Posted On May 20, 2009 by Print This Post

Anatomy of the Male Mind: Women Writing in the Male POV

I am excited to welcome Milton Grasle, a wonderful writer and friend, to class.  Milton has been an enormous help to me with my last two manuscripts and I thought his insights on the male POV would be perfect for the blog.  Milton lives in Illinois, just East of St. Louis with his lovely wife Rhonda and two spoiled-rotten dogs.  He has written numerous short stories.  Much of his success is owed to his wife who has tirelessly critiqued and helped him with his writing.  Rhonda is an accomplished author and has recently been offered a publishing contract on a novel.  

Milton will be checking in with us throughout the day to answer questions.  And don’t forget, anyone who posts a question will be entered into a drawing for an iPod Nano. 

Class is now in session.  Here’s Milton!

I was a little apprehensive when first approached with an opportunity to comment on this subject.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how interesting the subject was.  It’s no secret that women and men’s brains are wired differently.  And that’s exactly what presents the challenge for women to successfully write in male POV.

It’s my belief that we can blame evolution for the different brain wiring.  I won’t go into a deep explanation concerning the different roles each sex has played throughout the ages. But no doubt these roles have molded our thinking.  So what challenges does a woman face in writing romance in male POV?  And how does she do this successfully?  And what are the no—no’s she should try to avoid?

In my opinion, a woman would need to find out all she could about how men react to certain situations and explore the male process of reasoning.  She might read what she considers to be accomplished men and women who write in male POV. I believe the biggest trap that a woman might fall into is… not remembering that most romance is not only written by women but read by women also.  My point is, some women might leave out certain elements of the male psyche that she finds somewhat distasteful.  She might do this in fear of turning off her predominantly female readership. 

Another concern is using incorrect vocabulary.  Most men tend to suppress expressing their emotions.  To have a male do otherwise in your book could be defeating.  Unless his role specifically calls for such a male character to speak dialogue using descriptive words such as, glamorous, marvelous, or wonderful.  Most men don’t speak that way.  To him something isn’t delightful…it’s simply okay, or good. 

Another thing to remember about writing in male POV is…with most men, things are pretty cut and dried.  When men make decisions or statements they tend to feel as if they have to stick with their original statement or decision.  I guess it’s a self-image thing.  Perhaps the reason is, for so many years men were the decision makers and changing their minds meant that they were wrong to begin with.  A severe blow to the male ego.   Women on the other hand tend to change their minds as frequently as they deem necessary.  To them it’s more about getting it right than propping up a self image.  Now this might sound a little like male bashing, but it isn’t.  The evolution of the genders and society helped to guide both sexes into certain roles.        

Here are some questions for Milton:

Adrienne: What are the mistakes you feel women make when writing from male POV?

Milton:  Word choice in vocabulary. Women tend to use grades of words, ie: Crimson instead of red.  Chartreuse instead of green.  Things are marvelous with women.  The same things are just okay or good with men.  Also remembering that her intended readership is mostly women and that is the people she will have to please.  In other words, studying a male who writes men’s adventure fiction might not be the best way to go.

Adrienne:  What genre do you write? 

Milton: Spy espionage.  Mystery.  Horror.

Adrienne: Have you ever written a sex scene? 

Milton: No.  I got close one time but the sexual situation was just a diversion to the main plot.

Adrienne:  Have you ever read a romance novel? And what did you think of it? 

Milton:  Yes, many.  I think no more or less of romance novels than I do of any other genre.  There are many brilliant romance writers who excel at characterization, plot and produce exciting dialogue.  Nora Roberts is one of my favorites.  

Adrienne:  What do you like to read? 

Milton: Mystery.  Horror.

Adrienne: What do you do when things get emotionally embarrassing, hurt, confused, tough? 

Milton: Embarrassing? I usually try to laugh it off.  That seems to work best for me. Hurt? I get quiet and try to mentally tread water. Otherwise I get pissed and that’s not a good thing.  Confused?  Shut everything down and focus.  Tough?  This is when I’m at my best.  Years of training helped me here.

Adrienne: What are the top three mistakes guys make in a new relationship? 

Milton:  One is, assuming, or drawing conclusions about the relationship too quickly.  As I said before, men like things in black and white.  We like to understand and have control of a situation, or at least think we have control. No two people are alike and that includes both women and men.  Sometimes we just need to let the relationship find its natural flow.

Two.  Not listening when a woman tries to speak about the relationship and come to a mutual understanding of what is expected of each other.  Some people want to date only one person at a time.  Others might see that differently, they find nothing wrong with dating multiple people.  Other issues can arise and be very important to her, so it’s essential to listen.  A man might not agree with her assessment of how a relationship should be, but that’s what compromise is all about.  Really listening tends to make such matters easier to work out.

Three.  Squaring off with a woman.  This needs explaining. It kind of falls under baggage. Some men feel they have to establish a certain position in the relationship from the get-go.  Most people have been through bad relationships, and as a result, have preconceived ideas about how to handle the next one.  If a guy has really been dumped on he might be saying to himself…”It’ll be a cold day in Hell before I ever do that for a woman again.”  The “that” he’s speaking of might have been a very nice thing he did for the woman and she took advantage of him.  As angry or disappointed as he might be, he needs to rid himself of those feelings. In a new relationship, even if he only insinuates and never says something like…”this is how things are gonna be!”  He would be making a big mistake.  Squaring off with a woman never works, no matter how subtle it is, or how he tries to mask it.     

***    

Special thanks to Milton for being here.  Be sure to check in with Tracey on Friday when Theresa Stevens, Managing Editor at Red Sage Publishing, will discuss the use of backstory.

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Discussion

39 Responses to “Anatomy of the Male Mind: Women Writing in the Male POV”

  1. I think this is a great post! I especially loved the parts about how you react when you’re embarrassed/hurt/etc, and the problem of “squaring off” with a woman. I’ve definitely encountered it in my own relationships with guys who’ve been scarred by exes and will never do “that” again.

    –Wendy, who has at least one “fabulously marvelous” hero in an unpublished manuscript

    Posted by Wendy Clark | May 20, 2009, 1:14 am
  2. Milton,

    Thank you for the insight. Adrienne, great questions. Milton, I agree with all the points you made about the words a man wouldn’t say. When I write a male character I attempt to put myself into his body and mind. I draw on almost forty years of marriage and all the men I’ve heard speak on a variety of subjects.

    For romance writers the love comes pretty quickly in the novel. As a male do you think from your pov that it should come a little later?

    Do men fall in love or lust at first sight? (generalities) Thanks Milton.

    Dyanne

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | May 20, 2009, 6:15 am
  3. Hi Milton! Thanks for joining us and sharing your insights into the male mind. Have you ever read a historical romance? If so, do you have any suggestions on how authors can maintain manspeak in a historical context where wording can be a bit more formal?

    Thanks, again!! Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 20, 2009, 6:31 am
  4. Thanks Milton for your input. Great article and well worth reading. I know men aren’t as emotional as women, and don’t discuss emotions like women do, but do you think they feel as many emotions as a woman? Or if they feel an “unidentified” emotion, do they just turn it into something they can handle?

    thanks!!!

    carrie

    Posted by intcon | May 20, 2009, 8:21 am
  5. Milton – Thanks so much for being our first male victim…er…guest here at RU! Do you have any suggestions of ways that female writers can get a better handle on writing male dialogue? Should we lurk around guys working out at the gym (no real hardship there)? Or maybe hang out in a sports bar? Any suggestions for stalking the wild male in his natural habitat would be much appreciated!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 20, 2009, 8:25 am
  6. Great insight and most helpful interview. However simple and basic the guys appear to be, I know there is a more complex creature beneath that surface.
    I like the idea of ‘stalking the wild male in his natural habitat’! Thanks for the input, you are a brave man.

    Posted by Margie Porter | May 20, 2009, 9:57 am
  7. Hey Milton!

    Loved the idea of your “class” today! 🙂 My husband always tells me that I hear something completely different than what he has actually said…I tell him that he doesn’t hear me at all. LOL

    So true about the male POV being a totally different thing. I know that one of my fave authors from the male side is Jonathon Kellerman and I can’t remember any of his books where he writes outside the male POV. He’s a psychologist in real life too so I guess he knows what he’s talking about. He stays with what he knows.

    The thing is…I write romance novels and I like to write from both perspectives (hero and heroine). While it is definitely a challenge to make the male POV seem authentic, I think it is necessary in the romance genre.

    Other than having my hubby proofread my work, any other suggestions on “keeping it real”?

    Thanks!!

    Posted by Kerri Nelson | May 20, 2009, 10:54 am
  8. Ooops, oh yeah and forgot to say…LOVE the university ya’ll. Sorry I missed the kick off on Monday!

    Much luck and kudos to you for a grand idea!

    Posted by Kerri Nelson | May 20, 2009, 11:04 am
  9. Thanks, Kerri. We are having a blast with it. Hope to see you as a “regular.”

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | May 20, 2009, 11:08 am
  10. Hi, Milton. Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you when we first became friends that I’d put you to work. LOL. Thank you for being here with us today and for putting up with me always picking your brain.

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | May 20, 2009, 11:13 am
  11. Hi Milton, glad you didn’t just do the Men are from Mars routine. Your specific examples of language was useful.

    My story has a soldier for the hero. Do you have any suggestions for their POV?

    Also, can you suggest a book where you think the author nailed the male POV? I know several female authors quote Nicholas Sparks in The Notebook, but I wonder if you would have other recommendations.

    Posted by Mary E. Ulrich | May 20, 2009, 11:37 am
  12. Hi, Mary. I’m sure Milton will have suggestions, but I’m going to jump in here and say Suzanne Brockmann. Her heroes in the Troubleshooters series are fabulous.

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | May 20, 2009, 11:43 am
  13. Hi Dyanne. Good questions. I don’t think there is a formula or a certain time in the novel when it is more appropriate for love to come. The tempo of the story and the development of the relationship between the people will determine that.

    As unpopular as this answer might seem, I believe most men pick up on the physical aspects of a woman first when first meeting. We are much more visual and that’s just a fact. I like your question though because it really opens up something else for discussion. That is: I can understand lust at first sight but love at first sight is a much different thing. How can we fall in love at first sight when we know nothing about the person. Everything about first sight is only visual. Thanks for the stimulation questions.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 2:16 pm
  14. Hi Tracey Devlyn I think the formal part of manspeak is the easy part of an historical novel. The hard part would be determining a man’s response to different situations in historical time periods. Take for example his attitude towards women. Time has definitely changed how men think and relate to women. Much of it has to do with how women have progressed socially and politically through time. I believe an author would be smart to research how men back then viewed the subject they were intending to write about. Thanks for the good question!

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 2:36 pm
  15. Hi intcon. When speaking of men on this subject I would like to clarify that I’m giving my opinion about the average man. There are men at the far right and left of the emotional scale and I have no idea what drives them. I do think men feel as many emotions as women, but I also think there is a difference in how they feel them.
    We’ve all heard the old stupid saying that: “real men don’t cry.” Still today, young boys are taught which emotions are “proper” for a man to have, a which are not. This also relates to your question about men discussing their emotions. I think there are a lot of men who would sometimes like to set down and openly discuss a certain feeling or emotion. But in the back of their minds they are hearing the echoing voice of what they’ve been told while growing up, and that is: Don’t ever discuss things like emotions with anyone. People will think you are weak or sissy-fied. My counter to this is: If a man wants to talk about how he feels, then he should go right ahead and speak loudly. If anyone thinks the lesser of him for it, then I wouldn’t value their opinion anyway.
    The unidentified emotion thing is really interesting. I need more time to think about that one. Very–very good question though.
    And thanks for the excellent questions.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 3:08 pm
  16. Hi Kelsey Browning. A big part of writing male dialogue is just focusing on what type of male your writing about. I know that sounds too simplistic but bear with me here.
    Are you writing about a rugged type dude who is a no-nonsense man? A quiet reserved guy? A regular Joe? What emotions are involved? Is the situation charged, or is it just general conservation? Remember, although there is a certain voice to male dialogue, it can vary greatly from man to man and situation to situation. I don’t think hanging around sports bars or places like that will help much. But you might have a good time and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Thanks, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 3:27 pm
  17. Hi Kerry Nelson. One suggestion I would give on keeping it real is to have in your male character and your male pov something about him or his attitude on a specific subject that doesn’t quite fit his character. (Sorry for the long run-on sentence)
    It’s kind of like having a character with a flaw and it gets the reader’s attention. Nothing too out of line that it’s completely out of character, just enough to stir interest. Especially something that reveals a hidden or deep emotion.
    One example is a dream I had the other night. It was back in the old West and a rough and rugged cowboy stumbled across a man in the desert who’d been ambushed,was shot in the stomach and was dying. The hardened cowboy was a real tough dude who in the past had shown little compassion for anyone or anything. The cowboy knelt down and placed an arm under the dying man’s neck and propped him up. The dying man was shaking and scared and he looked into the eyes of the cowboy and said. “I know I’m dying and I have no one in this world. Please don’t forget me.’ The man died and as the hard-core cowboy lowered him back to the ground he began to cry. Hope this helped answer your question, best, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 3:48 pm
  18. Hi Adrienne. You’re welcome. Actually, I’m having a ball. The questions are very good and they’re making me do a little self-exam. Milton

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 4:02 pm
  19. Way to go, ladies! We’ve driven him to self-examination. LOL.

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | May 20, 2009, 4:08 pm
  20. Hi, Milton! Thanks for opening up to our inquiring minds. I was wondering if men think to themselves in different language than what they express out loud. I’d guess they may speak differently to each other when women aren’t around… perhaps a bit more crudely? For example, when a guy first sees a good looking woman how might he think about her to himself? It’s got to be more than just “good looking woman” or “she looks okay”. In my story the hero thinks to himself “… especially not a (fill in blank) like her.” Would he think “looker” or “babe” or “hot tamale” or …?
    Jen

    Posted by JenH | May 20, 2009, 4:11 pm
  21. Hi, Mary E. Ulrich. I think most people understand that a soldier’s take on things is different than the average civilian. Not only is he physically molded in boot camp, he’s mentally changed also. Most of us go to work then come home and leave the job back at the office. The focus of our life or activity shifts to family or some other non-work related item. A soldier is always a soldier, 24/7. His world revolves entirely around one thing–his duty.
    If I was writing about a soldier and was wanting to nail his pov, I’d remember that he carries with him a new attitude about his place in the world now. He would walk a little taller, carry himself a little prouder and where he once was undecided about certain issues he now has an unshakeable confidence in what he believes He speaks with few words but means what he says.
    Now, all the above will work if you don’t have a soldier with problems. postramatic stress etc. Since I don’t know the situation or character of the soldier in your book, it would be hard for me to give you specifics. Hope this helps. Best, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 4:46 pm
  22. Hi, everyone. Sometimes when people answer questions as I have today, they aren’t quite on the same wavelength as the person asking the question. If today, I haven’t answered anyone’s question to their satisfaction, please let me know now so I can take a stab at it again. Best, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 4:50 pm
  23. Hi, Wendy Clark. Thanks for your input. Best, Milton

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 4:55 pm
  24. Hi, Margie Porter. I agree with your take on men appearing simple and keeping the complex out of sight. Thanks, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 5:44 pm
  25. Hi Milton, thank you for taking the time to help us ladies with the male mind.

    It seems books stores are filled with the female mind and very little with the male,so it’s great having this input. I find when I write in the male POV, I often ask myself WWHD? What would hubby do? Luckily I have a soldier/small town newf/espionage/father/geeky man boy for a husband. But when times call for a little more class, I try to put myself as the man and turn off that “oh but what if” gene. I guess what I am curious about is when you write in a female POV, what methods do you take to capture her essence?

    Posted by Candace Hillier | May 20, 2009, 6:33 pm
  26. Thanks, Milton, for your insight into these thought-provoking questions. I’m sure you’re really busy, so we appreciate you taking so much time answering our questions. Adrienne’s always singing your praises, and now I know why!

    Take care, Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 20, 2009, 7:31 pm
  27. Hi, Candace Hillier. I’d written a spy espionage novel with a father and daughter team as Government agents. Their relationship was the typical ‘father critiquing and teaching his daughter the savvy ways of the Agent. I think I made it easy on myself when writing in the female pov with the daughter. She was pretty much the average woman when it came to everyday things. But when the going got tough she transformed immediately. I basically almost gave her a male pov when it came to fighting and weapons and the extremely hard decisions some agents have to make. I also consulted with my wife and other women to make sure that kind of male pov would work with a female character. Believe me, I made my share of mistakes. I think that’s why critique groups and stuff like we’re doing here today is so important. I probably learned as much today, if not more than anyone else. The questions from the group were really thought provoking. I wish I had a better answer for men writing in the female pov. I guess we just need to hang together and help each other. Best, Milton.

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 20, 2009, 8:49 pm
  28. Another great post. I love articles regarding male POV. This one was very helpful and informative as were all the wonderful comments. Thanks.

    Posted by Jennifer M | May 20, 2009, 11:29 pm
  29. Great post! I agree with Jennifer M, I love articles regarding male POV.

    Posted by brwniydgirl | May 21, 2009, 1:46 pm
  30. Comments included here are from Rod Raglin.

    Dear Milton,

    I write romance (yet unpublished) and am one of two male members in an RWA chapter that numbers about 90.

    I’ve had members ask me to critique their work from a male POV. I always tell them that I cannot speak for my gender and that a person’s POV has so many other influences and being a male is just one, and maybe not even that significant.

    I appreciate that you had to come up with something for this project but your descriptions of men’s use of language, their decision making process, and their relationship flaws is clichéd and stereotypical. Women writer’s following your advice are likely to come up with a hero that is inarticulate, intransigent, and incomplete – as in one dimensionable.

    Women know men – sometimes better than men know themselves. Most know what motivates us though they may not appreciate why. The problem I see with women writing a male POV is the point you mentioned, they are uncomfortable with certain aspects about the male psyche – our competitiveness, our perceived insensitivity, and our testosterone fueled machismo. They want to create a hero that does not have these unflattering characteristics – in reality, not a real man, from a literary point of view.

    As writer’s – male or female – we need to dig deep, look beyond the superficial for what’s unique not what’s common, push the boundaries to create realistic, complex, one-of-a-kind characters – just like the people we interact with every day.

    There is, however, one distinct difference between men and women you fail to point out, but is evident in the responses to your comments. Women are not as critical as us guys.

    Thanks, Milton, for sticking your neck out, and thanks to the creators of this forum for giving me the opportunity to comment.

    Rod

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 21, 2009, 6:48 pm
  31. Hi, Rod Raglin. Thanks for the opinion. As with the other people who commented, you have given me food for thought. Best, Milton

    Posted by Milton Grasle | May 21, 2009, 9:53 pm
  32. Hi,
    I know I’m late here, just read the blog. Thank you so much for explaining the male POV in a short concise manner. It will truly help this female writing.

    Posted by Kit Donner | May 22, 2009, 12:46 pm
  33. Milton (and Adrienne), Thank you for this post it contains some wonderful offerings to take, think though and work with. Your answers have produced more then insight. You make your words entertaining to read and I for one will make an opportunity to read you further. (Not sure about the horror — I scare easily, I’m happy ever after through and true). —– Eric

    Posted by Eric | May 26, 2009, 9:01 pm

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