Can A Man Really Write Romance?

Romance is one of the top selling genres and writers of romance can make an extremely good living providing books that avid readers devour.

petalsBut is romance only for women and can you break into this genre as a man?

Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook, is one of the highest earning authors in the world, making millions from his romantic love stories so it can definitely be done. Here’s guest blogger Matthew Turner on writing romance as a man.

My name is Matthew Turner and I’m a dreamer, optimist, and silly romantic fool.

I’m not saying I write romance in the same manner as E.L James or Bella Andre, rather in the style of a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls.

Frankly, I’m far too awkward to ever write erotica or intense romance. As soon as I have to explain a sex scene I blush and stumble and stutter and stammer. It’s quite pathetic to be honest.

But every idea I have ever had has resonated around some kind of romantic conflict. It involves a man and woman coming together and battling through the hardships of life. They argue and love and cower in the corner. I’m sure you know the process.

Being A Man In A Female World

The reason I came to Joanna with this idea is because she understands my pain. She writes in a genre dominated by men. People assume a woman can’t write a good thriller, and although this is a quite ridiculous perception, gender issues in publishing forced Joanna to create the pen name J.F Penn.

I believe I face similar obstacles as the assumption that only a woman can document a romantic journey. It’s not the end of the world as there are many men earning a good living for what are, in essence, stories built around romance and whimsy. I do face an uphill battle, though, but what can I say, this is how I write.

My debut novel, Beyond Parallel, was started in 2006 after a rough breakup. The entire premise is built around two young lovers trying to find their place in the world. It’s foundation stands upon passion, romance, and the idea of what could be.

It needs romance and whimsy and silly little fantasies. This was a book I NEEDED to write and I didn’t want to conform and try and turn it into a story more appropriate for a man to write. It’s my story and I’m down proud of it. If that makes me sappy and sensitive, so be it.

Overcoming The Slope

One of the two lead characters in Beyond Parallel is a young twenty-something woman. This means a great deal of time is spent in the head of a lady. This is no easy feat for a guy who has NEVER understood women in the first place.

I also know a vast majority of readers will be female, which means I have a responsibility to craft a story that connects with them. Again, no easy task. This is how I overcame these issues:

1) I Worked With A Female Editor

Arguably the most important decision I’ve made in recent years. Not only is Susan a fantastic editor, but she’s a woman. She’s by no means a girlie girl, but she is a lady who knows what ladies think about.

On many occasion she would alter certain aspects and ask me to dig deeper. She would push and expect greatness. If something didn’t sound right, wasn’t presented properly, or didn’t showcase the female mind, she’d call me out on it.

This was a HUGE game changer!

2) I Spoke To Female Friends

I’m lucky to be friends with women I can lean on for help. I know some fantastic minds, of varying personalities, with stories to share and elaborate on. Sometimes I would ask how a certain situation would affect them, but often I would merely observe.

What I found was this: men and women are rather different beings.

This is fantastic, but also difficult to capture in word-form, especially if you don’t fully understand the ones you need to use. Speaking to women I trust, though, it allowed me to tell a story that appreciated a wider audience. It went from a guy telling a story, to a human being sharing one.

3) I Used Past Experiences

My family has a lot of women in it. Aunts, cousins, sister, close family friends, second cousins, yep, just about all of them are women.

Although this is a nightmare in its own right, it does allow me to call on many memories. I’m not saying I understand the female mind – far from it – but I can emphasise with it – for the most part.

Much of Beyond Parallel was difficult to write, but looking back on years gone by helped pull me through. I thought about my sister and cousins and considered how they would feel, how they would express themselves, and how they would share ideas with me. It made my task much easier.

4) I People Watched

Creepy? Absolutely, but 100% necessary for a writer – at least this is what I tell myself. I would often sit in a coffee shop and observe a pretty girl. I would document how she acted around a boy she was clearly ‘in to’, how she would react around friends, and what she would do on her own; reading a book maybe, or listening to music.

As soon as I started to understand these little quirks, it helped me take my female characters down a more believable road.

A Rough Ride Ahead

Do I expect an easy ride? Nope, not at all. I understand that some people will be put off by the idea of a man bringing romance to the table. I appreciate how some of my words and style will send people running.

I also believe it will connect with others. This is the story I NEEDED to write and I have no regrets whatsoever.

What about you? Are you writing in a genre that is traditionally for the other gender? Do you use a pseudonym or initials to mask you gender identity? Does it all really matter?! Please do join the conversation by leaving a comment below.


beyond parallel matthew turnerMatthew Turner is a writer from Yorkshire, England. His debut novel, Beyond Parallel launches today (8th January) and now is the perfect time to download. For the first three days you don’t only get the book, but over $50 of extras.

In the tradition of Sliding Doors, Beyond Parallel flips between two parallel tales. Grab yourself a copy and be part of a true coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to.

You can get Beyond Parallel on here.

Image: Petals of a rose


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  1. Steven says

    Well Matthew, congratulations on being bold enough to break with conventions and ‘write what’s in your heart’ so to speak. I’m a 31 year old, white, male, who’s totally writing within his genre(fantasy). Having said that, the one issue I’m having that might be similar to your challenge of writing a female protagonist as a male is, writing characers(women and men) of a different racial backround from mine.
    I have romance in my novel but my book isn’t about romance. I’m not sure how much of any of this had to do with your post, book, or topic, I just wanted to respond because I think it’s awesome that you’re doing something outside the box. Anyway thanks for the post, and keep doing what you love.
    Oh sorry, I did have one question. Do you read a lot of romance novels? And is it difficult for you to write female characters in a female dominated genre without turning either the characters or the situations into a cliche?

    Thanks again.

    • says

      Hi Steven, thanks for the comment

      I don’t read heavy romantic novels (erotica and the like), but I love books where a romantic spin is involved (books centred around a relationship).

      I’m thinking about books like One Day by David Nicholls. I often read books like this, and I find they often have a woman at the heart of it. If not the main POV, at very least a strong supporting role.

      As for the writing, well, I suppose we will soon find out :)

      I try and overcome this by having a female editor, Beta readers, etc. They help centre things, rid the story of silly little cliches, and keep me on the right path. I certainly can’t do it all on my own.

      Matthew Turner

  2. Doug Lance says

    Isn’t masculine romance simply called fiction? Almost all books written by men have men and women having sex(or at least having romantic feelings) in them.

    I think it is an interesting facet of our society that Romance as a genre even exists. It is the only exclusively feminine genre of story telling. I don’t know any testosterone-laden, traditionally masculine men who enjoy reading 50 Shades or watching Hugh Grant fumble his words.

    I have been sitting her rewriting this comment a few times. I know that myself, as a man, I can’t get into Romance stories. I am the editor-in-chief of a Romance magazine, yet I can’t read it. I trust my female managing editor to handle the content because I don’t know anything about the genre. It simply doesn’t interest me. And I can’t figure out why.

    That’s why I’ve had to rewrite this comment multiple times. I can’t figure out why I have a distaste for this genre. I am not scared or ashamed of being “caught” reading it. I’m not worried about being judged. I never have been one of those kinds of guys. I’ll do traditionally girly things if they’re fun or interesting. Something about me, though, is that if I can’t figure something out, I have a compulsion to get to the bottom of it.

    I think I realized what it is. Ok, follow me on this. Romance as a genre (as far as I know) is mostly the courtship routine. Man meets woman, man impresses woman, she picks him, they have sex, get married, have kids, happily ever after. That’s the basic plot. Women like this plot because, in my experience, women like babies. And monogamy and marriage are the best way to have awesome babies. They probably don’t think of it that way, but they feel it.

    Ok. What does your below average man want in a story? Average man. Not you or the people you know. I’m talking about men unrefined by the benefits of culture. What do those men want? Violence and sex. They don’t want monogamy. They want to kill and f&%k. That’s why there’s no masculine romance genre. Uncultured masculinity and romance are diametrically opposed.

    Sorry ladies. That probably explains some of those terrible Valentine’s gifts in your past though.

    Am I making giant sweeping stereotypes or did that give you insight into writing romance as a man?

    • says

      Hi Doug,
      I’m a woman and I don’t like or read romance books – I write thrillers, I watch action movies etc etc :) I’m romantic and love ‘love’ and all that, but romance as a genre is not my choice of reading.

      So although this post is framed around sexist stereotypes, I think we all just like different things.
      For example, away from genre, you have a business around short fiction, but shorts annoy the hell out of me, so I don’t buy or read them. Luckily, we’re in a world where people can find our words through so many ways, there’s room for everyone :)

      • Doug Lance says

        In studying gender, it is important to clarify that femininity is not the same as being a woman. And masculinity is not the same as being a man. Both men and women have masculine and feminine behaviors. I am talking about femininity and masculinity, not men and women. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. I was trying to be as politically correct as possible.

        I was most definitely aware of your love of for thrillers while writing the comment.

    • says

      Hi Doug,
      I cannot resist to write a comment on your comment, because I have to laugh so much. Not about you and what you write. But about seeing you before me, argumenting it and hassel to find the right words. You would be a great character in a romance book :-)
      But you are right as a reader you want to be a part of the Story. You want to be a hero and all the stuff around it. I think the point is, if you can identify with the Protagonist and if the author is able to get you into it. But if I look at my husband, there is a masucline romance genre, it is just not yours.
      Thanks for sharing your insights, it helps me to write about man 😉

  3. says

    Doug, yes, I would say it is a pretty stereotypical view, but let’s face it, stereotypes are there because they generally hold some truth in them.

    I think times are changing, though, and in general men are more open to this. I honestly feel most men have a deeper side, but are worried to let it out. The stigma says to keep it in. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there though.

    I was brought up playing rugby, and in general surrounded by mens men. Although many would conform to the steroytpe, many would not – once you unearth a few layers, that is.

    I don’t like reading erotic novel, or really sappy, serious things, but I do like my stories to have a romantic edge to it. Relationships are life, and you are rarely far from one. It makes a story real, and although some are a little ‘Disney’ like, many are real and grimey and tell it as it is.

    It’s an interesting one. And thanks for the comment :)

    Matthew Turner

    • Doug Lance says

      There is a distinction between being male and being masculine. I was talking about masculinity in my comment. More specifically, behaviors directly induced by testosterone (working the body, mating, hunting, etc.). These behaviors are responsible for the stereotype of masculine men. A quick Google search reveals that testosterone actually inhibits the social bonding effects of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter that creates relationships.

      To further support the idea that masculinity is diametrically opposed to romance: “An American study of over four thousand men found that husbands with high testosterone levels were 43 percent more likely to get divorced and 38 percent more likely to have extramarital affairs than men with lower levels. They were also 50 percent less likely to get married at all. Men with the least amounts of testosterone were more likely to get married and to stay married, maybe because low testosterone levels make men calmer, less aggressive, less intense, and more cooperative.”

      Which isn’t to say Men have to be masculine. We’re all an amalgamation of both masculinity and femininity. We all have testosterone and estrogen in us.

      I apologize for derailing the discussion. I really wanted to work out why romance exists as a genre in public and get feedback. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

      All of that said, I think there’s a gigantic opportunity for a man to write for an entirely feminine audience.

      • says

        “why romance exists as a genre” – because people want to read it – just like any other type of books. And it makes the most money for everyone, as the people who read it are voracious readers, eating up new books all the time.

        • Doug Lance says

          Right. I understand that. I was curious as to the phenomenon of romance as a genre itself. Why do people want to read it? How is it different than other genres?

          By understanding those questions, it is possible to craft a better, more successful book.

      • says

        Who does it exist? Like Joanna says, because people like to read it. 50 Shades (despite me being less than a fan) proves this. What is it, 50 million plus people to buy and read?

        I’m not a very big sci-fi fan, but there are so many books, many of whom have HUGE followings.

        I’m not a huge fantasy buff either, but again, some books are like religion to some.

        It’s the great thing about being human. We all have such varied tastes, many of which don’t conform to anything :)

        As for the masculaine comment, I agree. A lot is down to chemicals in the body, but I’m not sure if there would be a correlation between high testorone and not liking books with romantic edge. Maybe we can urge someone to do research into it…

        Matthew Turner

        • Doug Lance says

          I think that test would show that high testosterone correlates well with low enjoyment of romance novels and romance movies. I could be mistaken though.

          I was trying to get at why people want to read romance? And how is it different than other genres?

          By understanding those questions, I think it enables you to write a better book, more successful book.

          • says

            “I was trying to get at why people want to read romance?” People like love. People like relationships. Genres are just effective marketing tools. I perfer soft or social scifi to hard scifi. I perfer an action story to have some sort of relationship at the center for me to become really invested. I like sap, I like humor, I like seriousness, I’d like the stories I read to have all three but I’m lucky if they have two.

            What the above thread has developed into is a discussion on gender theory. Though Doug is a little inarticulate on this point, gender is, for the most part, a social/cultural construct. Remember, Simone de Beauvoir said, “Woman is not born, but made.” The same statement applies for men. While biology has influence, culture has an equal or greater influence in many cases. We choose the roles we see or are exposed to. Biological essentialism is dying off, but we find it hard to let go of binary concepts like male/female, masculine/feminine. So when we are talking about writing, I think you should throw this out and ask what do your/my readers want or better yet what do I want to read and are there more people like me.

            As for my own writing, I have no idea how to categorize it or rather the category doesn’t really exist in the online marketplaces (Magical Realism > Romance). I categorized my first story as Romance and, as of this writing, it’s #76 in Romance > Short Stories for the Kindle. The story is told from both male and female points of view (though primarily male).

            The second story I published is equally difficult to define, and it’s told from a female point of view as are two other stories I have coming out this year. All the stories with men at the center have been placed at journals prior to self-publishing them. The stories with women at the center can’t find homes. However, I know this isn’t because they’re bad, rather it’s for the same reason that James Tiptree Jr., Andre Norton, or even J.F. Penn chose masculine or gender neutral names. It’s hard to shake the culture.

            So, Doug, maybe when you state, “I know that myself, as a man, I can’t get into Romance stories,” you shouldn’t ask what harmones run through your veins that make you repulsed by the genre, but rather what in your immediate culture or life has influenced that decision to not like Romance. Or better yet, start reading Romances, read lots and then when you find one that works ask, why did this story work for you? What is it playing to in my life? As an editor of a Romance magazine, it may be helpful to do this. As for the statements, “Isn’t masculine romance simply called fiction?” and “It is the only exclusively feminine genre of story telling.” You’re so close to finding your answers. Start looking into Vida: Pay attention to the discussions as to what counts as fiction or genre especially along gender lines. (Wouldn’t thriller/action commonly be called a male genre. Also, my dry cleaner thinks women can’t write for anything he has a lot in common with other male authors.) Thanks for asking the questions.

            Matt, good on you for saying that you are writing Romance, and thank you for sparking this discussion.

          • says

            Sorry, in my comment’s below there are two mispellings: prefer for both instances of perfer, and horomones for harmones. Sorry.

  4. says

    Great post. Although I don’t write/read primarily in the romance genre, I’m a sucker for writing those romantic scenes. I think there’s a great opportunity for a male romance write, so best of luck.

    Beyond Parallel sounds really intriguing by the way – I’ll grab a copy.


  5. says

    Matthew, good post. I’m glad to see that you’ve got a female editor who can help bring balance to your characters. While this does not pertain to specific genres for me, I do get bothered when authors create characters of opposite sexes that don’t reflect the sex itself. Its why, when I read romance, when I know its a female author, I take the men’s reactions with a grain of salt, and when it’s a male author (I have read Nicholas Sparks) I don’t always buy into the woman’s perspective. That’s not to say they don’t do it effectively, but often, there’s usually something that doesn’t feel quite as natural as someone writing a character of their own sex. But being a woman who 1) writes thrillers 2) is in a profession dominated by men (architecture) I know how hard it is to break the stereotypes and still remain true to yourself. So keep on going.

    • says

      Thanks Heather, yes, a female editor is a MUST!

      It is hard, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully do it justice (compared to a woman writing in that POV), but it’s an interesting challenge, and one I loved


  6. says

    I’ve got an idea for a Romance novel. It’s called, “The Bare Chested Stranger Man.” The main character’s name is Timothy Tation (Tim Tation, get it??). Anyway, he’s a temp worker who works on musical instruments. The female lead, whose name I haven’t decided yet (though I’m leaning towards Randy), recently lost the lover of her life about nine months ago in a tragic stage accident. It just so happens that her piano is giving her trouble. So she calls the agency and Tim arrives. Well, on that day, the electric goes out in her condo and it’s summer and really freakin’ hot so Tim has to take off his shirt (this is on the cover) before he can get to work. The problem with her piano is that all the g-strings are too tight and Tim has to loosen them. It goes from there.

    So – you tell me, can a man write romance, or what?

  7. says

    I find it helps to ask my wife and the female writers in my writing group. You can’t please every reader, but they help me keep true to the genre– despite the emotional handicap of my gender.

    • says

      Yes, certainly good to have someone close to lean on. It will keep you on the straight and narrow. Like I say in the post, I’m fortunate to have a lot of women in my life. I have many instances to call upon.


  8. franny Lloyd says

    I think most writers have to deal with the theme of romance in their work. It’s essential and popular; Dickens did, particularly in Dombey & Son (my favourite Dickens) but also in my first Dickens read, the unforgettable (though I’ve forgotten most of it but never the pleasure in reading it while young) The Pickwick Papers. It somes in all shapes and sizes but most people mean M&B sort of romance. I used to read and enjoy romance True Stories and liked it but find little in those pink covered love stories, too facile for my taste. But one…Chicklit I suppose, I did admire and like was Patricia Scanlon’s Double Wedding; set in Dublin was a big asset but loved in anyway.

    I used to be picky about genres but would love to be able to write in any one of them! They are easier to find fault with than write, so best not to be too critical.

    The most convincing love relationship I’ve read recently must be George Gissing’s one in Workers in the Dawn; I was hardly surprised to hear that it was very close to his own life experience and that must be the reason why it seemed to convincing, but so pathetic and moving.

    Now I’m reading L’assommoir, in English, and I guess it is a sort of romance but opposite to what we usually think the genre is – a love that is parasitic and abusive in great detail but Zola is the great writer and he can make it compelling reader.

    I can’t think of many thrillers that I’ve read except maybe Jane Austen, that one where the Heroine goes to live with aristocratic types in a castle somewhere…

  9. says

    Thanks Matthew for the great post. Even through I normally write mysteries and thrillers, I’m currently finishing a romance novel that my wife started before she died. I had always assumed I would have to publish it under a pen name but after reading your post, I’ve changed my mind. Your tips were a big help. I can’t wait to finish writing my book so I can read yours.

    • says

      So sorry to hear that Erick, but what an amazing way to celebrate her memory.

      And I would say research it and ask some of your current readers regarding a pen name. Sometimes they are needed, but I often think people use them too ‘willy-nilly’.

      There is certainly no ‘out of the box’ right answer, but I hope I’ll always be able to use my own name (and a lot of my ideas moving forward are quite varied).


  10. says

    I wrote a paranormal romance trilogy with a female POV. I did seek out a female reader friend while in the middle of the first book (who eventually read them all) to make sure I was hitting the correct notes along the way. She loved it and couldn’t wait for more to find out how it ended.
    While it has Romance genre features, it is also infused with a hybrid Thriller plot line – international assassins, katana sword fights, gun fights, hostages, chase scenes, IT hacking, nano-technology, exploding cars and buildings, and a need to save the world from the villains…. So Joanna, you might even like it:)
    I wanted a book that didn’t close off one or the other half of the market – I wanted something for everyone.

  11. says

    The website listed above is not mine, but my husband’s, but I had to comment on this topic. My husband is Robert C. Stewart, and he writes thriller/mysteries. I was quite surprised when he handed me his second book and the most interesting character was a 20-something young woman. The book is called “The Carefully Planned Move”, and it’s about a man who falls for an industrial spy. They have a relationship that is complicated because of the lies she has to tell in order to do her job. We have two daughters and a son, and I thought he did an excellent job in his exposition of the female psyche. So my answer to the Question is a resounding “Yes!”.

  12. says

    I am intrigued by a man’s perspective on romance or interpretation of such. Women, each of us, have our own ideas & perhaps there is a common thread but to read it through a man’s eyes is a treat, I think.

  13. says

    I am intrigued by a man’s perspective on romance or interpretation of such. Women, each of us, have our own ideas & perhaps there is a common thread but to read it through a man’s eyes is a treat, I think.

    I’ve tinkered with the idea that some women may write about romance because it is one thing they are missing in their life or it’s not up to their expectation. It’s JUST my personal feeling. Don’t grill me.

    • says

      I think it should provide some interesting thoughts – at least I hope it will.

      I’ve tried to keep the romantic feel ‘real’ (I’m not one for sappy), but I do differ between the males thoughts and females. Saying that, I don’t particularly think the way I see relationships is the usual ‘man’ way.

      I’m interested to see what people think :)


  14. Larkin Hunter says

    Doug, I stopped reading your comment right after you bragged about being the editor-in-chief of a romance magazine, YET YOU CAN’T STAND TO READ ROMANCE.

    I don’t know what “romance” magazine you edit, but my guess is that it would be a much better publication if someone else were at the helm. But look at you–you managed to take over the stream, blocking the sun from the guy who posted in the first place.

    Out of respect for Joanna, I will stop talking now.

  15. says

    Hi everybody.

    I think you all took a wrong turn somewhere – all it took was the first commenter to mention ‘romance’ and Matthew was branded for life!

    Nick Hornby – romance? I don’t think so. Hornby writes about the human condition in all its forms. Maybe I’m the one who’s misread what the book is about (I’m getting around to it Mr Turner…) but I don’t think so.

    Am I far too hopeful in thinking that readers don’t always look under umbrella headings for their next book but rather for something that looks like a good read regardless? Surely this stereotyping comes from a publishers/bookselling mindset and not the reader at the other end of the stick? (Yeah, I know I’m probably wrong but a man can still hold a candle in the wind with hope in his heart if he so chooses).

    • says

      No, I think you’re right. Genres are a tricky thing. They place books under a particular roof, but most books (or at least, many books) are their own being – a mixture of several genres and types.

      Is it the writer’s fault, or the publishers, or book stores, or Ruper Murdoch? I have no idea, although I like to (personally) blame Rupert Murdoch for many things, so I’ll go with him.

      Right or wrong, sterotypes do exist, and for the most part, they exist because they hold certain truths – although these days they often cling to old fashioned, outdated ideals. Time for some evolution?

      It’s an interesting subject though, and I’m glad it’s brought up some cool ideas


      • says

        For my own part, I have to honest, trying NOT to be stereotyped is even harder. I think we should wait for some other people to throw their opinions in and come back to this…

        Or we could blame Murdock and get on with our days as normal.

        Either is fine.

  16. D. Emerald says

    I think I would prefer to read a romance novel penned by a man. In my opinion, a great deal of female authors fixate on trivial things, such as the color of a blouse or the “rugged handsomeness” of their hero.

    After reading novel after novel of model-perfect characters, I think it would be a refreshing change to finally focus on the heart of the romance genre: emotions and the way they affect the characters. I care more about how Character A is going to deal the loss of Character B, than whether or not the alpha male hero was able to wrap his well-muscled arms around the heroine’s slim hips. (Sorry, I know I’m generalizing but I’ve read far too many bodice-rippers.)

    I feel like a male author would be able to pull the romance genre out of its adjective-fixated slump and add some much needed realism.

    That said, I can’t wait to read your book, Matthew!

    • says

      Yes, I must say, as a rather awkward man, I cringe and blush at certain novels when it gets steamy. I don’t read the fifty shades of the world, but sometimes even contemporary romance can get a little hot round the collar :)

      Thanks for the comment, by the way. If you do get round to reading, please let me know your thoughts. I urge all the feedback I can get


  17. Marla says

    All this discussion brought to mind a story Christine Feehan told . She once got a letter from a soldier who was home from his tour. He had picked up one of her Ghostwalker series papaerbacks while on tour. He loved it. These books are intense about Black Ops super secret gov’t military experiments creating ‘super soldiers’ and… they are romances. But he did not know this at the time. He came home and wrote to Christine because he had looked everywhere for the series and could not find it. She wrote back and said ‘Try the Romance section.’
    He was shocked. Most men think of romances as old fashioned bodice rippers and yes they still exist. They’re is a prejudice against that section that maybe it is just for hormonal women or escapism for women. All books are escapism unless non-fiction and even then there are truth junkies out there as well. There are the historical romances and such but there are a remarkable number of women authors out their writing amazing stories that happen to have sex and romance in them. The veil needs to be lifted. :)


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