The Amazon sample can be read without a download here on Kindleboards: http://www.kindleboards.com/sample/?asin=B005HQ4JAO
WHAT MALE READERS WANT by John Blackport
Since men read as much as women do, but read a lot less fiction, some writers worry about whether they can entice male readers. From there, the question becomes: how can it be done?
Surprisingly, the answer isn’t directly related to sex. . . at least not in the way many people expect. In my experience, male readers like explicit sex in novels far LESS than theire female counterparts. I’ve heard a few theories about this from women, mostly not very flattering to men: something about us being so obsessed with visual stimulation, particularly porn, that we’re uncomfortable with anything sexual that requires imagination, or is less than 100% visual.
Some of the most vocal male supporters of "fade to black" pointed out examples where it was "done right". They showed me excerpts from some "boy books" where the hero bangs lots of women, who are rarely seen naked and never seen having sex --- they mostly lounge around in bathrobes and towels with their hair messed up. They hang all over the hero’s shoulders and compliment his technique.
This leads to another theory about why women seem to enjoy explicit sex scenes more: men don’t want to have sex vicariously through a hero. The vicarious experience they do want is the experience of being sexually irresistible. They want to read about the heroine internally drooling when she steals a glance at the hero’s physique.
Of course, you could say that the terms of “male reader” and “female reader” are also oversimplifications --- a person’s reading preferences probably has more to do with their sexual attitudes than their sexual equipment --- but we all have to start somewhere, so here is my own theory:
Men prefer external obstacles to internal ones.
The male perception of why “women’s entertainment is so dull” --- admittedly, not always a fair one --- springs from the worry that the struggle will always come down to a heroine trying to come to a decision, or work up the courage to do something. Men don’t mind this stuff merely existing in a novel, but they tire of it easily, and if they don’t see something more tangible going on, they’ll roll their eyes and dismiss the story’s conflict as endless dithering.
The most obvious way around this is a hostile enemy (or rival) who must be defeated or thwarted, whose moves must be met with countermoves. Taken to extremes, this results in stereotypical “men’s entertainment”, full of explosions, car chases, and women who are passive and clueless.
What intrigues me most about this prospect is that it explains why I know so many men who are closet fans of paranormal romance. There are more of them than you’d think, and I think they’re drawn to the ass-kicking heroines. They’re pickier than the female fans of the genre seem to be --- but the strongest common thread between their preferences seem to be a heroine who is active, not passive. Men have a lot more tolerance for passive heroines in a story where the hero is the main character, but it’s still not their “top pick”. And in the case of a female main character, their preference for active heroines is overwhelming. In my experience, the men who won’t read stories with a female protagonist largely do so from a preconceived notion that she will be too passive to be interesting.
In the absence of an enemy, men still want the protagonist to face obstacles with physical, objective manifestations. In the case of a man who wants a woman, this could take many forms: “I can’t have her until I mend the rift between our families,” “I have to smuggle her out of this war zone,” or “I have to find the cure to this disease before it kills her.”
If a conflict is internal --- existing entirely in characters’ minds and hearts --- men still want to see it as the accomplishment of a goal. So when the hero disappoints the heroine, most male readers don’t want to see the heroine agonize about whether or not to forgive him. They’ll dismiss such a heroine as an airhead. In such a case, they want to see the heroine be mad, so that all is lost unless the hero actively changes it. They want to see the hero struggle to earn her forgiveness by making it up to her --- and not with sweet talk and empty promises, either! With deeds. Even if the roles are reversed, and the heroine is the one who has disappointed the hero, they want to see the road to reconciliation to be an active attempt at redemption, not passive waiting.
Men don’t respect a hero who waits to see how things shake out --- and heroines who do so don’t fare much better. If the hero is forced into passivity, he should show he’s forced into it: ideally, by trying an active plan which fails, and he must be visibly enraged at its failure.
Of course, the best novels contain conflicts that have both internal and external components. How these perceptions are best acted upon is a question of narrative manner --- how you emphasize what’s going on. Some authors like to have the hero and the heroine sharing the spotlight --- this used to mean mixing internal and external conflicts throughout the book. Now, it means mixing internal and external conflicts through both the hero and the heroine, as individuals. It’s tricky but it’s worth it.
Thanks for swinging in!
Until next time,