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I am a woman, and I wrote a book out of the perspective of a guy. His best friend tells him she wants to kill herself. So he writes her a diary (with her in mind as the audience) about everything they do together. He plans to give it to her, in the end, to help her feel better.

Now in one feedback a woman told me that a man would NEVER LIKE EVER think or write like that.

Of course, I know that men tend not to express their feelings very often and much. But just because men don't SHOW their feelings doesn't mean they don't have them; does it?

My whole story is based on all these very strong emotional reactions the guy has. That when his best friend tells him she wants to kill herself, he'd have feelings; he'd want to make her feel better; he'd do crazy things just to keep her from dying. And when nothing seems to work, he cries sometimes.

Some guys who wouldn't care. A lot of guys might just run away. But wouldn't some guys do everything to stop their best friend from killing herself?! And I understand he might not have written all this as a private diary, but with the whole structure of a diary-letter to his best friend whom he has known for so long and whom he starts to love eventually, wouldn't he talk about his feelings to her?

Help me out guys! Is my problem in understanding the mind of a man? I thought love, sadness and anger are universal feelings that everyone has regardless of their gender, but how do I square that in my writing with the sense that men conceal their feelings entirely, or don't feel that much to begin with?

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We can't standardise, but we can generalise

As has been mentioned, there is no standard "man" any more than there is a standard "woman". Some women are into ultimate fighting and woodwork. Some men are into cake decorating and fashion. We are all different.

I'm assuming from your question though that your male protagonist is more of a standard "manly" man. Having spent a little while in couple's counselling with my wife, I noticed a few things that surprised me.

A man will look for a fix, a woman will look for empathy

A woman who has an emotion usually doesn't want it fixed. She just wants empathy.

A man upon hearing about a negative emotion would treat it as a problem to be worked on, and would look for a way to fix it. If he could see no fix he might find it frustrating.

A man might not bother sharing an emotion unless the person he shares it with can help practically, otherwise what would be the point?

Men are traditionally taught to be self-reliant. A man might share a problem only if he had exhausted his own resources and needed a fix. To rely on someone else to fix one's problems would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. A man, upon hearing about a problem, may assume that the person with the problem requires help. He will go into problem-solving mode and try to suggest ways to sort it out.

A woman on the other hand may not have the same pride thing going on. Women seem quite happy to sit and talk about problems with each other. The empathy seems to strengthen them.

It sounds like writing the diary might fit into the remit of problem-solving, but I would say that he would be unlikely to come up with it by himself. Another woman might suggest it to him as a possible solution.

Women are emotionally complex

Women appear to be emotionally far more intricate than men (of course this is a generalisation). There is logic there, but it is confounded by layers of history, experience, hormonal state, etc.

A man tries to understand the world in terms of mechanism. If I put this here, this changes over here. It's too difficult to understand female emotion in these terms.

Male emotion, on the other hand may be simpler. We are, for the most part, happy when things are nice, angry when things are difficult, sad when things are sad, etc. Male emotion is more mechanistic. We are emotional slot machines.

A woman cares about being heard

Women really care about being heard. A man likely assumes he is heard. We are used to being heard. Your male character may not realise that your female character really needs empathy and understanding.

Caveat

These are all massive horrible generalisations. I'm being most dreadfully sexist here, I apologise. In fact, disregard all of the above.

  • Thanks for the answer! I guess some people kind of focus on the fact that a diary is seen as unmanly, but in my opinion it is this problem-solving thing. He never says "Oh let's talk about your problems" or "I'm so sorry for you". He only tries to make her feel better by going on trips to Paris, Belgium etc with her and agreeing to break into a school, trying drugs etc. And he never asks his best male friend for advice so I guess he does try to find solutions and when he sees that it doesn't make her feel any better he is really frustrated. Does that sound "manly"? :D – zombysis Jan 27 '16 at 14:40
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    That does indeed sound "manly" to me :) – superluminary Jan 28 '16 at 13:35
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I'm sure at this point someone will say, "You can't make broad generalizations about what ALL men or ALL women do or think or feel!" Which of course is true if taken literally. But we certainly can say that MOST men do X or MOST women think Y. We're different ... and vive la difference!

Men certainly do have feelings and care about other human beings. The difference is what we do about it. When a woman learns that her friend has had some problem, her first impulse is to call her or go visit her and sympathize and cry together and discuss their feelings, right? When a man learns that his friend has had some problem, his first impulse is to seek a practical way to solve the problem. Like -- to be a little snide here -- if I told a friend that I was trying to fix the brakes on my pick-up truck and I just couldn't get them to work, I wouldn't expect him to say, "Yes, Chevy's can be really tough to maintain" and put his arm around me and cry for me. I'd expect him to give specific suggestions, like "that problem might be caused by air bubbles in the brake fluid" or something of that sort. If he doesn't really know he might well give useless advice, but that's another story.

Men tend to not be interested in discussing feelings, and to be awkward at it if they try. Of course there are exceptions, namely, when he feels very strongly about something. A man who is in love may write love poems to his girlfriend or wife or try to say romantic things. A man may become vocal about other things that he is passionate about, from sports to politics to religion to whatever. But it's relatively rare, and other men tend to look down on a man who is too vocal about his feelings, or at least to be uncomfortable hearing him talk about it.

So for a man to write a diary like you describe ... Maybe. It would be unlikely to be his first thought. If he really loves this woman, if she is his wife or his girlfriend or his mother or a very close sister, it would be unusual but not unbelievable in any way.

Otherwise -- you said she's his "best friend", which I take it means not a romantic interest -- I think you'd have to give some explanation for it. You'd have to say how he became convinced that this was the best approach to solve her problem.

In general, I think it would be far more plausible if it's expressed as, He did this because he thought it would help her, rather than, He did this because he just could not keep his feelings inside.

Just some rambling thoughts.

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    Thanks so much! So in the beginning he states that he has thought very long about how to help her and came to the conclusion that a diary might be the best thing because she loves literature. Also she forbid him to ever try to convince her (with words) to live so the diary is the only place to tell her what he thinks. Also he says that he would have never thought he'd every write a diary and that he always made fun of people who did so. And that he can't believe he's actually doing this but he doesn't see another solution right now. Sound logic? – zombysis Dec 7 '15 at 16:19
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    I think that would work. Of course as with any work of fiction, exactly how you say it -- all the details of dialog and action etc -- can be the difference between believable and not believable. – Jay Dec 7 '15 at 18:58
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    Perhaps he goes looking for a solution, asks a woman, and she suggests the diary. That would be what I might do. – superluminary Dec 14 '15 at 15:07
  • Male friend could work too, if the question was right. Like the answer says men like trying to give practical suggestions and "Write it down" is an eminently practical suggestion to someone who complains about having strong emotions he can't express. Would have to be a mutual friend as the topic wouldn't probably come up otherwise. Or a psychiatrist. – Ville Niemi Dec 15 '15 at 17:01
  • @VilleNiemi Possible, but to the extent that a man is less likely to think of such a diary than a woman, and so the hero is unlikely to think of such a solution himself, supposing that some other man thinks of it doesn't solve the problem. I think superluminary's idea is to get a woman to suggest what is basically a feminine idea to a man, to avoid any question about how a man came up with a feminine idea. – Jay Dec 15 '15 at 20:45
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Men have emotions. The problem in your story is how he expresses them. Writing a diary to a girl sounds like something an emo guy who plays guitar to pick up girls or cuts himself would do. Girls might think it's sweet, but most guys would say 'You did what?!'

In general, guys tend to be much more direct.

More believable reactions (which can be combined):

Yell angrily at how stupid she is for not realizing how much he cares.

Be sad and/or resentful she didn't realize his feelings.

Be confused how she couldn't appreciate herself.

Buy her something to cheer her up, and have a talk with her.

Get her to a psychiatrist immediately for medical care and therapy (which is the most responsible reaction).

  • Actually he does all those things you mentioned at some point in the book. I mean, writing a diary is not his first response, he thinks about it for a long time and then decides to write her a diary because he knows that talking wouldn't help (he tried) and because she loves literature. Apart from that, he is confused and doesn't get her, he becomes increasingly angry and sad that he doesn't seem to be enough and that all of his efforts don't seem to change her mind und he does a lot of stuff with her to cheer her up. He only doesn't think about a psychiatrist because he doesn't think that far – zombysis Dec 9 '15 at 7:44
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    I think having a character that doesn't play to a (really bad) stereotype of men having no emotional depth is a very good thing. Making portion of the population think 'you did what' is a very good thing. Saying its ok to express emotions is a good thing. All guys who express emotions don't cut themselves! Its probably a trope to avoid at the very least... – Michael B Dec 9 '15 at 11:09
  • @zombysis : It sounds to me like you've got a gradual process which justifies the entire thing. Your issue might be with how well that justification is actually working for some readers (pretty much anything can be justified, but not all attempts are equally successful). But I'm afraid for that, you'd need a more in-depth critique of your actual manuscript. – Standback Jan 28 '16 at 18:14
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This is a good question. I remember reading a well-written novel with a particularly unsuccessful attempt at writing cross-gender. The male narrator's actions were believable, but his internal life seemed all too clearly ghostwritten by the female author, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of the book. His thoughts and preoccupations just didn't fit with how he was otherwise presented in the book.

Conversely, you might consider Nick Hornby's About a Boy, which, to me, reads like a male author's deliberate attempt to explain the male mindframe for a female audience. His High Fidelity also explores a male narrator's internal life, but with (I assume) more of a male audience in mind.

It's far from true that men "don't have feelings," but in my experience, you do, as a man, lose touch with your feelings as you age --you view them almost as a third party observer ("Oh, I'm crying, I must be sad. My fists are clenched, I must be mad"). I've heard that those who take testosterone as a part of a gender transition have reported definite differences along these lines from how they relate to their own feelings pre- and post-transition. For this reason, men do tend to be less comfortable and conversant with emotional states. That makes your plotline a little less plausible, but far from impossible --after all, everyone is an individual, no matter what the "norm" might be.

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You could make your male character the kind of character who would do what you want him to. Or you could make him someone who would never do that, then somehow change his mind.

I think your premise is a good one. You just need to write it in such a way that it seems natural for this character to do this thing.

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I think you are asking the wrong question!

It isn't about whether 'men' as a gender would behave like that, it is about whether your character would behave like that.

Choose any emotion that people will feel and You'll find some who exhibits that emotion at all points on that spectrum of that emotion. From someone who doesn't exhibit it at all, to someone who spends their lives ruled by it. Whether that is love, or fear or compassion.

Now there might be emotions, and emotional responses that would be considered feminine and others that are considered masculine but that just means that the bell curve for that particular gender is skewed towards one particular end of that spectrum, it doesn't mean that those emotions don't exist for those genders.

So I think the question you're asking isn't how does the mind of a man work. Your question should be how can I make my character have these traits and be believable.

You have a scene for a guy to act a particular way. To make that scene believable you need to work out what sort of guy would behave like that. What is the relationship between him and his friend that makes that feel like something that he needs to do in order to protect that relationship.

Who is the man who behaves like that, get to know him, figure out what drives him, figure out what she means to him, make it someone believable, make him someone a reader can empathise with and you'll have a strong character that will make a great story.

  • Well, all right, I think I did that pretty well! All of my female beta readers loved the book. My male readers said that my character isnt't impossible but that they were kind of annoyed that he was such a "pussy" (quote)... as if showing emotions meant to be weak... by now I've come to the conclusions that those two male beta readers don't have any empathy because obviously they can't imagine what it's like if you feel resposible for the life of your best friend. (I mean, who wouldn't get emotional if your long time best friend wants to kill herself??) – zombysis Dec 9 '15 at 7:34
  • I think you need to be aware of all of the facets of your character. If you have a side of your character that is biased towards the feminine, it would be good if there is a masculine side also. Other wise he's just a girl in drag. Show how he's a guy that acts this way, give him some dimensions to round him out a bit. – Michael B Dec 9 '15 at 11:00
  • If a bunch of beta-readers loved the book and a bunch didn't, it really could just be an issue of taste and opinion. Of everybody agrees that the character isn't impossible, and some of 'em love him that way and some of 'em hate him, that's... pretty much OK, no? – Standback Jan 28 '16 at 18:29
  • (Women tend to like romance, as a genre, way more than men to begin with - you might be shooting yourself in the foot there. Try to choose beta readers who actually like your book's genre, men or women; otherwise there's a bunch of reasons they might dislike it that have nothing to do with your book in particular!) – Standback Jan 28 '16 at 18:30

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