Most men have a pretty low opinion of romance fiction as written by women. Why? Most stories have some type of romance in them, one person attracted to another. The Great Gatsby or Fight Club or Slaughterhouse Five, they have love story tropes in them too. So what is it about the female version of romance that men find so laughable?
I’m not just referring to full on Romance fiction, the type with a glistening six-pack on the cover, I include YA, paranormal, chick-lit, historical fiction, thrillers, basically any story aimed at the female market with a strong romance element to it. That means a female lead, and a man she’s interested in. She may not get the man, there may be other complications, but that’s general set up. And I don’t think it can be disputed that these books are hugely popular and one of the most lucrative areas of publishing.
So what's wrong with how women write men?
The idealised male, the one who's good looking, fit, and single, is probably the most popular creation, and the most unlikely. If he isn’t gay, then he isn’t going to be single. That doesn’t mean he’s married or got a girlfriend, it just means he doesn’t spend his nights staring out of a window.
Men who are not in a committed relationship, have to find an outlet. The bucket is being constantly filled, and although the rate of drops may vary, eventually it’s still got to be emptied. And the more the writer contrives to make this man alone and introverted (because he’s focused on his job, his wife just died, he’s coming out of a bad break-up or whatever) then that does not mean he’s just going to sit around waiting for the right girl to appear. Pornography, masturbation, inappropriate staring at cleavage, that’s the guy that's being established as the love interest. It doesn't matter how clean living and respectable he is, macho or metrosexual, drip, drip, drip the bucket’s getting filled.
When you create a guy that is unavailable, full of testosterone, and alone, you may see a strong, moody, hurt-by-the-one-he-loved-and-unable-to-love-again fella — I see a guy who probably goes home, watches too much internet porn, and then tries to rape the neighbour’s cat.
Then there’s the guy who’s just moved to town and doesn’t really know anyone. He bumps into the female lead of the story and there are sparks, maybe they have a misunderstanding, tension. She doesn’t stand for his attitude, he doesn’t like her mouthiness. He won’t just sit around waiting for her to come round. He’ll move onto someone else. The girl in his apartment, the slut in accounts, the lead characters sister, whoever.
When she bumps into him by coincidence in the store, he’ll be with someone. When she bumps into him again in the park, he’ll be with someone else. New guys who are totally hawt get offers from people other than the MC, and they accept them.
And remember, the new guy in town gets the lowdown on all the local women from all the other guys in town. If the MC is the hot chick with a chip on her shoulder, all the guys she’s pissed off will be only too glad to clue in the new guy. Too often it feels like when the guy isn’t in the scene with the MC, he stops existing.
The moody, introspective guy — very popular in YA books — who doesn’t want to talk about it (whatever it might be), doesn’t exist. That sort of angry teen figure certainly does exist (often well beyond his teens) but he very much does want to talk about it. Give him a chance and he’ll whine on and on for hours. The guy with the real dark secret or miserable existence, he’s friendly and normal and makes it a point not to draw attention to his horrible life and problems. Because that’s how you actually avoid talking about it.
Rich guys are dicks. Women don’t end up with them for their charm and warmth. And guys who have sculpted bodies spend a lot of time on that. They don’t stare into a girl's eyes and tell her about the dog they had as a boy that they loved so much, they wear v-neck jumpers without a shirt and keep trying to catch their reflection in store windows. And handsome men don’t fall head over heels in love with the plain brunette. Well, they do, but not until they’ve fucked a lot of blondes and picked up all the major STDs.
My point is, you can’t just take the good bits from various archetypes and ignore the side-effects that come with them. Once you create a man with certain attributes, you have to work out what those attributes mean. If he’s rich, handsome and pleasant, that means a lot of competition for your MC. What has she got that he would want and can’t get elsewhere? Too often the female MC only sees what she wants to see. What the writer wants her to see.
And what you end up with is a mother telling you her kid is a genius, while the kid is sat on the floor eating a handful of mud. That’s not to say the kid isn’t a nice kid, or that there’s anything wrong with him, but that disconnect between what the mother is telling you and what you’re seeing behind her, that’s going to affect how you process the story.
While this is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post, I do think it's worth looking at characters, male and female, and taking into consideration how the attributes you've given them affect the rest of their lives. Rich doesn't just mean hard working, it can mean harsh boss, out of touch, arrogant... Good looking can mean narcissistic, obsessive, vain... You have to look at the character as a whole, not just the attractive bits.
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