Friday, March 11, 2005

Man, I Feel Like a Woman

Interesting poll (on the left-hand sidebar) about hero versus heroine POVs that I found mentioned on Larissa's blog and had to check out. Plus it looks as if Larissa will be covering this topic in her next RTB column, which I'll be anxious to read.

I remember the day when romance novels were always written predominantly in the heroine's POV, with the occasional switch to the hero's. At the time I never realized how much was missing by giving the hero short-shrift, and now, after having read so many of today's offerings where there is equal time given to both, I can't imagine going back to the old ways. In fact, my one main complaint about Pride and Prejudice is that I never get to see inside Mr. Darcy's head (and thus my quest to find a companion book to fill in that missing piece).

Personally, I prefer to read the hero's POV. And in fact, I prefer to write the hero's POV. I find it a lot easier, almost. Which is weird considering that I'm a woman and therefore it should be a lot harder to write from a male perspective and therefore a lot less fun. But usually it's the scenes where I'm in the heroine's head that give me the most hardship while I breeze through the guy-centric scenes.

I have a few theories why this might be.

First of all, how much fun is it to finally, *finally* understand the mystery that is the male mind? For our entire lives-after-puberty (and a good portion before puberty) we woman are trying to figure out what the heck guys are thinking and feeling. They'll even admit that it's their job to keep us in the dark as much as possible. I suspect they hold secret slumber parties where they practice things like the one-syllable non-answer and the correct projection of pat clich├ęs such as "Nothing's wrong. I'm fine." and "If you want to talk, just talk." Women might be from Venus but I think men are from a galaxy as yet undiscovered.

As writers, we get to actually enter into that black void of mystery known as the male psyche. When Studly Hero gives Sweet Heroine a "steely unblinking glare," instead of *wondering* what he's thinking, we can just *decide* and *say* that he's thinking how much he loves her and would throw himself in front of a train to keep her safe and that the dress she's wearing makes her voluptuous hips look amazingly slim. When he says "Nothing's wrong, I'm fine" what he *really* means is that he loves her so much his heart is about to break out of his chest but he's afraid if he tells her how he feels she'll laugh at him like his first love did when he was all of a tender sixteen and stood beneath her window declaring his eternal devotion.

I suppose writing from the hero's POV is a quintessential practice of "telling" instead of "showing." By writing strictly from the heroine's POV, we have to work all that much harder to show the reader what the guy is really thinking and feeling since the reader only sees what the heroine sees. And since guys tend to be fairly stoic and silent about their feelings, it's awfully hard to show that they even have them.

You could, of course, have the hero actually talk about what he feels - admit with actual words that he adores the heroine and thinks she's the best thing to come into his life since High Def Monday Night Football. But you have to admit that guys who wax poetic about their feelings don't exactly fit the technical description of a big strong macho guy. And god help you if you have an alpha-male hero who wouldn't show a tender feeling if a gun was pointed at his head.

At the risk of speaking for a large group (and I'm sorry ahead of time if I've gotten this all wrong) what we seem to want as readers, I think, is a man who feels like a woman but acts like a man. Or rather, a man who *expresses* his feelings like a woman but still acts like a man. And since acting like a man often precludes expressing such girly-like feelings, writing from the hero's POV allows us to sneak under the wire on that one.

So jumping into the hero's POV can be considered a form of cheating of the highest order. But I'm cool with that, both as a writer and a reader. In fact, I encourage it. Because my second theory on why I like to see inside the hero's head so much is because that's where the magic lies for me.

I've discussed before how much I love those first electrifying moments when all previous feelings (animosity, annoyance, lust, infatuation) turn into love. Nothing is better for me than when the hero (and, to a lesser degree, the heroine) realizes hot damn, I can't live without that little woman! This moment is magnified when I'm actually inside the guy's brain as it happens. I'm standing right there with him when the sun finally dawns, and boy, talk about a thrill! It might take him several more chapters to accept his feelings and several more beyond that for him to act on them or admit to them. As long as I'm in the hero's POV, though, I get to stay on the rollercoaster. The second I switch to the heroine's POV, I'm back in Angst City, left to wonder what the heck that stupid man is thinking, waiting for the magic moment if it ever occurs at all.

And pardon me for this foray into psychobabble, but maybe it's because men (in romance novels at least) seem to fall so dang hard. Once they realize they love the heroine, there is no half-way about it. It's deep. It's intense. It's mind-shattering and world-rocking. Women, on the other hand, seem to accept it more easily. Not that the intensity is any less, but more it seems to come as less of a total shock.

Kind of like getting into a cold swimming pool. A woman might dip in a toe, then a foot, then a leg. By the time she is fully immersed, she's grown accustomed to the cold water and can totally enjoy the refreshing sensation. A man, however, seems more likely to just dive right off the edge, cold turkey. The shock of the water will hit him like a sledge hammer, and he might resist it for a while. But soon he'll realize how wonderful it is.

I, personally, prefer to read and write about the shock. It holds more thrill for me. Maybe because it is different, and different is always more interesting, I find.

All this being said, there is a trick - as a female writer - to writing a believable hero POV. To capturing the way a male might think without crossing over into the female way of seeing the world yet still offering more than he outwardly shows as a course of just being. An alpha hero who constantly mulls over the loveliness of his lover's flowing gown kind of loses his alpha-ness even if he never utters a single word. Conversely, if a hero's introspection doesn't offer a whole lot more than what he offers the outside world in the way of verbal and physical cues, then we aren't any better off than the heroine and might as well hang out with her.

Some of the best hero POVs, IMO, are written by Suzanne Brockmann. Time and again I read her books and marvel at how well she captures a male voice yet shows the kind of tenderness that makes me see why the heroine falls for the guy. Granted, I prefer a more alpha-hero, which SB tends to write, so watching her men fall like dominoes in the presence of true love is a particular thrill for me.

Like I said, I'll be very interested to read Larissa's viewpoint when she does her column. And I'll keep my eye on that poll to see if the trend shifts should more readers and writers cast a vote.

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