Thursday, December 19, 2013

Men Are Not Women With Chest Hair - Terry Odell

This post first ran on Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A while back, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop given by best selling romance author, Linda Howard. While the focus of the workshop was the Twelve Steps to Intimacy, I've already done a number of blog posts on that topic, (you can read a summary here)

Most of my books are romantic suspense, which puts them under the romance umbrella, which means the majority of my audience is female. I know there's an XY reader contingent of this blog, so any feedback from them is welcome.

I write books from the points of view of both men and women. Obviously, it's easier to write "female" but I do try very hard to make sure my men are actually "men" and, as the title of this blog suggests, not women with chest hair.

One of the topics Linda Howard covered was writing details. She pointed out that this was one place where men are really different from women. Women write detail in sex scenes, while men write detail in action scenes. And, since we were an audience of women, she told us we had to work especially hard when writing action scenes from a male character's POV.

She said that writing details in scenes of violence takes guts, but that we should suck it up, describing things that make us uncomfortable. And she urged us to remember the emotional detail as well as the physical. Violence, danger and sex have an emotional price, and that needs to come across on the page.

She used Barry Eisler and Vince Flynn as examples of suspense authors who write extremely detailed action scenes. Their fight scenes show every detail. She went on to say that Vince Flynn once said he wished he could write love scenes as easily as Linda Howard.

But, she said, if she had to write an action scene, this would be her first draft:  "He was shot. It hurt. He shot back. The other guy died." (From that example, I'll let my readers extrapolate how a man might write a sex scene—and I've read all too many of them!)

So, while she (and most women) struggle to write an action/fight/violent scene accurately from a male character's head, men must dig deeper to write love scenes

Some observations: Men tend to focus on one thing at a time. She compared them to a rifle: one shot, one direction. Women tend to be more like shotguns, with shells scattering their contents in a wide array. Men are less likely to get sidetracked.

She closed with the point that there is one underlying quality we must understand, and that is how much men love women. Howard mentioned a friend of hers whose wife had passed away. He said he missed waking up in the morning, holding her in his arms, smelling her scent and falling back to sleep.

I know that if I leave the bed before my husband gets up, I will almost always find him on my side of the bed shortly thereafter. Whether he's aware of it or not, odds are, it's the familiar scent that draws him over.

And, in closing, to reiterate the power of the sex drive, Howard, who has been married to her husband for 36 years, said that once they were in the middle of an intense argument. When it appeared that there was no way for her to win, she said, "You may be right, but I'm the guardian of the gate to paradise."

He stopped.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists. Look for Terry's newest release. DEADLY SECRETS, A Mapleton Mystery, is her first non-romantic suspense novel. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who tries her best with the action scenes and the love scenes, and appreciates all the good advice that has been shared by other writers and editors.


  1. Oh, Terry, how many gender nails you hit squarely on the head. I write thrillers that, like life, include love and romance. And, to my surprise but consistent with your argument, it's the sex scenes that I am apt to abridge.

    And I always roll over to my wife's side of the bed in the morning if she gets up first!

    --Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

  2. Very interesting post, Terry. I think what you say is true, but as well as how men/women prefer to write a particular type of scene, there's also how they prefer to read said scene.

    There's no point writing a very accurate male pov if it turns off you female readership, so finding a balance and a way to integrate that voice into the tone of your story is important, I think.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  3. Writing scenes from a woman's POV is challenging for me, but my female editor says they ring more or less true ... she could be just jerking my chain ... I'm not sure I can trust her.

  4. Larry - we write what we're comfortable writing. It's learning how to get out of that comfort zone that presents the challenge.

    Mooderino - of course, you have to take your readership into account, but there's a way to remain true to your character and not turn off readers. I'd skirted an action scene in one of my books, and my editor insisted I put it on the page, so it helps to be able to "see" things from both angles.

    Christopher - I've been told I handle the male POV well. Maybe both our chains are being yanked!

  5. And then we have Nicholas Sparks.

  6. Great post, Terry! It's good to read these reminders every couple months to keep it in the front of my mind while writing. I'll have to flag this post for when I start my next RS.

  7. Linda - I'll confess here in public that I've never read him.

    Stacy - glad this could prove useful

  8. I confess along with Terry - no Sparks for me either. Er... maybe I should rephrase that. ;D I wonder if we should have a theme month challenging our readers to get out of their comfort zones - whether in writing or reading. Could be interesting, and I'd gain from it. What do you think?

  9. I've joined a book club since moving up here, and it's pushing me WAY out of my comfort zone as a reader. Not sure I could WRITE very far out of my comfort zone--not if I wanted to sell, anyway.

  10. This touches on why Twilight caught on so much with female readers. Even I got swept away in the first book; it took me back to high school with that feeling of longing for the gorgeous and unattainable boy, the conflicted emotions, the self-doubt.

    The books describe in excrutiating detail every facet of Bella's crush on Edward - which really is a deep, epic devotion. But translated to a movie, it lacks a bit of punch. While I connected to the book, in the movie I wanted to see more bad vampires, fights or something. The movie trailers showed an action packed racing through the woods thriller, so I get why guys felt duped when they got 2 hours of teens pining for each other.

  11. This is quite interesting--I hadn't realized the difference, but it makes sense. Good post!

  12. LOL! You know, I live with three men (two are my sons, so not as exciting as it sounds). I hadn't really thought about it, but you're right. The boys can go into excruciating detail about all things related to war, death and destruction. They make my eyes glaze over sometimes. Guess I'd better grab a cup of coffee and some toothpicks to prop open my eyes next time they start talking about gun calibers and such. ;)

    And here I thought hubby rolled over to my side of the bed because he's a bed hog. :)

    Thanks for the reminders. It's good to think about when we're writing, especially when we're writing from the POV of the opposite sex.

  13. Stephsco - there's a reason they call some movies chick flicks.

    Heidi - thanks. Hope you got something to think about.

    Lynne - true. Since I write romantic suspense, it's virtually a "law" that I have to show both male and female POV characters. And I want to make them as true to their gender as I can. Of course, there's a long continuum of behaviors, but I don't want readers saying, "A guy would never do/say that."

  14. I think it is a good idea to read out of the genres we write in. Not only does it stretch us as readers it can help us understand the POV of the opposite sex. I have read some men's action adventure books so I could get a better sense of how to write action scenes.

  15. Maryann, research is always good! I do have a couple of contacts--one SWAT, one army, who have been very helpful in keeping me on track.

  16. I loved your post Terry how funny. I have another author that has tips on writing from a male point of view that is Keri Arthur. She's Austrailian and writes paranormal romantic suspense. I love your books by the way.

  17. Kathy - thanks, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post and my books!

  18. I always come away with new and interesting information when I read your posts, Terry. We have a sleep number bed with a pretty big variance on each side, so we may 'encroach' but don't actually end up on either side! Loved Linda Howard's way of settling the argument.

  19. Thanks, Karen. Our old bed was a water bed with individual tubes, and Hubster's side was very soft, while mine was firm. But he'd still come over to my side after I got up. And I guess nobody messes with Linda Howard.

  20. Terry, sorry I'm late to the party but I had to go underground to finish up some novel edits. You wrote:

    Some observations: Men tend to focus on one thing at a time. She compared them to a rifle: one shot, one direction. Women tend to be more like shotguns, with shells scattering their contents in a wide array. Men are less likely to get sidetracked.

    This is absolutely not true in my marriage (refer to "went underground to finish novel," above). My husband is the most distractible person I know, almost begin for interruption, where I love nothing more than to shut out the world and sink deeply into a project. In a similar fashion, it's fun to go against type when creating characters.

    Although I totally get it about different reading styles and desires. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this thoughtful post, and I'll NEVER forget its title!

  21. Sorry—Blogger has autocorrect? That was supposed to be "begging" for distraction!

  22. Kathryn - there are no absolutes, and with people, there are lots of variables. We have to deal with generalizations, but we also have to be aware when we're going astray so we can make sure we explain everything to our readers when we go against type.

  23. There are varying levels of masculine and feminine and I find the personality traits to be more reflective of how people really are. I think society has promoted the male/John Wayne, female/Mae West stereotypes for so long that people take them for granted. Humans are far more fluid and variable than gender stereotypes allow for. I know men who make far better homemakers and hands-on parents and women who are happier out in the field drilling oil pipelines. The variation of personality types have their own unique way of looking at romance, relationships, and sex. Some women prefer diamonds, others prefer diamond drill bits. To some sex is a physical release, to others it is a sacred ritual. That's why I'm so passionate about my books series and blog. I hope to help writers build more believable, three-dimensional characters.

    1. True -- and I wish I could remember the reference, but at a workshop, the presenter quoted physiological data about a "hormone wash" that takes place in utero that has a lot to do with determining the levels of sexuality. However, as writers, we can't stray too far afield from reader expectation without a good deal of setup. We've all read books where we say, 'that author can't write men/women worth beans" and it's usually when they're writing the opposite gender.

  24. Terry, a second reading of this magnificent post is just what I needed today - it's more in the context of my writing since I have a male protagonist on my hands in this romance novella. Such lovely affirmation - thank you!

  25. well....I think that each character needs to be their own. Some of us are women with chest hair---errhemm so to speak.


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