Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing male characters if you're female

Firstly, let me direct you to a recent post by agent Mary Kole on reactions. She says that reactions are the MOST important part of interiority--they tell the reader how they are supposed to react to a situation, and pull them into what the character is experiencing. I love this advice, because it's something concrete. You can go through your manuscript and make sure you have the appropriate reactions for each significant exchange or event, and noticeably strengthen your book. I love love love this post, and have notes all over my draft to revise for this specificially.

Secondly, I'm finally starting to look at some of the material from this summer's Writeoncon.com. They always have such good information! I liked this video by author Jessica Martinez, which is supposed to be about writing sexual tension in dialogue, but which is really more about paying attention to the subtext of a conversation and also about writing believable male characters if you're female. She points out that sometimes female writers create male characters who behave like they wish they behaved, when no real guy would actually talk like that. They are not going to sit down and just share all their feeeeeeeelings. Her advice: if you can't honestly see your spouse/brother/significant other saying this, it's a good clue a character guy shouldn't be saying it, either. So my additional thoughts on male characters are these:* guys don't play a lot of mental emotional gymnastics. They aren't going to overanalyze the intricacies of what someone said and what they may have been saying underneath, etc. Yes, guys can read (or send messages) between the lines, but most guys I know are not going to spend hours trying to go over conversations to pick out emotional messages about relationships. Also, face is kind of important to guys, you know? As in, they want to be seen as cool and competent. Girls might bond over sharing mistakes and embarrassing moments, but I think guys would rather keep their private humiliations to themselves. Of course all guys are individual, but when writing them, especially middle grade and adolescent ones, they are going to be a mix of clueless, trying not to look clueless, and occasionally, almost accidentally, dead center on target when it comes to doing the right thing or being there for someone emotionally. I've read some rather fancifully fictional guys, but I've also read some really excellent ones that are funny, vulnerable, endearing, but still "real." Some great examples, IMO, are Bobby from Andrew Clements' Things Not Seen (because of his excitement and work into solving his invisibility problem), Ledger Kale in Ingrid Law's Scumble (he is trying soooo hard not to be a failure, but he holds some of it inside, too, you know? He still wants to keep face.) Jeffrey in the Penderwicks series feels like a real boy--he does have deep thoughts (about music, about his father, even wondering about getting married someday), but he doesn't sit on the couch all day, eating cookie dough over it, either. Percy Jackson (and Harry and Ron, for that matter) is a great example, because he's awkward and sometimes insensitive (but not intentionally!), and good-hearted as he tiptoes over the minefield that is understanding girls.

Any other well-written guy characters you want to mention? Any other elements of capturing the essence of a real male adolescent on the page?

*Source of my observations: my husband, three sons, their friends, the teens and kids I've worked with at school and church, and observing the bus line that forms outside my living room window.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this.

I'm trying to write something with a male character POV at the moment and my husband keeps telling me...no guy would do that or...he's talking too much...or if he's that upset he'd go for a run, or hit a boxing bag, he won't tell someone...or (and this one surprised me) you need to say how that affected his ego.

Writing male POV's are harder than they look when you're female.

Rose Green said...

Those are all great! I love the point about his ego.

And definitely, having a guy read over what you've written is important. Yes, every person is different--but the goal is for a guy--an insider to the group--be able to read it and believe that there could be a real guy just like that somewhere, even if he's different than your reader.