What I'm reading: Heart of the Sea, by Nora Roberts; Keeper of the Bride, by Tess Gerritsen
I promised a continuation of my RT Recap with some workshop notes. Please note, these represent my interpretation of what the speaker said, and may be subject to faulty memory, lousy handwriting, or just unintentionally messing up what he said.
Raz Steel presented a workshop on "PMS: Phony Male Syndrome" where he discussed the male view of the world, of relationships, and of romance (and sex).
For those who have followed some of my other he/she workshop note-sharing posts, you might recall we often speak of the different ways men and women are hard-wired. This workshop fit right in with all the others.
Steel told us a story of his teenage years, when he and a friend went skating on a frozen pond near his home. They wandered away from the group and Steel ended up falling into the water when the ice gave way. His friend managed to get him out. Given the choice of returning home by skating back the way they'd come, or by hiking (in ice skates) through the woods, he chose the harder route.
Why? Steel contends it's the way males see the world. In any given situation, they will scan their surroundings first for sex, then for danger, and then for food. He elaborated on these very broad statements throughout the workshop.
From his example, whether he gave it conscious thought or not at the time, he opted away from being seen by his friends, where he would look foolish for having fallen through the ice. This situation covered the first two of his premises. Of the friends he would have had to pass, some were girls. In his condition, he was far from able to attract one of them, and it might have spoiled chances for any future relationships. As for the boys—appearing the way he did put him at a distinctly lower slot on the male hierarchy. Did he think of all this on a conscious level when he made his choice? No. Meanwhile, his friend took the easier route, because he hadn't fallen through the ice. There was no loss of status for him. His reasoning: he could get back faster and get help.
Steel took each of these three steps in turn. First, scanning for sex.
Now, the scanning for 'sex' doesn't mean ending up in bed. It's more about men looking at and assessing women. Again, this is hard-wired, because survival of the species requires procreation.
The alpha male looks at the total picture when assessing a female. He sees her face, her overall shape, her posture, and her attitude. He's lured more by subtlety. Women trigger fantasies, and according to Steel, the strongest fantasy a male has with regard to a woman is one who can understand him, and who will accept him for what he his. His greatest fear? Of being rejected. Steel suggests that exposing the hero's fantasies will make him vulnerable, and therefore more sympathetic to the reader.
Next, a man will scan for danger. This doesn't mean flying bullets; emotional danger is just as much a threat, so bear that in mind when you're writing. Perhaps "fear" is as good a term as "danger."
First, he'll assess danger from other men. Do they ignore him? Accept him? Do anything that makes him feel inferior? After that, a man assesses the danger from women. He'll worry that she won't find him attractive, that she won't talk to him. Public rejection is a fear.
Thirdly, a man scans for food. This is a survival instinct as well. Food brings satisfaction. It also calms him. And, not the least significant factor, it gives him something to do with his hands.
So, Steel continues, the strongest drive is the possibility of sex. From that comes being aware of competition. Men are competing for acceptance and trust.
In discussing relationships (as opposed to sex), Steel mentions men usually limit their emotional exposure for fear of being rejected. Before they will pursue a true relationship, they must have high expectations of not being rejected.
The insecure male seeks relationships with men he feels are lesser than he is. He seeks relationships with women he feels he can control. (Note: these are NOT the guys you want to have as the heroes of your books—at least not at the end.)
The secure male wants a challenge. He's looking for a woman who presents a challenge. She needs to surprise him. If she's predictable, it's likely the relationship won't last.
The male's view of Romance:
Men see themselves as independent. Their emotional needs include acceptance, understanding, trust and respect. The insecure male sees romance as a stepping stone. For the secure male, it is the end.
The male's view of Sex:
The insecure male sees sex as a conquest, a triumph, something he deserves.
The secure male sees sex as the ultimate in sharing. It's consensual, and shows acceptance, understanding, and trust.
And as this ties in with writing – the author needs to address the priorities of the hero's emotional needs. Withholding acceptance will increase the sexual tension.
And, one other tidbit Steel shared, something women may not know. RECOS, which stands for Restroom Code of Silence. While women chat away in restrooms, men don't. There's an invisible line inside the door of a public men's room, beyond which speaking is simply not acceptable. (I haven't verified that with the XY's I hang with—anyone out there who can confirm or refute this?)
Come back tomorrow when my guest, Beth Trissel, gives us a peek into her deep Virginia roots.