December 09, 2019, 05:16:17 AM

Author Topic: How to Avoid Scaring Away Male Readers - Too Much Touchy Feely Stuff (literally)  (Read 17732 times)

Offline JMack

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I guess I think of it like this:

Is it a love story? Then don't and you can't hide it. Though as Crooks says, you can pace it, leaven it.

Is it a story about lust, politics and personal failures and triumphs in which "love" is really other things?

So in either case, humor goes a long way to easing people into things.

In the second case, your main charcater can sense himself being dragged almost against his will into it. He may be fooling himself he's in love but some part knows he's not. You want us to sense that. Or he truly knows this isn't love, it's the other stuff, and we're happy to go along for the ride.

At least, those are things that occur to me.

As to getting a lot of answers, well, we talk a lot. It's hard to shut us up.  ;D
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Offline Roxxsmom


The whole "warranted" stipulation is what scares me. Its subjective.

Yep it is, and readers, including male ones, aren't a hive mind. That's why attracting a publisher and finding a readership is so darned hard these days. There's no set formula for when something is appealing or done well.

But there have been and are male writers who incorporate romance into their stories. It used to be quite common. I think it still is outside of the grimdark subgenre of fantasy (which has romances sometimes, but they never end well).

Heinlein. The guy who's often held up as the champion of "old school" hard, military, manly man SF? Plenty of sappy romantic subplots in his juveniles, and in some of his adult novels too. Also some where he didn't do such a great job (imo). Friday, anyone? But the man didn't shy away from putting either love or sex (for the adult ones) in his books, and male readers hardly shunned him for it.

Funny how many people who are arguing that modern SFF writers should be more like Heinlein never actually read any of his books.

A popular male fantasy writer (at least before he got strange and started writing books about little girls' panties and even creepier themes) who had romance in most of his stories: Piers Anthony.  My high school boyfriend loved him. Me, not so much (though some female fantasy fans did back in the day).

Plenty of other examples as well. Even Fafherd and the Gray Mouser had girlfriends in some of the stories (though it wasn't a given they'd make it through alive).

The guy getting the girl, losing the girl, and getting the girl back is a very old theme in adventure fiction. The main problem with the old stories is that the women were often sort of flat as characters, only shown through the eyes of the MMC or an omniscient narrator who spent a lot of time describing their breasts. Interestingly, the complaints about "icky romance" taking over fantasy and SF didn't emerge until there were more writers of both genders writing stories where the characters of both genders were more fleshed out (or the romance was sometimes even shown through the eyes of a FMC).

I also think the aversion of "most" male fantasy readers to romantic subplots is overstated. My first fantasy novel has a romantic subplot and I spend time inside the heads of both people involved. 4/6 of my betas have been male, and not a one has complained about that part of the story. In fact, they all liked it (and the FMC).

My take home on this is that what people say they like when they're listing pet peeves in forums versus what they actually read and enjoy are not always the same thing.

If you write a good story with a romantic subplot that is organic to the story and the characters, then most people will probably like it just fine. No promises that all people (of either gender) will or that it will find a home, even if it is good and your betas all love it (it's a tough and uncertain market these days). But I've seen little evidence that agents and publishers think romantic subplots are any more unmarketable than they've ever been.

And worst case scenario. Say far more women do like your novel than men. Women read fiction more than men these days. And while fantasy may attract more male readers than many other genres, approximately half (possibly more) of fantasy readers are still women. The cliche about most fantasy readers being male hasn't been true for a long time. If you attract more female readers, you can still do very well indeed. There are a number of very successful fantasy writers who have made their living by appealing to mostly female readerships.

« Last Edit: May 10, 2015, 12:38:37 AM by Roxxsmom »

Offline Francis Knight



But there have been and are male writers who incorporate romance into their stories. It used to be quite common. I think it still is outside of the grimdark subgenre of fantasy (which has romances sometimes, but they never end well).

Yup, in fact I am hard pressed to think of a recent fantasy I've read that had absolutely zero romanticals in it. Abercrombie frex often has romances (though as noted, don't usually end well), as does GRRM, Pratchett, Lynch, Weeks etc etc

I think some peoples' -- not just mens' -- problem is when romance takes over the story. If they wanted that, they'd read a romance. But if it is part of the story then I think you're OK. I certainly have never written a book without at least a hint of a romantic subplot. Even when I kill everyone :)
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Offline Roxxsmom

Yep, if romantic subplots are so hated, why do they keep publishing books that have them?

Note--I don't like cardboard romances or ones where I can't see any logical reason for the characters to fall for one another, let alone stay together. Aromatic and asexual characters are probably an underrepresented (and ignored) demographic as well. But I also would find it odd of I were reading story after story where no one was attracted to or fell for anyone. People fall in love, and they often do so when they're not looking to, or even at inconvenient times. It's pretty darned realistic, and love is something most people want for themselves (including men). The male half of the species has certainly written a lot of syrupy love songs and romantic poetry over the ages. Odd behavior for people who have an aversion to emotions and don't know how to express them.


Offline jefGoelz

-I don't like cardboard romances or ones where I can't see any logical reason for the characters to fall for one another, let alone stay together.

I think that if there were logical reasons for two people to get together, it wouldn't be much like real life.

Offline Nora

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-I don't like cardboard romances or ones where I can't see any logical reason for the characters to fall for one another, let alone stay together.

I think that if there were logical reasons for two people to get together, it wouldn't be much like real life.

Roxx probably means 50 shades of grey type of illogical : two people who have nothing in common defy all odds to still fuck each other and even marry. What would your average dominatrix say to a virgin ticking off their contract list going "no, no, no, nope I won't do anal either..." ect.
They'd say, "you know what? Maybe this isn't going to work". Because it wouldn't. Nothing but the forceful pen of the author makes that kind of relationship and forced, 2min long acquaintances into passionate romances.
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Offline Lu Kudzoza

IMO, the only reason to detail sexual encounters is if it reveals character or furthers the plot.

Totally agree. If the sex advances the story or the relationship I have no problem with it, but if it becomes repetitive it gets boring.

I just finished Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series (which are probably considered erotica). The main character from the first series is blessed/cursed from getting pleasure from pain and humiliation. It sets up interesting situations where she can be the hero due to her unique character. So the graphic sex scenes add to the plot and advance the story. However, Carey over did it IMO to the point where I was saying to myself, "O.K. I get the point." then skipping to the next section.

Offline NinjaRaptor

Unfortunately, people from the medieval period aren't going to be the ones reading my book. I've been looking around at forums, including this one, and trying to gauge what the average male reaction would be to my writing. From what I see, most guys seem to be squeamish when anything related to love or sex shows up and its not "warranted".
I'm a dude, and I would think a lot of guys would appreciate sex scenes at least. Sure, we often gravitate towards more visual media like porn, but those of us with imaginations wouldn't mind a few sex scenes as long as the chick* is hot.

But yeah, I agree with everyone who says you should write what you want first and foremost.

* Or dude, for gay readers.
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Offline ClintACK

Interesting topic.

I'm a male reader, and I've been trying to think about how sex and romance are handled in some of my favorite SFF books.

Obviously, Brandon Sanderson is entirely off-screen.  Robert Jordan seems to do the imply-and-cut-away method.  Lots of "romance" in Wheel of Time though -- although the Lan-and-Nynaeve one seems to be the only one really popular with fans.

Jim Butcher.  In the Dresden Files, book 5: Death Masks, there's a pretty intense sex scene between Harry and Susan.  It's a long scene, very intense and as explicit as a romance novel until it gets below the waist.  Lots of focus on the emotions, with tiny vague details of the physical, leaving the reader to fill it in.  The scene is definitely earned after three books of their relationship and it's important to the plot on several different time scales.

I don't think *any* male reader has been turned off the series by that scene.


Patrick Rothfuss.  Name of the Wind doesn't have any (Kvothe's what, fourteen or fifteen in most of that?) but Wise Man's Fear has a good bit.  After the first scene with Felurian, it's not very explicit, though.  He does with sex what Jordan did with fighting -- it's all poetic names for different techniques.

Plenty of romance, though.  On top of the main Kvothe-Denna "romance" if that's what it is.
Spoiler for "quote":
Losi stepped close to me again, brushing her hair back. “Was she really as beautiful as they say?” Her chin went up proudly. “More beautiful than me?”

I hesitated, then spoke softly. “She was Felurian, most beautiful of all.” I reached out to brush the side of her neck where her red hair began its curling tumble downward, then leaned forward and whispered seven words into her ear. “For all that, she lacked your fire.” And she loved me for those seven words, and her pride was safe.

Rothfuss, Patrick (2011-03-01). The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two (p. 700). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

The moment when Fela first notices Simmon is amazing, and a fan favorite. 
Spoiler for "quote":
I saw Fela turn her head to look at Simmon, almost as if she were surprised to see him sitting there.

No, it was almost as if up until that point, he’d just been occupying space around her, like a piece of furniture. But this time when she looked at him, she took all of him in. His sandy hair, the line of his jaw, the span of his shoulders beneath his shirt. This time when she looked, she actually saw him.

Let me say this. It was worth the whole awful, irritating time spent searching the Archives just to watch that moment happen. It was worth blood and the fear of death to see her fall in love with him. Just a little. Just the first faint breath of love, so light she probably didn’t notice it herself. It wasn’t dramatic, like some bolt of lightning with a crack of thunder following.  It was more like when flint strikes steel and the spark fades almost too fast for you to see. But still, you know it’s there, down where you can’t see, kindling.

Rothfuss, Patrick (2011-03-01). The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two (p. 225). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.



Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn.  Considering the length of the thing, there's not that much sex -- I can only remember two sex scenes.  The first one is explicit enough that it talks about the ways in which humanity has genetically modified itself for increased sexual performance.  The other one was as explicit as any romance novel with a bare-chested cover model, but the sex is also crucial to the plot, kicking off a major subplot.  So it's not *just* titillation.

Again, I don't think any male readers were turned off by the amount of sex in a sweeping epic space war-and-adventure story.



Re: What's "warranted" mean?

People have already mentioned that the scene should be important to plot and character, not just tacked on.

I'd add that it should usually come as the "payoff" to an arc, rather than as something that just happens.  That is, there should be a buildup of tension, or flirting, or courting, or fighting, or *something* between the two characters over several scenes before they hop into bed.  It should be something the reader wants to happen when it does -- just like an infodump.


But I'd agree with everyone else: Write for yourself first, adapt it to others (if at all) in later edits.  If you don't like what you've written, it's hard to ask someone else to.

Offline Lawsons

Perhaps make the sex/love scenes more about lust and physical attraction rather then love and spiritual attraction. I'm not saying you do this but I find that male audiences are much more driven by physical attraction and would probably relate more to that sort of feeling in any love scenes (That's why GRRM sex scenes are accepted by a male audience). Also, its much more real then having lovey dovey type sex. Generally speaking, even if two people love each other, sex is very much a physical experience. You don't think during sex "I'm in love with this person" it's all about the then and there and is very much driven by lust and primal feelings. All the feelings that come past physical attraction are usually after sex and in-between it, not during.

Offline TBM

Write from the heart and soul. Don't be considering men just for the sake of fianancial success. As certain recent romance stories have shown it is possible to reach blockbuster status by chasing only the female audience. If that's where your writing naturally goes than go for it unapologetically.

Offline Roxxsmom

-I don't like cardboard romances or ones where I can't see any logical reason for the characters to fall for one another, let alone stay together.

I think that if there were logical reasons for two people to get together, it wouldn't be much like real life.

Roxx probably means 50 shades of grey type of illogical : two people who have nothing in common defy all odds to still fuck each other and even marry.

Yep. Of course people are often attracted physically or chemically to people they have nothing in common with, even dislike. Sometimes they mistake that for true love, but it rarely ends well. I'm talking about those books where the woman is shown through the eyes of the man and it's all about how beautiful she is (or vice versa) and the person is just the most incredibly two-dimensional, shallow character imaginable, or they have nothing in common, or they just grate on each other and snark at one another all the time, yet somehow they're together and happy at the end without even having to work for it really or learn how to be nicer people. I don't know very many couples like this who worked out long term in real life.


I'm a dude, and I would think a lot of guys would appreciate sex scenes at least. Sure, we often gravitate towards more visual media like porn, but those of us with imaginations wouldn't mind a few sex scenes as long as the chick* is hot.

But yeah, I agree with everyone who says you should write what you want first and foremost.

* Or dude, for gay readers.

But what if the "chick" isn't especially hot? What if it's from her point of view? And what if it's between two gay men and you're not gay?

This seems to be a difference, maybe, between the genders. Or maybe not the genders, but between some readers, because like I said, guys aren't a hive mind. But as a woman, when I read a sex scene, I don't get squicked out if the guy's not handsome, or even if it's between two women, or written from a male point of view (and I've written romantic/sexy scenes from a male viewpoint too), so long as it's what I consider well and tastefully written and I'm invested in the characters and rooting for their relationship. Now, my interests are going to be different if I'm reading erotica than a straight up fantasy novel that just happens to have a romantic subplot. But I think it's possible to show the events in the bedroom without it devolving into porn, and if it's relevant to the development of the characters I already care about, I'm happy to see it.
« Last Edit: June 03, 2015, 08:54:25 AM by Roxxsmom »

Offline jefGoelz

I do wonder about the point of detailing what is basically white bread mutually satisfying sex.

If something weird or awkward happens, it can go to characterization or the nature of the relationship, but white bread sex?  Just cut to the afterglow or show their behavior changing after their encounter, imo

Offline NinjaRaptor

But what if the "chick" isn't especially hot? What if it's from her point of view? And what if it's between two gay men and you're not gay?

This seems to be a difference, maybe, between the genders. Or maybe not the genders, but between some readers, because like I said, guys aren't a hive mind. But as a woman, when I read a sex scene, I don't get squicked out if the guy's not handsome, or even if it's between two women, or written from a male point of view (and I've written romantic/sexy scenes from a male viewpoint too), so long as it's what I consider well and tastefully written and I'm invested in the characters and rooting for their relationship. Now, my interests are going to be different if I'm reading erotica than a straight up fantasy novel that just happens to have a romantic subplot. But I think it's possible to show the events in the bedroom without it devolving into porn, and if it's relevant to the development of the characters I already care about, I'm happy to see it.
If there really is a gender difference here, it's probably a vestige from the days when women were expected to be much more bashful about their sex drives than men. But I've seen way too many romance novel covers with shirtless, physically idealized male characters to believe there aren't women who, just like men, like fantasizing about sex with attractive partners.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2015, 06:51:28 AM by NinjaRaptor »
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Offline ClintACK

If there really is a gender difference here, it's probably a vestige from the days when women were expected to be much more bashful about their sex drives than men. But I've seen way too many romance novel covers with shirtless, physically idealized male characters to believe there aren't women who, just like men, like fantasizing about sex with attractive partners.

Oh, no, really.  I read it for the articles the historical details.