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Laurence MacNaughton | What Guy Authors Won't Tell You About Relationships


Many years ago, when I worked in a bookstore, a guy came up to me looking like he was on the verge of committing homicide. "How come I can't find any J.D. Robb books?" he demanded. "You don't carry them?"

"Sure we do. Right over there." I pointed to the aisle labeled, in gi-normous letters, ROMANCE.

A mixture of terror and indignation washed over his face. He turned to me with a steely glare. "J.D. Robb does not write romance. Those books are mysteries."

J.D. Robb, of course, is the pen name of bestselling romance writer Nora Roberts. Still, the customer is always right, so I pretended to look alarmed. "Sorry, sir. Must be a glitch in the shelving system. I'll look into it."

"You do that," he snapped. Then he marched into the pink aisle, snatched up the latest J.D. Robb book and stormed out. "They're not romance," he insisted, on his way out the door.

It's easy to look back and laugh, but his attitude shines a spotlight on something most guys will never admit. Believe it or not, guys need good relationships in a story.

It might not seem like it, but every good story is a love story. Whether it's the red-hot passion of a romance or the lifelong friendship of an "I love you, man" bro-mance, relationships make a story work by infusing it with emotion.

And it's always been that way. I recently found a letter from writer Raymond Chandler (creator of pulp detective Philip Marlowe) to Erle Stanley Gardner, (creator of Perry Mason). These two authors wrote some of the most hard-bitten tough-guy stories of their time. In the letter, Chandler talked about how his fans always told him that they loved the action in his stories. But he had a different theory. Even more than the action, he said, they loved the emotion.

Emotion? Relationships? In a hard-boiled detective story? It's true.

No matter how macho a story is, no matter how many gunfights or car chases or helicopters a story has, it's still all about the relationships. Guys just won't acknowledge it. We'll never admit that a buddy-cop story is just a different kind of love story. Nuh-uh.

And if we have to march into the Romance aisle to prove it, we'll do it. We just won't make eye contact, that's all.

About the Author

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS. His articles and stories have appeared in Writers' Journal, The Rocky Mountain Writer, Pyramid Magazine, The Inkwell, Noir Journal, Mysterious Reviews, Omnimystery News and SF Signal. He teaches fiction writing at For more information please visit




13 comments posted.

Re: Laurence MacNaughton | What Guy Authors Won't Tell You About Relationships

I am reminded at how "men's books" have relationships - take Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Ian Fleming complex characters, complex relationships and emotions. I am glad that some men won't allow a writer or a genre stop them from diving in and enjoying the book.
(Carla Carlson 12:40pm October 31, 2012)

How can a book be successful without relationships? No one
would want to read a book with just action scenes! Any
dialogue between characters has to deal in some way with
their relationship, even if it is one of loathing. It is
funny about guys and the types of books they think they are
"supposed" to be reading!
(Marguerite Guinn 2:47pm October 31, 2012)

Absolutely, Carla. Mystery author Robert B. Parker once said, "Most of my books are about love, in part." His books are packed with complex relationships between characters. Marguerite, you're exactly right about what guys think they're supposed to be reading. Case in point: Depending on who asks me about my book, I either tell them it's about two wounded outcasts trying to find redemption – or I tell 'em the book is loaded with car chases. Guess which one I tell my guy friends? :)
(Laurence MacNaughton 4:17pm October 31, 2012)

Typical men!! Hah! ;)
(Kelli Jo Calvert 5:47pm October 31, 2012)

(Danielle McDonald 7:39pm October 31, 2012)

My husband loves western historical romances! Linda Lael Miller, Jodie Thomas and Bobbi Smith are his favorites!
(Martha Lawson 9:51pm October 31, 2012)

If the book is entertaining and has a great story line, it doesn't matter if the reader is a man or a woman. Everyone is entitled to read what they like.

I have noticed men have been reading Glamour and Cosmo. These magazines have great articles. From time to time, I end up reading Playgirl and Penhouse because they have great articles.

The main thing is that everybody is trying too hard to fix in to the definition defined by society of being a man or woman.
(Kai Wong 10:22pm October 31, 2012)

My theory is that men and women both crave connection, even if it's expressed in different ways. When we read a story and see a character with a strong connection to someone else, we can relate to that, and we begin to care so much more about what happens. It draws us in. That's where the real storytelling magic happens.
(Laurence MacNaughton 11:49pm October 31, 2012)

All the best written books are indeed about relationships. There are two ways of doing it - about the relationships of the narrator or principal character(s) or the dispassionate observation of the relationships between secondary characters, as with many of Sue Grafton's private eye novels.
A well-written book will hook in male or female readers and the thrill ride of espionage, the tear-jerkers of romances or the boredom (sorry, poetry) of literary works is merely an expression of the plot.
So yes, be it male/female, male/male or whatever combinations, father/daughter and other family relationships, love makes a book more powerful and explains actions.
(Clare O'Beara 8:22am November 1, 2012)

I think you are right. :)
(Penny Mettert 11:29pm November 1, 2012)

I'm glad that you came to Fresh Fiction and gave your slant on relationships. I never thought about them from that slant before, and now you gave me a new way to look at books and their plots. The funny thing is that my Husband is the type of person who doesn't really care what a book is classified under. If it's a book that he really wants to read, he'll go to that section to grab it, and never even blush!! That's more than I would do!! I'm looking forward to reading your book. I love the cover!!
(Peggy Roberson 5:38pm November 2, 2012)

I think male characters create scenes and expect the actions to talk for their relationships like in the strong, stoic types. Men prefer to do rather than talk unless forced to give a reply and have it dragged out of them.
(Alyson Widen 3:38pm November 5, 2012)

Perhaps that is especially true for more modern authors. I've read books of what can only call romantic adventure by male authors. Though they may not have gushy romance, they do have "feelings" and "emotions" in them, as well as the occasional more sexy scene. But yes, they are few. I don't read many mysteries since I prefer historical fiction. I admit that I haven't read many older books lately but I do remember some that I read years ago.
(Sigrun Schulz 1:30am November 6, 2012)

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