Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Post: Writing Males (if you're female)

by Clippership
Check out Yesternight's Voyage
Or find her on Twitter @joycealton
I love a strong male character in a story. I love trying to write them, too. But, I’m female, so how to go about it? We all know males and females reason differently, act differently, and have different motivations at times. Is your character tough? Does he view emotion as weakness? Is your character sensitive? Will he fly into a temper tantrum if someone interrupts his video game?

So here’s what I recommend:
#1 – Pick a personality, a background, and a motivation. Very first thing you should do. If you don’t take the time to do it, you’ll fall into stereotype land. Don’t worry about how he looks, what fighting skills he has, how he will sweep the heroine off her feet – none of that stuff. He needs to be first.

Example: a practical joker who doesn’t take life seriously, was the middle child of a huge family and felt lost in the shuffle, wants attention. OR – quiet, studious type, was born into poverty, wants to make something of himself by getting an education.

Get a grasp on who your character is. Then you can have fun saddling him with skills, labels, and romantic entanglements.

#2 – Now determine how your male character reacts and how you are going to show this in the narrative. Here is where men and women diverge. I’ve included lots of great links at the end of the post to explore the whys and wherefores. Definitely worth reading up on. For the sake of my post today, I’m going to share what I do and what I’ve learned.

There is a difference between Men and Guys.
  • hard working        
  • dependable    
  • someone to turn to during a crisis   
  • has goals     
  • treats women with respect    
  • willing to sacrifice for a cause  

  • always ready for a good time
  • unpredictable
  • often causes a crisis
  • lives in the moment
  • wolf whistle & makes vulgar suggestionshas the attitude "every man for himself"  

You get the picture. It really boils down to background and maturity level. Age does not determine which bracket a male character falls into. Often, writers will start a character at the guy level and by the end of the book make a man out of him. Classic inner journey.

Taking into account what real-life examples are around you will bring up better examples than any checklist online.

A far cry from movies, TV, celebrities, and already type-cast fictional male characters, there are these actual real-life men out there. I’m surrounded by them. I grew up in a family with three brothers, plus my dad. I spent oodles of time in my teenage years at a cousin’s house and she had five brothers. Some of my best friendships have been with males.

What did I learn?

Men are pretty straightforward when they talk. Depending on their personality, some are gabby, eager to put out there how great they are or how great their latest toy is. Others you have to drag a greeting out of them. Some make their presence felt as they walk into a room. Some are unsure. It shows in their body language.

Take for example: I saw a teenage boy walking home from the library. A good looking kid but I don’t think he knew it. His shoulders were hunched, and not from the weight of his backpack. His gaze focused on the ground, determined not to make eye contact with anyone. His facial expression wasn’t depressed or upset. His gait, easy-going, though not confident. I suspect that if someone were to speak to him he’d give a shy smile.

Most of the men I know, and get along best with, are kidders. Puns, movie quotes, friendly digs, playing with words and phrases – these seem to cause some seldom-speakers to loosen their tongues. There’s no subliminal messages or codes in these exchanges. They enjoy banter, and are even relieved that a female isn’t going to try to analyze their every word. But that delves into personalities again.

Males have their pet topics. Look at what your character cares most about. Give them an opening to talk about it or explain their discoveries and research and you’ll usually get more than you bargained for. For one it might be cars, another astro-physics, and for a third classical music. Some men have one-track minds. The conversation may have turned but they doggedly bring back the topic they aren’t finished with. Or it’s the first thing they always bring up. (Women can be like that too. Again, look at the character’s personality.)

I’ve known males who shut you off and out if they are no longer interested in listening to you. They walk away. Never with an explanation as to why and how.

I know several males who have pet phrases and I get sick of hearing them. They can put on false fronts, too. They have defensive triggers. And there are those so full of themselves I long to care an old-fashioned hat pin around to pop a few egos.

Men and hygiene don’t often go together. There are exceptions. I knew a woman who always ended up with neat-freak boyfriends, unintentionally. Most males I’ve known only care about their grooming when they’re trying to impress someone, i.e. a girl, an interviewer, a professor. Getting dirty isn’t much of an issue for them. Wearing the same pair of socks for a week – what’s wrong with that? Of course, it also depends on the time period. In some parts of history and in some societies grooming was a status thing. Of course, female readers expect the love interest to be gorgeous and well groomed. That’s a whole other topic. Some men will keep their cars immaculate, their homes – eh, not so much.

Men have emotions. They are capable of being hurt, even crying. Let your character’s personality determine how much they show and how much restraint they have. I’ve known real men who keep everything inside. You have no idea how they feel or if they feel anything. I knew one young man who was so emotional that when he was upset he’d lock himself in his room and blast the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera. My husband cried when he found out I loved him because he never thought anyone would love him. (And he’ll probably clobber me for posting that online. Hee hee.)

Some men are tender, others abrasive. Some are always jovial, others walk with a chip on their shoulders. Some can leave work at work, others can’t. There are so many different types and combinations you can use; we should have more male personality types creeping into fiction. Sadly, we don’t. It’s easier and safer for a female writer to go with type-casts. But, if you want your male character to rise above the pack, take the time to develop him. He’s not just a toy for your heroine, a stock villain, or an overused everyman type. Think about the fictional males that stand out best in your mind based on their personalities (not based on the plot of the story.)

See why you need step #1?

Now here are all those links I promised. Happy reading:


Joyce Alton / @joycealton said...

I should note there is a divide between the Men and Guys category. It kinda of got crammed together.

hard working, dependable, someone to turn to during a crisis, has goals, treats women with respect, willing to sacrifice for a cause

always ready for a good time, unpredictable, often causes a crisis, lives in the moment, wolf whistle & makes vulgar suggestions, has the attitude "every man for himself"

Eli Ashpence said...

I'll see if I can separate that out.

Michelle 4 Laughs said...

It all boils down to the wide variety of people in this world and in fiction. You can no more put all men into the strong and silent category then you can label all women into ice cream eating criers.

Debra McKellan said...

I come from just the opposite family: all girls. My cousins were evenly distributed for the most part, but I love to try to tackle a 1st person male. It's a challenge.