Monday, May 04, 2009

RT Recap 4 - PMS: Phony Male Syndrome

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.

Keep Reading...
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.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Terry,
How interesting. I have never been in a men's toilet, well not when they were in use. Imagine that, not speaking. I can't remember ever being in a female toilet wioth other women and not hearing continual chatter. Makes yo stop and think

Raz Steel said...

'morning Terry, thank you for attending my workshop at RT! You've done an excellent job of taking notes and hitting the main points. My goal in creating this workshop, "Heroes With PMS," is to help writers think like a guy.

How a writer presents her hero is up to her. Remember, you want to write to your readers' expectations, not necessarily to reality. Give your reader what she wants, a strong, handsome alpha type hero who ultimately melts in the heroine's hands. This hero believes the heroine is an intelligent, emotionally stable sex goddess whom he grows to respect and love and empathize with.

I'll try to check back during the day in case anyone has a question. (Sorry, I have to go to my day job.)

For anyone interested in attending "Heroes With PMS: Phony Male Syndrome" I'll be presenting it again at the New Jersey Romance Writers' conference in October.

Thanks again, Terry!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Have to agree with Margaret--never been in a men's restroom either so I couldn't compare. Men are different in their thinking about "romance" than women, no question. Having had two sons who opted for trucks, cars, building blocks and riding toys from the first, I compare them to our little granddaughters who love their dolls, kitchen sets and musical toys. I see many inborn differences.

Jacqueline Seewald
new release: THE DROWNING POOL--check it out on Amazon for a discount or request it at your local library!

Terry Odell said...

Margaret, Jacqueline: Maybe a few more XY folks will stop by and confirm or deny the existence of RECOS.

Raz - thanks for stopping by. I'm glad these old brain cells -- the few I have left -- are still functioning. I'm afraid many of my note-taking skills have degenerated since my school days.

Dara Edmondson said...

Good stuff. DH confirms the no talking in restrooms thing.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Dara. I recall the first time DH told me how to make my character more accurately XY, and I wondered it it was just him, or all guys. Turned out it was all guys for that one, too.

queenofmean said...

Pretty interesting topic, Terry. Can't say I've been in a mens' restroom and never really thought much about whether or not they talk. Maybe when they're standing next to each other, taking care of business, it just doesn't seem right!

Terry Odell said...

Given the majority of romance authors (and readers) are women, anything related to portraying an XY more accurately is helpful, I think. It goes beyond, "What would I do in that situation?" because men are wired to look at things differently.

I'm hoping a few more will weigh in on the restroom thing.

Ramona Richards said...

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but . . . in the university center at the school I attended, there was a vent that led directly from the men's room, and - let's just say I was interested in the male psyche even then. Most of the guys went in out of the grill (playing cards) or the lounge (football), so there might be some initial chatter about that. But once they settled down to business . . . nada. I've been in quieter tombs.

Hey, Raz, I'll be speaking at the NJRW conference in October. Hope to hear this in person!

Terry Odell said...

Ramona, by all means get to Raz's workshop. And thanks for sharing your eavesdropping experiences

Ann Macela said...

Thanks for the notes, Terry.

What Raz said reminds me so much of my husband, it's not funny!

It was good to see everyone at RT.


Terry Odell said...

Ann, at least you know that your husband is a 'normal' guy. I admit to being a little surprised at my hubby's quirks that turned out to be universally male.

Ray said...

I think that feelings of a secure vs insecure male change within the same man over time. An insecure boy can grow into a very secure man and become insecure due to circumstances.


Anonymous said...

Hubby said, men will only talk in the men's room at work if they know each other and then it is very sparingly. But NEVER in a public men's room will they speak to a stanger.

Pat Marinelli

Zoesgarden said...

Women are into bonding and not comparing the size of anything they use in the restroom, ahem. WE are so interested in admiring what another woman has, getting useful tips and talking about our men in our private sanctuary. Men just don't have a sense of using down time to their advantage.

Jean Hart Stewart said...

Good post, as usual, Terry. Never thought about men not speaking in a toilet. Something to think about. Must question DH about this.

Terry Odell said...

Ray, I agree that nothing is static, but men still are wired differently. For authors, it's most likely that the hero will evolve and become more secure (at least in the relationship) as part of his journey.

Pat, Zoey, Jean -- thanks for your input. I wonder if the 'open urinal' system vs. the closed stalls in ladies' rooms has anything to do with the "RECOS". Or if it exists in non-American cultures.

Liana Laverentz said...

Absolutely fascinating. Must now think about going to New Jersey in the fall to hear this in person!

Great job, Terry!


Stephen D. Covey said...

The description of male attitudes he presents is accurate (recognizing that there are often extenuating circumstances).

It is possible for two men, already engaged in conversation, to continue it in a restroom, but there is pressure to conform to the code of silence. Strangers in the same bathroom increase the pressure.

The breaking-through-the-ice scenario is accurate. To a man, losing face is serious: it may prevent sexual opportunities with the subject female (or anyone she talks to), and it may hurt relative status with another male.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and informative. And now I can say I know what RECOS means. ;D

Thanks for sharing. This info will help tremendously with my alpha heros.

Great job!


Terry Odell said...

Liana, thanks. Raz provided the meat; I just transcribed (and deciphered) my sketchy notes.

Stephen: thanks for the XY input, confirming Raz'a points (not that I doubted his accuracy.)

Ray said...

I think it has something to do with worrying about them being thought to be checking out the guy standing next to them. It could be homophobia or fear of being found wanting.


Ray said...

I was at a urinal near the sink in a large unisex restroom in a Japanese nightclub. A young woman said excuse me as she went to the sink to comb her hair. I guess in that culture it is no big deal. At least it wasn't at the time. Forty years have gone by so who knows.I wasn't bothered, but as you can see I have remembered all these years. I probably would have been more bothered if another man had squeezed by me to get to the sink.


Terry Odell said...

Fascinating, Ray.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Interesting. I've heard men also don't pass toilet paper to each other under the stall door like women!

Anita Birt said...

Finally got to read your post. It is excellent. I really enjoyed reading the male point of view regarding sex, food, danger, fear, etc.

What a great workshop and you are wonderful to share it with us.

Terry Odell said...

Glad you made it over, Anita. Raz deserves the credit for the content; all I did was write down what he said.

DanielleThorne said...

That was very enlightening. Thanks!

Sudeep said...

That's so true .... so true cannot believe that is true but .Thanks for this nice post .

Sam said...

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?Not quite, in my experience. It depends on whether the men know each other. If three guys in a restroom are all acquainted, there might be some chatter. If a fourth guy walks in and he isn't known to the others, talk ceases.

But it's strictly eyes and face forward while at the urinal whether you talk or not. At the sink, you typically make eye contact via mirror, if at all.

Some people, though, have no boundaries. A programmer at my office years ago would take his cell phone with him to the restroom and call his girlfriend from the stall. Yuck. I do not miss that guy.

Terry Odell said...

Danielle, Sudeep - glad you enjoyed it.

Sam - thanks for the XY input. I guess if a scene is set in a men's room, there won't be any dialogue!

Ray said...

Nancy J
They especially won't pass toilet paper from one stall to another in the Minneapolis Airport if you are between an Idaho Congressman and a cop.