Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nine Writing Things: How To Write Men (If You're A Woman)

In As Good As It Gets, Julie Benz's character asks Jack Nicholson's character how he writes women so well. "I think of a man," he says. "And I take away reason and accountability." Ouch. How do you write men if you're a woman, then? Here are nine of the tips I've found most useful in my years of experience writing men. Do I have all the answers? No. But I have been complimented by actual men on getting male characters "right," so I feel like I have some authority. 

1. Watch the men in your life.
My dad, my grandfather, my husband, my male friends... They're excellent sources of how "real" men behave. They're just regular guys, the sort of men most of us are likely to encounter in daily life. The little things can tell you a lot about how they think and what they feel. Writing a romance? The way these men show the women in their lives that they care can be revealing and useful.

2. Remember that men are really simple creatures.
This isn't to say that a man can't be complex, but as with any character, you start with the basics. And men, generally, need three things: to be fed, to be fucked, and to be respected. Conflict arises whenever he's not getting one of those three things. (Alternatively, when writing women, I believe the basics are that women need to be loved, listened to, and needed.) Hunger can be about more than food, sex can be about more than physical release, and respect doesn't have to come from the community.

3. Watch movies targeted at men.
The kind of entertainment targeted at the type of character you want to write tells you what people in charge think about him. The really popular movies tell you about the men enjoying them. What they like, even why they like it, and what it says about who they are and what they deal with in their daily life. Entertainment is a form of escapism and knowing how men escape can give you clues about the day-to-day conflicts. (For example, as an archaeologist, I believe in the whole men are hunters thing--which, to me, explains why so many movies aimed at men feature weapons and a hunt of some sort. Most men these days don't get a lot of that in their day to day life.)

4. Read books targeted at men.
For the same reasons you'll watch movies targeted at men, read their books. Not sure which ones those are based on the bestseller lists? Ask the men in your life what they're reading or what they'd read if they had a chance. (My husband, for example, reads a lot of John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson, and he hasn't missed a Tucker Max book yet. In my experience, men tend toward dramatic non-fiction or nearly-non-fiction, "crude" humor, and sex.)

5. Read magazines targeted at men.
Magazines have a flashier, more immediate feel. I know more men reading magazines than I do men reading books, to be honest. This suggestion isn't just for the mature-themed magazines, like Playboy and Maxim (though those really are useful for the articles; Playboy was where a lot of masculine cultural revolution began, and Maxim is as much about clothing and gear and being a modern man as it is about attractive women in skimpy clothing). Look at any magazine that targets a specifically male audience. 

6. Read up on your male gender studies.
In this case, "gender" is the operative word. Manhood as a state of mind is something you want to at least vaguely understand before you tackle writing them. What do men want? How do they think? What do they feel? How does culture affect these things? What does it mean to be a man in his world? Generalized studies can help. Women's studies in the west tend to focus on things like "being pinked." Men are subjected to cultural restrictions and expectations as women. 

7. Replace "I feel" with "I think."
This is probably the easiest tip. Anytime you have a character speaking or internal monologuing, replace every instance of "I feel" with "I think" and your man will automatically seem more manly. This isn't to say that men don't feel; they're just more likely to phrase it in terms of what they think.

8. Ask a man in your life to read the dialogue aloud.
My darling husband is more romantic than me. He's the most romantic person I know. And even still, I sincerely doubt he'd say any of the flowery things I sometimes catch modern heroes spouting in romance novels. If you're uncertain about your dialogue, bribe a man in your life if you have to. (I hear a good way to get to them is through their stomachs.)

9. Remember that men are active and solution-oriented.
Men like to be doing something. It doesn't even necessarily have to be useful, though that's a bonus. And men typically aren't going to spend three hundred pages wringing their hands over a problem. They're going to be actively seeking solutions. This isn't to say that men aren't introspective, because they certainly are, they just prefer a more active approach to problem-solving, and life in general.

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