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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - What Makes a Womanizer Tick?

This week’s Assessment comes courtesy of Betty. She wrote in with essentially one question that she wanted answered for the current novel she’s working on. She asked:

What makes a womanizer tick? (and in Betty’s book, this doesn’t equate with sleeping around…just serial dating, inability to commit, that sort of thing).

Don’t we all wish we knew the answer to this question! The reality is that there is no psychiatric formula to point to which results in womanizing. There are, however, some generalities you can make, which I will write about before getting more into the specifics of Betty’s character sketch.

According to Jed Diamond, author of The Irritable Male, serial seducers generally come from a home with an absent father. Turning to women for validation can be a way to compensate for a lack of connection to their father. Neil Strauss, who authored The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists, said that of most of the players he met, many of them were “late bloomers.” High school wasn’t exactly a time of success with the opposite sex. But college often changes the equation for these men and they take off at a full run.

Based on Betty’s character sketch, I’m not sure either of these suggestions would work for her manuscript, but it’s something to think about for other authors.

With true womanizers (who try to get women in bed), as well as your tamer Christian fiction counterpart, low self-esteem is an important part of why they do what they do. There is a certain amount of attention and power and control that being a womanizer brings a man, and these emotions would come into play regardless of what happens after the dates are over.

Your hero needs to feed off these women (no, not like Edward in Twilight ☺). The question you need to ask yourself is this: What need of his are these women meeting? This is what a therapist would try to figure out in session. Is it to give him an ego stroke? That could be two-fold, giving him an internal stroke—i.e., “It might not have worked out with so-and-so who left me or so-and-so who died, but I could get with this girl if I wanted” type thing—as well as an external stroke—i.e., “when I walk in with her on my arm, every male is going to turn around and stare, this upping me in their estimation.”

It might be your hero is in need of a power trip. Incorporate his career into why he might be with so many women. Does he want a different one on his arm at each corporate function? Does that give him a feeling of control in a world that feels out of control? He’s GOT to have a motivation for seeking these women out, for putting himself in situations to meet women. The book will fall flat if that’s not in there.

There is some general information regarding womanizers. But to get more specific to Betty’s hero, here’s a bit more to factor in: His fiancé died from ovarian cancer. He’s mad at the doctors for not helping her and mad at God for not healing her, either. His grief is stuck in the anger stage. He was into heavy drinking, but Betty wonders how she could take out the alcohol issue and still have the womanizing.

I really think Betty’s solution lies in her dilemma for this character. I emailed her earlier and suggested that instead of having the fiancé die, have her spurn him instead. A tremendous pain from a romantic interest could definitely turn a man toward womanizing, like a love lost or a love unreturned (think Ryan Reynolds in the movie Just Friends). If you don’t want the fiancé to do this, however, I think it would be equally as awful for him to have been spurned earlier in his life before meeting his fiancé, who then dies, leaving him feeling hopeless things will ever work out for him in the love department. It would be very realistic to have him then turn to the “revolving door of women” you mentioned in your email (which I liked, by the way).

To really make your hero believable, my advice is to work in some backstory about him being a late bloomer (not nearly as attractive as he’s portrayed now) and really give him solid motivations for being with these women so it doesn’t read contrived. Just answer the question: What needs of his are being met? And then, by the end of the book (or by the end of my therapy sessions with someone like this), I would hope he's meeting those needs in a healthier way to give him a nice, round character arc.

Thanks for writing in. Feel free to email me with any questions this assessment might dredge up. ☺

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Katie Ganshert said...

Oooo!! I really like this. You really get at the heart of the issues...whichi s motivation. Why do our characters do what they do, which just like you said, if not explained, might ruin the entire book!! Great job.

Jessica Nelson said...

This is helpful, since one of my heroes is a reformed womanizer. :-)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

This is so interesting. What a great one to dissect with so many books having a womanizer in them who finally falls hard. Asking the why's and what's are great advice for truly knowing our characters.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

eileen - don't you just love those type of books? i always wanted to be the one to "reform" a womanizer. *sigh* but God blessed me with a man who never was a womanizer. :)

thanks, katie and jessica!

Jennifer Shirk said...

VERY interesting! The hero in my book is a womanizer--until he meets the heroine.
I created a hero who tries to come off as confident but looks for validation in other ways besides women, too.
He also grew up without a father.
Funny, I added the father part for a completely different reason, but I'm thrilled it works with the whole assessment of a womanizer.
I'm going to think about this more if I create another character like that.

Danyelle L. said...

Interesting. I've never looked at it that way before, but it makes so much sense. :D

Melissa Sugar said...

I know this is an old post, but it really helped me flesh out a womanizing character that I was struggling with in my NIP. Glad I came across it. I've been on a rather lengthy blogging hiatus and took a writing break this morning to work on research for my characters. I am really happy that I did because this post was the jolt I needed and a reminder that your blog is certain to be chock-full of interesting and informative articles that my character and I will benefit from.

Hope you are you well. Take care,
Hotty- Toddy!

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