cry. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, CC.

Unknown said...

I would be inclined to say 'he ducked' Men react, they don't think, especially in the middle of a fight.

Adrenaline flows. There's no thought. often no pain is felt. (I speak from experience on that -- I got in a fight with a bunch of boy when I was about 12. I didn't stop swinging until my older sister dragged me off them. I never felt a thing until later.

So the guy might duck, but 8 times out 10 he's going to come up swinging.

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Nice post, Tess. I must be learning because I chose #2. lol. All the tags are confusing, Alpha, Beta, Gamma...what's a girl to do? :)

Seems I tend to write more from the male POV as well. I like digging into a guy's psyche.

Tess MacKall said...

"Ducked" is good, Pat. That would most certainly work. I might have used that if my sentence hadn't started out as "the man lunged for him". lol But I like "ducked" for that sentence too.

I never fought with my brother--never been in a fight with a man--thank God, lol--but my sis and I sure went at it as kids and as teenagers. I think she hits like a man to this day. lol

Tess MacKall said...

Lisa...I've read your work, hon. I think you do male POV beautifully.

But we can all keep learning. A writer's job is never done in that respect.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was a Gamma male! I do love the examples that you give. It is hard enough just blogging about the subject matter of the male POV, but you have definitely carved out definitions that will stick with even a novice writer.

Great post again.

Unknown said...

After I wrote that I got to thinking and I realized I've done it a few times. LOL. In public school, maybe Grade 2 or 3, I got into some schoolyard fight with a boy. We were sent to the Principal's office and my mother came. When she asked me why I shrugged and said I dunno. I was a major tomboy as a kid. Still am in some ways, I guess. LOL

Starfox Howl said...

The man took a swing at him, and Brody dodged the blow.

Dodged is the better word. If you used "shrank", that is in no way ALPHA behavior. Beta's may shrink, depending on their treatment by an Alpha, an Omega certainly would "shrink" away from a blow.

I just finished up a book where there was an ALPHA male, and while I could identify with him, after a while his attitude of "you think unclean thoughts about MY woman and I'll chop you into little pieces" gets old.

Gamma's? guess I see them more of the middle of the road, not the puffed out chest, testosterone powered uber-Captain Caveman type.

Gamma, is the one that doesn't take every little slight as a personal affront, who doesn't feel an irresistible compulsion to twist the doctor's head off if he needs to treat HIS woman. But the GAMMA is also the one that is ready, willing and able to protect his wife/partner, using whatever means are necessary without going into a berserker rage at the same time. Oh, and is willing to do the dishes. :-)

Tess MacKall said...

Nevealane...I'm so thrilled you found the post worthwhile. As a writer, I learn something new everyday and I am happy to share my knowledge.

Thanks for commenting!

Tess MacKall said...

Ohhhh, you were a scrappy little thing, huh Pat? lol Go get 'em girl!

Tess MacKall said...

John...good to see you. Omegas? Hey, their losers. They don't figure into romance writing unless they are written in as a sidekick to the Alpha or Beta. And then I'd question their presence as an editor as to whether they further the plot or romance. Might just cut out an Omega.

Alphas are the primary heroes in stories. Yes, Gammas would wash the dishes. And while we women in our every day lives wish for our fantasies, most of don't throw rocks at me, ladies...but most of us want to be swept off our feet by that great big ole Alpha. lol

I do, however, believe that more and more romance writing is becoming about that big ole Alpha changing and becoming more like the Gamma...all due to having fallen in love with the heroine, of course! So love--and the heroine--change the Alpha to make him a perfect Gamma--after they get to play with the Alpha, of course. lol

Nicole Zoltack said...

Wonderful blog post, Tess, I enjoyed it. It's important to be true to all your characters, male and female.

And thanks so much! I'm thrilled to have won the blog revamp and can't wait to see my new blog! :)

Tess MacKall said...

Thank you, Nicole. Glad you enjoyed it. And congratulations again on winning the blog revamp. Nat is great to work with and you'll have a blast.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hell, I don't know what a bateau neckline is and I used to work in fabric stores and I've made gowns, etc.

I guess the male POV is a bit easier for me because I used to play tackle football with the guys and I was a tomboy. For one thing, it gave me an opportunity to observe them and their behavior.

My heroes must be considered gamma because most of them consider it manly to help out their woman. Volcano just helped Sedona prepare a fruit salad in a recent scene I wrote.

My heroes are dominant in certain ways, the important ways my heroine craves and loves. However, they also respect their woman's abilities. If not, she lets them know in no uncertain terms.

Definitely *shrink* wouldn't work for any hero, imo, unless he was temporarily addled... under mind control... heck, as a woman, I would be thinking my man shrunk back unless he did, and then, it would be goodbye time.

Tess MacKall said...

Another Tomboy, huh? Good for you. That definitely helps in writing male POV I think.

As for "shrank"...well, as a writer I'd never use it in conjunction with any man unless I was using it for a bad guy. But as an editor, I can see instances in which it could be used for a hero. Sometimes it gets pretty complicated in the world of editing.