As a writer of m/m romance I’m always a bit taken aback and amused when I see blog posts about “how to write male characters,” as though it was something you had to approach in the same way as you’d approach “how to write Regency street-urchins” or “how to write convincing aliens.”
I always read the blog posts with enormous interest, but in my limited experience, they’ve mostly consisted of a rundown of cliches about what men are like (apparently they all watch sports, prefer beer to wine and don’t wash their socks,) that vaguely offend me in the same way that stereotypes about women offend me.
In my lifetime’s experience of men, no two of them have been alike. Most of them have liked beer, but that could be because I like beer and it tends to be something all my friends have in common, the women too. Even so, I know some male wine snobs, and some men who are sports-hating domestic gods, and can whip up a fine meal in the time it takes them to wash and iron their socks.
So what do I do, to create convincing male characters? Well, I look at the one human being about whom I have inside information – the one person who, to a certain extent at least, I understand in depth. That is, of course, me. Then I gift my character with a selection of traits that I either have, or can imagine having. I put the character in situations that I have never had to face, under pressures that I have never had to face, and I imagine how I would react, if I was them in their circumstances.
Of course, those circumstances involve being male, and that means that society shapes the way their traits manifest in a different way from the way I experience things. John Cavendish from False Colors has my temper, for example, and in writing him I do need to take into account the fact that society treats men’s anger and women’s anger differently. In men it’s expected, even respected, in women it’s unexpected, and is treated with suspicion, as irrational and hysterical. So, (in general) a male character can afford to express his anger outwardly, whereas a female one can’t, if she hopes to be taken seriously. Conversely, (in general) no matter how upset he is, a modern male character can’t break down in tears and expect not to be mocked, whereas a female character can.
It’s much easier to figure out what society expects from each gender and how that determines the way a common human trait plays out, than it is to write male characters as though they were not quite as fully human as the writer.
As for poor Conrad in By Honor Betrayed, my most recent release, I do feel terribly sorry for him. I’ve given him my decision making process – which is to try and see both sides of any decision in such exhaustive detail that it becomes almost impossible to make a choice between them. Then I’ve given him a life or death decision to make. He is bad – truly, awfully bad – at making up his mind, and on his choice rests not only his own life but also that of the man he loves.
I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes! But I suppose, in my head, I already have been, because that’s how I know what he felt like when he was. I’m still not sure whether he made the best choice, mind you. I’ll leave it up to you to decide that 🙂
Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.