Monday, January 06, 2014

Is Your Guy a *Guy*?

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling suspense author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-plus years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with four children and a Maltese Menace in Northern Virginia. Author and speaker, Ronie loves engaging readers through her Rapid-Fire Fiction, which includes the highly acclaimed Discharded Heroes series, the adventurous A Breed Apart series, and the much anticipated Quiet Professionals series.

Ronie can be found at www.roniekendig.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction), Twitter (@roniekendig), and Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK)
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A few years ago, a brand-new author leaped onto the scene. I loved the author’s concept for the debut novel, and I jumped to read it. Just one problem: the author did not know how to make the male character sound like a male. Repeatedly, the character talked and acted like a female. I had to readjust my framework and remind myself—the protagonist is a male. The protagonist is a male.

Writing is a literary expression of who we are, what we feel and how we think, which may explain why many female authors find it so difficult to write male characters. I think it would be correct to say that in order to accurately write the male POV, one must understand the way men think (I hear many ladies snickering right now). In a world were roles are being redefined, some of that is bleeding into fiction, into the way we write characters. In my quest to understand how to best write gender-appropriately, one author told me she writes men the way she'd like them to be (doing laundry, helping with dinner...). The key to remember in writing male characters is that: It's really, truly okay for a male character to be MALE!

That line of thought led me to the Gender Genie and Gender Guesser, online programs that analyze chunks of writing to determine the author’s gender. The algorithm is based off a study done between Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology (full study findings here), which found indicators within documents that were distinctively male and distinctively female.

When I teach at conferences and workshops, I remind authors that every element of their scene should reflect that character, but I would also add that the composite of those choices will lend itself to determining your character's gender. Not just the dialogue (which is imperative) but the narrative and internal thoughts. It’s great if your male character sounds like a guy, but if they are thinking like a woman, there’s a disconnect.

 Here are some tips to keep your male sounding like a guy (and remember, some are generalizations)

·      Men are one-box thinkers (see the Mark Gungor video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoqpjOZxf2M) They say what they mean and focus on one topic. Typically, there’s no reading between the lines. Which brings up another thing I've often seen. The hero is running for his life, dodging bullets and IEDs...yet the female author has the guy thinking about his love for the heroine and how she makes him feel. Sorry. Not happening. Guys are not only one-box thinkers they're action oriented, doers. He's not thinking about shifting relationships. He's thinking about NOT DYING!

·      Sentence structureBecause they are one-box thinkers, men often take the shortest possible route—to make their point, in driving, in dialogue. So keep their dialogue short.

·      Men tend to state demands (“Give me an iced tea.”) rather than preferences (“I’d like a Diet Coke, please.” ) the way a woman would.

·      Action choicemake sure your word choices to describe actions are appropriate (have your male character, stalk, stomp, across a room). I cringed the day I read a story where the guy “giggled.” Please, please, don't have your guy giggle (unless it's a plot point). Girls giggle. Guys chuckle.

·      Word Choices – This should be weighed carefully whether writing a female or a male character because our word choices indicate much about us—career, background, and yes, even gender. It’s not uncommon to hear me use military lingo in everyday conversation, but that's not something you'd hear from someone who'd n ever been around the military.

·      Length – The length of your narratives, dialogue, and sentences will probably be shorter, more concise when writing a male character. As writers, we’re naturally verbose. We have a lot to share with our audience, but don't let the author speak. Let your GUY speak! Men aren’t as talkative.  

·      Men are internal thinkers, so much of what a character might work through should be done internally. . .but remember—men are THINKERS (generally), not FEELERS. So they aren’t often thinking about how they’re feeling. They’re thinking through logistics and a plan of action. (Don’t misunderstand—it’s okay to have your male character thinking about his feelings for a woman, but really—keep it short(er) and concise.)

Those are the quick tips to keeping a male character sounding like a guy. Men are a bit more complex than that, but those tips will go a long way in maintaining a solid masculine voice in writing the male POV. The point is, while generalizations about males and females are often exaggerated, they are based in truth—there are  differences in the way men and women talk and think. Writers have the daunting task of translating the known differences into plausible, compelling fiction and characters.

Just remember: let your guy be a guy.
                               

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A fiery handler. Her tough bullmastiff. A mission like no other.

Beowulf—a hulky, brindle-coated bullmastiff—is the only “boy” for Timbrel Hogan. And she has a history to remind her why. But when Timbrel, a handler at A Breed Apart, embarks on a mission to detect WMDs in Afghanistan, she reunites with Tony “Candyman” VanAllen and her no-other-man philosophy is challenged. While tension mounts between Timbrel and Tony, the team comes under fire after Beowulf gets a “hit.” When tragedy threatens Tony’s career and Timbrel’s courage, they must maneuver through an intricate plot and a mission like no other. . . .
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22 comments:

Nicole said...

Couldn't agree more, Ronie. Excellent points. Men are cool. Love them. I spent a good amount of time learning about them, wanting to get to know the real them, and understanding who they are as individuals and in general. I actually prefer male protagonists and try diligently to get them right when I "create" them. Great post, Ronie.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I totally agree, Ronie. I definitely make an effort to have my male characters act like the real men I know. Which means sometimes they don't say or do the right things at the right time. Most women who read about these kind of men might feel some frustration with them, but in the end, they walk away saying, "He reminds me of..." (someone they know or are married to!). We know our female characters through and through--if they're bold, nosy, etc. We need to know our male characters just as well. They might be sensitive, bossy, whatever...but we need to KNOW them and portray them realistically. Great post.

Steve said...

I'm sorry. I wasn't listening.
Could you repeat that?

Steve Laube

Ane Mulligan said...

You are such a guy!

Ane Mulligan said...

Great article, Ronie. There are a couple of places where I've made that mistake of allowing the guy doe out-of-the-box thoughts. Fortunately, those are yet published and there's time for me to fix them. :)

Ronie Kendig said...

Brat!

Ronie Kendig said...

Most guys I write won't cooperate with me--and that's telling in and of itself. LOL

Peter Leavell said...

What's up, Ronie? (I lengthened the sentence right there, to break from the normal guy mode of short length. Original: sup?)

Ronie Kendig said...

LOL I forgot to mention that guys always do the opposite of what's expected of them. Just to be difficult. :-P

~sharyn said...

Yes! I hate sappy love speeches from male characters. But it seems like guys with girl qualities show up in most romances I read. Unfortunately.

For instance, a while back I read a book by a favorite author &, while in the main male's POV, she had him noticing the colors of the women's dresses & bonnets while walking down the street. Actually, he might have been strolling. This from a tough cowboy-type. She really lost me there.

Peter Leavell said...

No they don't :)

Lynnford :o) said...

I have had issues when I've read about a guy about to enter into a life or death situation and his mind is on the girl. It bugs me. I'm glad you pointed that out since I'm pretty sure his mind is worrying about what's on the other side of the door or how fast he can escape.

Ron Estrada said...

Thank you, Ronie. My wife and I attended a marriage retreat where the speaker demonstrated women's "radar" by splaying out his hands over his head like antlers. Then he demonstrated men's "radar" by using one finger in the center of his forehead like a unicorn (I whispered to my wife that his radar was about 3 feet too high). Men are very singularly focused. God designed us that way. That's why we rush into burning buildings without thought to anything else. It's also why you'll waste about ten minutes of your life if you talk to us while we're reading. I need to write a list of stereotypes that I'd like to kill, too. Among those are that all men love sports (I never watch a game) and that a man's eyes immediately drift south when he sees an attractive woman. Most of us go for the eyes (really, we know where they are). Of course, I have the same issues when writing female characters. Thankfully, my wife straightens me out. I just have to pay attention when she's correcting me.

Lynn Dean said...

Love Arnold Schwartzenegger's description: "girlie man" (said with a sneer and curled upper lip). Thanks for the checklist so we can avoid creating those! ...and really, don't men and women appeal to each other precisely because we're so different?

Ane Mulligan said...

Ron, you are such a hoot!! I'm dying to meet your wife. :)

Stacey said...

Great article!! Thanks so much. I think the comments were just as entertaining. :)

Bethany Macmanus said...

This is very helpful, as my WIP has a male MC. Thanks a lot, Ronie!

Margo Carmichael said...

Good article and comments. Next read- through, I'll double- check my pilots' machismo.

Megan DiMaria said...

Great post, and good suggestions. Thanks!

John Robinson said...

Great stuff, Ronie. I think you nailed it.

As a guy, many times I we... SQUIRREL! (grin)

Vashti Q-Vega said...

Hi Ronnie, great article. I tend to base my male characters on men that I know or have known. I put myself in their heads and have my male characters react to situations the way the men in my life would. I've always had many male friends and relatives to base my male characters on. I've also based some of my male characters on male characters I love from the movies or television (John McClane from Die Hard, Verbal and Dean Keaton from The Usual Suspects, Diaval from Maleficent…). So far this has worked well for me. Thank you! Oh, by the way, if my male character is gay (queen) he will giggle. Ha,ha!

warjna said...

GREAT article! This is just what I was looking for. I know my male MC's voice dialogue is pretty good, I have an ear for it from acting. But the inner dialogue I wasn't sure of. Hadn't thought in terms of shorter sentences and the like!