When a reader picks up a traditional romantic novel, she/he has certain basic expectations:
- That the theme of love will permeate the story.
- That in the story woman/girl will meet man/boy and fall in love, but encounter obstacles to that love.
- That the ending will bring the story to a satisfying (often happy) conclusion.
- That the absolute focus of the book will be the heroine and, usually to a far lesser extent, the hero.
The last point is especially interesting, because it’s an expectation that is slowly transforming. The expectation is based on the assumptions that readers of romance fiction are only really interested in the female experience of a love story – presumably because (more assumptions) they’re female themselves, and because the male perspective is less emotional and enthralling and romantic. Thus many romance novels are written entirely in the female protagonist’s point of view – whether told in the first person (‘I married him, reader’) or the third person limited (‘she married him, reader’).
I find it interesting thatthis ‘norm’ of romantic writing that’s become entrenched isn’t present in all the classics, as you may expect. Wuthering Heights, for example, gives more weight to Heathcliff’s story than Cathy’s, to powerful effect. Perhaps it is the development of a strong and vocal female readership group in the last fifty years that has seen the focus shift to women-centric perspectives. Quite how this style of writing evolved is a question wide enough to merit a dissertation, I’m sure!
But one thing is clear: change is afoot.Romantic fiction publisher Chocklit will only publish novels that incorporate the hero’s point of view. Bestselling authors Stephenie Meyer and EL James have toyed with rewriting their smash-hit romance novels from the male perspective. Publishing additional free teaser content, like extra chapters or novellas to accompany publications, in the male point of view is becoming increasingly common. But most prevalent of all is authors working in a male perspective in their largely female-point-of-view love story.
It’s a trend I wholeheartedly embrace. Stepping into the hero’s shoes, just for a little while, allows me as author to show the reader so much more of his life – how he lives apart from the heroine. For example, in The Echoes of Love I write this in a hero-only scene:
Paolo sat on the veranda of his bedroom at the Schiaparelli Hotel, a glass of Rémy Martin VSOP resting on the small enamelled table next to him. He stubbed out the sixth cigarette he’d had since he had come back in after his visit to La Scala. He took a gulp of the potent cognac before lighting his seventh.
The male perspective also allows the author to explore his experience in a way that the reader can trust. The reader can understand the hero better, and often more deeply than the heroine can because the reader is afforded more access to the hero’s inner world. So, for example, a man who seems impermeable and macho can be revealed as tormented and lonely.
He would dream of her tonight, as he had dreamt of her every night since they had met. Those dreams were always tormented, painful – almost nightmares – from which he invariably woke up panting and in a sweat, with at best only a vague recollection of the details. But one thing remained clear: Venetia was always at the heart of them. Was she a danger to him somehow, is that what his subconscious was trying to tell him?
I also like using the male perspective to show the heroine in a new light: as seen by the man who loves, or is falling in love with, her.
Venetia’s tall, slender, long-limbed silhouette swam in front of him, a mass of golden-brown hair falling in lush ringlets down her shoulders, as it had been when he had first set his eyes on her in the street that first night. He could see her face so clearly: delicately sculpted, with high cheekbones, a mouth that was made to be kissed, and curved eyes a shade lighter than her hair, which betrayed a fiery temperament despite having something disciplined about them.
Paolo was used to women swooning around him, and though he was aware that he did not leave Venetia completely indifferent, she was unlike any other woman he had met. She did not seem to have great experience of men. Though obviously efficient at her job, there was nonetheless something … unworldly … almost pure about her; and yet, paradoxically, he was almost certain she had been hurt by a man. Until he had sat opposite her in that noisy, crowded cafeteria on that gloomy wintry night, the only emotion women had been able to awaken in him was animal lust. But Venetia was different: the gold-flecked eyes fringed with thick lashes that met his scrutiny from time to time strangely mirrored a sadness he recognised all too well.
Could I write a book with no male point of view? I don’t think so. To love a romance story, one must love the hero – and to love the hero, one must know the hero.
Could I write a book weighted toward the male point of view, or even entirely in that perspective? No, I don’t think so. For me, the reader’s identification with the heroine is of paramount importance, and I worry that would be compromised by a lack of heroine focus. Balance is key – but I weight the scales in the heroine’s favour.
What do you think? Do you enjoy reading the male point of view in romantic fiction? Do you read hero-centric novels? How does your experience of romance differ based on the author’s approach to point of view? I would love to hear your thoughts.