Monday, January 15, 2007

Real Men

I'm a woman. And I don’t really understand men all that well. I don't think they're from Mars or anything – and a lot of the time, I'll admit, their behaviour and motivations make perfect sense. But after close observation of one subject for over ten years I know that they are different in more ways than the anatomical. For me, that makes them hard to write about.

You might be thinking, hey, Tilly, everyone's different. And you're a writer. Can't you use your imagination? But the thing is, yes, I can. But how do I know I've got it right? Can I imagine what it's like to be a man? Especially with erotica. Can I write about feelings of sexual desire from a man's point of view and be convincing?

When I wrote Equal Opportunities I decided to write it in dual first person point of view with the hero and the heroine taking it in turns to tell the story. Dual first seemed like a great way to convey the conflicted mix that was Mary and David's relationship. But I was scared of writing my hero in first person. Not because he was disabled and in a wheelchair, not because he was nearly ten years younger than me, but because he was a man. First person male point of view. Surely I'd get found out.

Here's a snippet (his kinky girlfriend Mary has told him he can’t come for 24 hours – that's why he's so frustrated by everything.):


But really, some days every woman in this place seems to have another job moonlighting as a body double for an Eastern European shot putter. Some days, most days in fact, it’s as grey and depressing as a pre-Jamie-Oliver school dinner.

So, like I said, I thought I’d be okay – or, as okay as anywhere - but I’d reckoned without this new girl. Eleanor she’s called. And, well, she’s what they call a breath of fresh air. In this wasteland of sheer unsexiness, Eleanor is pure totty. And she is a trainee physiotherapist’s, which in anyone’s mind approximates to nurse, which, of course - when it’s a girl like Eleanor - approximates to sexilicious.

And guess what I so don’t need right now! Yup, sexilicious.

No matter that Eleanor is make-up free and has her hair screwed up in an ugly purple butterfly clip. No matter that her uniform is at least two sizes to big and bags and sags around her little waist, looking as grey and greasy as old fish and chip paper. No matter that her shoes are scuffed-up cheap trainers rather than Carry-On-Matron-style stilettos. Today, and in my tortured state, Eleanor looks fucking hot. And, what’s more, underneath her function-over-form work-togs Eleanor is totally my type. From her honey coloured highlights to her neat petite ankles. She even has that kind of that mouth I like. That sort of pinky-coloured permanent moue.

She has a cocksucker’s mouth. And the funny thing is, I have a cocksucker’s cock.

Strange thing is - despite my concerns - the best comments in reviews were always saved for him. For David. My first person male hero.

And here's the thing. I write books for women. Do I write about men in a way that is 'real' or do I write about men in a way that I wish was real? I might not know for sure what *real* men are like but I know what the men I like to read about are like. They're sensitive and damaged and conflicted and stifled and loving and stubborn and dangerous and naked. And dangerously naked.

Are they anything like *real* men? I don't know. I don't know if I care. One of my favourite things in the world to read is slash fanfiction – stories of men in love with men written by women (and the odd gay man who often doesn’t know *what* he's got himself into). Are the men in these stories realistic? Does it matter if everyone's having fun?

So what do you think? Do you want realism or fantasy? Do you want to read and write about the kind of men who could really be the boy next door, or do you prefer a knight in shining armour type who you know in your heart might be too good to be true? Or perhaps you disagree with me totally and think that writing about men is no different form writing about women. Perhaps you actaully are a man.

Well tell me, or I'll send the boys round.

Mathilde Madden
Creative Director
The Mathilde Madden Foundation for the Preservation of Dangerously Naked Men


Portia Da Costa said...

Interesting topic...

As a woman, reading romance, I like reading about fairly realistic men... who are just a little bit less blokish than the real version. Sort of man in the street, but with a subtle extra sheen of hero glamour atop their natural and lovable foibles.

I've never had a problem writing male characters, and have been doing so for years, both in third person and first. And I've never had any complaints from male readers saying I've misrepresented the way a man is... Maybe they *like* having that subtle extra sheen I give 'em? ;)

Yikes, I'm making it sound like an ad for furniture polish, aren't I?

Am talking rubbish, as usual...LOL

Anonymous said...

Actually, Wendy, I was thinking of you while I wrote this, because I do get the impression that you're the type of writer who prefers to write quite realistic 'blokey' type heroes compared to my rather more idealised ones.

Maybe I'm generalising about you now.

kristina lloyd said...

An important editor (oh, you know the one) recently said to me he thought the point of men in romance and erotica was to evade the ‘true horror’ and ‘disappointment’ of real-life men. Leaving aside his rather harsh judgement (because some blokes are OK, surely), I think the tricky issue is how escapist do we want to get? I certainly don’t want my fantasy men to be dream-come-true perfect – that would be very boring indeed. And I don’t see them as guys I’d like to have in my own life. (Heck, I've got enough problems as it is.) But I do want them to be more exciting, dangerous and a whole heap BADDER than your average fare. I like bad. I might have mentioned this before several thousand million times. I like bad because it leads the girls astray.

So the characters I create might not be the sort you’d meet in the street but as a writer my job is to make it feel as if you might: realistic but not necessarily real life; believable but not ordinary. I think my men lean more towards real than fantasy though (and some of the minor characters, I confess, can be grottily, even offensively, real). I generally think of them all as human (even when they’re vampires) and to that end they can be confused (and confusing), inconsistent, angry, sore, crafty and a complete pain in the arse. They’re probably more twisted and odd than Portia’s polished chaps but I think we’re talking about a similar thing: real men with added pzazz. It’s all very subjective though: what one person sees as an idealised fantasy man might seem ordinary when seen through the eyes of another who’s dreaming of her Arabian prince.

I’ve only ever written from a male point of view in 3rd person narrative, and I tend to think of it as being ‘another character’ rather than ‘a man’. I never done male POV in the more intimate 1st person narrative. I’m going to have to try, aren’t I?

Portia Da Costa said...

I think I used to write far more idealised fellas... but as I get older, I'm more interested in the less than perfect ones, the ones with far more quirks and foibles and whatnot... No reason why a foible-ridden chap can't also be heroic.

And somehow, as I said in response to another post, a bit back, I don't think I have it in me to write a true 'bad boy'... 'cos mainly, my storymen have to be good guys at heart, even if they sometimes do questionable things. When faced with one of these gorgeous bad boys, part of me would be thinking 'he's cute', while most of me would be thinking 'f*** off, you arrogant shit!'

I think this might be an age thing too... I'm too old to be doing with all the aggro, and for my books to have the ring of emotional truth, I have to be at least partially faithful to what the real me thinks and feels!

Shutting up now, as I think I'm contradicting myself, and the more I ponder about stuff, the less I end up knowing... LOL

Nikki Magennis said...

I actually really enjoy writing men. It's a bit of a relief, sometimes, to imagine oneself male and therefore a lot more straightforward!

As to whether I've accurately captured the male voice - the men in my crit group haven't picked up any flaws in recent stories other than a man can't (apparently) feel it when he hits a woman's g spot. There was me thinking the penis was a supersensitive instrument... ; )

Janine Ashbless said...

This is going to get me so misunderstood and/or derided, but I actually find it easier writing from a male PoV.

This might be because I started writing in a genre (horror) where the 'normal'/neutral character voice is masculine and if you're writing from a female PoV it's usually because you have a specific reason or an affect you wish to achieve.

It might be because I've always worked in male dominated environments and (due to my geek hobbies) I've always had far more male than female friends. I generally find blokes easier to talk to and have more interests in common with them.

It might be because I'm just not terribly girly. (Shoes? Shopping? Babies? Uh ... no, I just don't get it.)

But whatever, when I write from a female perspective I find it quite hard to tell if I'm writing form the viewpoint of a plausible Woman or just of Me. If I'm writing from a male perspective I know damn well it's another character altogether and I can put myself imaginatively in their shoes without worrying about it.

Yeah, I write erotic/romantic heroes that are - despite all their flaws and conflicts - better (sexier, smarter, more interesting) than real men-on-the-streets. But then I've never been the sort to fantasise about average people. I like heroic men. For that matter I like heroic women. I just like better-than-average. That doesn't have to mean 'unrealistic' does it?

Nikki Magennis said...

No, I'm with you Janine. I think it's fun to get inside a man's head. I love men, after all, and it's such a treat to spend time pretending one can pee standing up. And other, much more meaningful male traits that escape me at the moment!

Wendy - I do the same. I start thinking too hard and before I know it I've made a full circle in a comment. I have actually in the past proved to myself literally that black is white and white is black - I have written evidence!

Re the 'true horror' and disappointment of men in everyday life - oh dear. How dreadful. Where are all these awful men? I seem to know an awful lot of wonderful and lovely ones.

Perhaps like Wendy says, as you get older you tolerate the arseholes less and then the good ones turn up. Or perhaps they're all secretly horrible and I just fall for their charms. Over and over and oh my! over again.

Oh, bugger, we're sposed to be talking about writing aren't we?

(Rather than gushing about 'real life' men, I might just shut up and go and be nauseatingly smug somewhere else for a bit. Send a soppy text message or something...sorry!)

Johnny said...

As a red-blooded, sweat-soaked alpha male who's just finished a day's work as in house masseuse at the Foundation for Dangerously Naked Men (it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it), there's nothing I like more when I get home than to slip into a woman

s point of view, and write a hot, steamy story from the female character. As for making them realistic, sheesh, it's easy. I just have Clarabella throw a tantrum every ten pages, break the odd nail and shave her legs as often as possible.

Women? I got 'em nailed.

Anonymous said...

Kristina, I think you are a special case. You write men who are too BAD to be true!

Oops, that sounded so clever in my head and now I am worried that it sounds like I am being hugely insulting. I'm not, I swear. I mean too bad to be true in a good way! Grrr.

And, yes, have a bash at some male first person. Perhaps for that Ilya POV short you are going to write for me.

(I don't let these things go, you know, if you don't believe me ask Madelynne 'I am not writing a sequel to A Gentleman's Wager' Ellis)

Jeremy Edwards said...

I think that as long as your characters' motivations, thoughts, and actions come across as believable, it doesn't matter what gender they are. I don't mean that it doesn't matter to them or to you or to your plot or to your readers--I just mean that if a character behaves in a way that's believable (i.e. internally consistent and psychologically plausible), then I don't think it would occur to a reader to complain that that character has the "wrong" gender for that behavior. (I say "believable" rather than "realistic" because, of course, part of the magic of good writing is that it can make a reader believe in something that he or she knows wouldn't really happen that way in real life.) And, for what it's worth . . . speaking as the type of man who, despite being heterosexual, would much rather shop for groceries than automobiles and who can be found in art galleries and not sports stadiums, etc., my personal opinion is that writers shouldn't worry too much about conforming to prevailing notions of "male" personality traits because even the real world is full of exceptions.

Janine Ashbless said...

Yay Jeremy!

Anonymous said...

I think you're right Jeremy. And you've made me see something I missed before.

For example, with my character David, I worried about whether he had a realistic male voice, maybe I should have just worried about whether he had a realistic, consistent voice. After all, even if a man did read that book and think, 'Hmm, I don't think like that.' He wouldn't know for sure that some man somewhere didn't.

Jeremy Edwards said...

"After all, even if a man did read that book and think, 'Hmm, I don't think like that.' He wouldn't know for sure that some man somewhere didn't."

And I feel like you really can't lose in a situation like that. If a reader recognizes a character's psychology as familiar and thinks, "Yes, I totally identify," then you've connected. If, on the other hand, you give the reader a vivid glimpse of a way of being or thinking that (s)he would never have dreamed of, then you've used your talent to open another world to that reader. And my guess is that readers generally appreciate both these types of experiences.

Anonymous said...

Mind you, I think maybe things get trickier as I move from having one hero to multiple male characters as my writing projects get more ambitious. In my current WIP The Silver Collar (aka were-book) I have 5 or 6 male POV characters. Now, the trouble is I can't just use my ideal dangerously naked mr sexyboi for all of them - well, I could, that would be fun for me if not the readers.

Now I think it I am finding it more of a challenge as I have to create a whole raft of realistic-yet-saucy men.

Alison Tyler said...

I think it was inspiring not just that you wrote from a male POV, Mathilde, but two POVs in the same book! Switching back and forth is difficult. (I tried with Tiffany Twisted, sort of, as omniscient narrator going between the minds of the male character stuck in the female's body and vice versa.) A backward compliment I've gotten for that book is that several readers have been dead sure it was written by a man. So I guess I nailed Kurt's part.

I've written many male POV stories, and I think I have the sad tendency to say "fuck" more when I write from a guy's POV. But I've been writing from a male view point for years. I used to pen naughty stories for my friends in high school—featuring them with the rock stars of their dreams. Often, I wound up writing from the view point of Sting, or Bono, or (god help us) Jon Bon Jovi. :)

Now, I'm dating myself...
PS Tilly, where do I make my donation to the MMFPDNM? I see you are the creative director.

Anonymous said...

I'm just waiting to hear back from the charities board, who seem to be doubting my philianthropic virtue - for some reason

Kate Pearce said...

I write a lot from male pov, perhaps it's because I'm surrounded by 3 teenage boys and my dear husband. I've learned that trying to communicate with them is not the same as communicating with a female.

A certain 'important editor' recently told me that I write a lot of male pov but that I get away with it because my characters ring true. But I still think they are idealized. I write mainly for women and their fantasies, not men's.

My short story, "Cowboy Up" in Sex in Public is written completely in male pov. I sent it off and then realized that it might not work for BL-luckily they took it anyway!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate

I am reading Sex in Public at the moment. It's by my desk and I keep dipping into it whenever my computer is being an ass.

And, strangely, just before I read your comment I read the opening of 'Cowboy Up'. I'm enjoying it so far. Hee.

kristina lloyd said...

Tilly, your Sex in Public story is male POV too, and it's top-notch. Very cool, controlled and ve-ery kinky. All the stories I've read so far in SiP have been excellent. It's a fab collection, really strong.

However, Tilly dearest, listen carefully: I am not going to write an Ilya POV short for you. No, I am not. Never. Not no way, not no how. OK?

Olivia Knight said...

This is one of my hobby-horses, so I'll try to keep it in check... But for me, there's no innate difference between men and women, although we do our damndest to make sure their experiences of the world are very different. Whenever I'm with a group of women - esp girly ones - I tend to feel like I'm in drag and only just managing to pass muster. On the Femininity Score I think I rate 2 out of 10 (two breasts, tick; one pussy, tick) - but I wouldn't say I'm remotely butch either. I'm just not interested in gender, at least as it's stereotyped. The traditionally girly things - shopping, chocolate, shoes, being bossed around by square-jawed men, romantic comedy, pink - leave me stone cold. But then I'm not interested in macho things either - cars, football, beer... The men towards whom I gravitate are similarly non-extreme - they're men (two balls, tick; one cock, tick) but not of the thigh-slapping beer-quaffing variety. I write from both male and female p.o.v., but take the assumption - similar to Jeremy's point, above - that character consistency transcends gender. I'd be angered if a man said he felt he needed to adopt a 'special voice' to write 'as a woman', I'd demand specifics as to what that meant, and would probably give him a tongue-lashing for any generality he dared utter (and not the good kind of tongue-lashing!) And equally I think it would be insulting and a disservice to men to steer my writing about them towards a restricted gendered perspective of what 'a man would think'. Okay, I'll calm down. As someone said to me recently, "How DO you get that high horse of yours into the building? And what do you feed it?" (In my defence, I come from a more sexist country than the lovely UK, where every opinion I ever uttered was framed as "a woman's opinion" and treated accordingly.) Here endeth the rant!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kristina, I had forgotten about Miles in my Sex in Public story. Now, actually, I do think he is very realistic. He is, on the other hand, just me with a penis.

Ha ha, wasn't I demanding fiction from a male top POV a few days ago and had completely forgotten I had already writen some.

And, Olivia, I honestly don't know if there are *innate* differences between men and women. But men and women certainly have differences thrust upon them, which makes their lives and experiences different. And therein lies differences in character. I do think you can divide people up into catgories sometimes, and I do think that generalisations can be useful.

And it strikes me that we haven't even got started on whether men can write women's POV convincingly. Esp in erotica. Most erotic novels for het men seem to be from a woman's point of view - I have always found that weird. But perhaps this deserves its own post.

Olivia Knight said...

Point well made, Mathilde - and if it weren't for 'types', where would the Don Juans be? (I confess a certain weakness there...) Regarding erotica for men being from the women's point of view - I tend to find myself writing the converse quite often. So much of the erotic is the effect one has on the opposite number - for me (erhemm, that is, several of my characters...) being seen, watched, admired, lusted after, is the crucial element - v Laura Mulvey theory of the gaze. Being the object of desire... which requires a male p.o.v., for the gratification of female desire to be the object of desire. (This is all getting terribly French.) So what gratifying role are the women's p.o.v.s playing out in men's erotica, I wonder?

Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

As a man, I always wonder whether my female characters are authentic. Of course none of you can comment because I've never published anything. And as for gender differences, certainly there's a spectrum. I'm not typically male, and I tend to regard those on either extreme as either female or male "impersonators", as caricatures of their gender sterotypes -- the girly girl or the macho man for instance. I find these uninteresting and not real.

I must say I laughed at Alison's comment that she writes men so well that she dates herself. (ie doesn't need a man). I realized after some thought that that was not what she meant.

Lewis said...

To further Janine's first comment, the Chinese theatrical tradition would tell you that men act female roles better and women act male roles better. Why? If as a woman you act a female role you don't think about what she's like as a woman, you bring your own womanly attitudes to the role, whereas a man studies all of the aspects of the roles and acts them fully.

As also commented, making the character believable lets you get away with murder (metaphorically at least). Do you actually know anyone that thinks like Heathcliff? Not me. Do you believe the character though? Yes, well I do.

I know some won't agree, but many people find vampires sexy. Do you actually know any people who regard you as one of the "happy meals on legs"?

Last little bit: Although I've not written it for a couple of years now, I used to write femslash to a shared blog. About 90% of the contributors were lesbian or bisexual women. The feedback on the stories was always praising them, and although not universally liked, writing lesbian erotica as a man didn't turn the lesbians off, quite the opposite in fact!