(Bad) Advice for Fictional People: How to Be a Guy.

Today I want to talk about stereotypes in fiction.  Specifically, I want to talk about stereotypes in writing characters’ behavior.

Yesterday, I happened upon a blog post  with advice on how to write ‘realistic male characters’ — you know, fictional people who speak and behave the way men speak and behave in real life.

So… You probably already know that I’m not in favor of any pigeonholing of people — real or fictional — based on sex. gender, race, age, species… If I go on a bloggish rant when I see some fantasy story where the author says ‘All gnomes think alike and act alike’ — people who are entirely fictional — why should I have no opinion about stereotyping half of the human species in a similar way?

I’m sure the author of that article meant well and was just trying to help women who write male POV characters. Still…  There would be quite justifiable outrage if someone were to post an article on writing female characters that stated, ‘Women think like this, and women act like this, and women like these things and dislike these other things.’ Not a hive mind, right?

Guess what?  Non-female humans are also not a hive mind.

Anyway.  Here are a few of the tidbits from “Is Your Guy a Guy?”:

Men always say what they mean and focus on a single topic at a time.

Men use short sentences with the fewest words possible.

Men are not talkative.

Men are thinkers, but not feelers, so they definitely don’t think about how they feel.

Uh-huh.  Is this the first time you’ve visited my blog?  If you’ve been here before, you already know that some men are talkative, don’t stick with short and simple sentences, and may even be incapable of focusing on a single topic at a time.  (My clone wrote a downright “Faulkner-esque” sentence the other day, long and convoluted and full of imagery — I’m so proud of him. 🙂  It’s only his background in technical/academic writing that sometimes causes him to keep to short sentences, by the way, because he doesn’t do that in speaking, just writing.)

Or maybe you shouldn’t just take my word(s) for it.  Ever read Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible MindsHis post from yesterday (which you ought to read, ’cause it’s good) is somewhere past 1200 words in length.  (You may want to contemplate word count for individual sentences in that post, if you find yourself still unconvinced.  One is 76 words long; another contains 41 words.  Short sentences, my ass!)

If the best advice out there (and it is very good advice, in my opinion) on how to write believable, realistic female characters is simply to write believable, realistic characters who happen to be female, why shouldn’t the same hold true for writing male characters?

(And, for the record, I get every bit as irritated on the rare occasion when I see some article about how the only “realistic” female characters are the clichés and stereotypes — especially when such an article is written by a woman.  And I get angry when I see a man claiming that men are all alike.  Hell, I have a clone, and we don’t think or act alike — don’t even write alike.)

 

 

 

 

 

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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18 Responses to (Bad) Advice for Fictional People: How to Be a Guy.

  1. I reminds me of the answer I got from my rabbi when I asked him if Jews believe in reincarnation. He responded with “Which Jews? When? Where?”

    Which men? When? Where?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ziresta says:

    I have lots of male friends who I’m quite surprised to learn that they aren’t really male, but they must not be because they certainly don’t meet her criteria.

    I imagine I wouldn’t qualify if she wrote a post on how to write a female either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jaye says:

    Reblogged this on Jaye Em Edgecliff and commented:
    I fully agree with Mr Weaver’s assessment of tge … ahem … advice, but woukd like to add that I do think it’s useful in one regard: it’s a handy checklist for making a nice stereotypical and generic western culture male. Picking & choosing up to 2/3 of those traits WOULD yeild a decent societal expectation of a man & work for a throw away character’s surface gender expression. The full list can be used to get the kinds of guy “Bro Country” is about and the guys who identify with it try to emulate, but please note even here it ought to be exterior characteristics … not internal reality … of a character who will be unimportant and non-lasting.

    To use the advice for its intended purpose would be a terrible and sexist idea unless you’re writing satire,moaridy, or other comedy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jaye says:

    I wish I could believe the original blogger had been joking; part of an audition for The Onion, perhaps.

    That describes exactly none of the men I’ve ever known. The closest are a couple of my uncles who are a little too far to the redneck side of the personality spectrum … and even they only hit a few points.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. me like post. you write good. me like you.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Great post! If you haven’t read it yet, there was another good post by Mishka yesterday about stereotyping female heroes.

    I suppose that even if you think of any group of people as being typcially like this or always like that then it’s usually the ones that break that mould (that’s mold for Americans) that are the ones worth writing about…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link. That is a good post. As I commented there, it’s unfortunate that female characters are now often required to have a stereotypically “masculine” trait like physical strength in order to be considered worthwhile. It’s good to show that women can be strong, but it would also be good sometimes to show that women — and men — don’t HAVE to be physically strong to be protagonist material. (Maybe I’m biased: the female lead in the novel I’M working on isn’t a pushover — a few people have told me she’s “too aggressive” and “acts like a man,” which I take to mean I’m doing something right in showing that people are people — but she’s very much NOT a combat model.)

      Like

  7. Mara Fields says:

    Like this post, Thomas! What I think is a little odd about giving advice on how to write any character, is that by doing so, the adviser is taking away the most essential (in my opinion) piece of any writer–the observer. How do you write believable characters, or even caricatures? You observe the world deeply, reflect on it, and then represent your world view for the reader through the characters you piece together from your experience. By saying “this is how you write x,y,z” the adviser is suggesting you by-pass this vital, in fact, fundamental, piece of work by the writer, and instead use his/her worldview. I hope no one takes that kind of advice.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I actually enjoyed her post, largely because she hit most of the other men I know dead-on.

    As you alluded, she probably reads a lot of romance written by women, and is tired of seeing effeminate male behavior in large numbers of male characters.

    Maybe there is a case for writing “stereotypical” characters, particularly in minor/background roles, because then if there’s something different about your main character or villain, it really stands out.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. D.T. Nova says:

    I don’t see how some of these are even stereotypically consistent.
    They certainly don’t describe my male characters…and I’m a male writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. AT my advanced age, I have such a database of male (and female, and everything else) behavior, that I couldn’t produce a stereotype if I tried.

    Nope. NO shortcuts for me. Every single male character has to justify his behavior (and gets assigned motivations that will cause it). And they all have to be DIFFERENT. It just happens.

    I keep waiting for my male readers to trip me up – none of them are doing their job! So I must be doing reasonably well (or I’m losing ’em in droves with my portrayals – I’d really love to know which).

    I would far prefer the pointing out of my flaws and unbelievable characters happen before publication, if at all possible. I’m posting the polished, almost final work, as I go – and so far so good. I keep writing in fear that some guy will come along, and with intuition and logic, point out that I’m doing something horribly wrong, so I can fix it. Barring that, the world will just have to lump it (or not buy) when it goes up. Soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: MORE Cool Stuff from the Archives | North of Andover

  12. Pingback: Writing the ‘Realistic Female Character’ | North of Andover

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