9

Friends. I am female, and have recently decided that my first book's titular character is going to be a boy of an age between nineteen and twenty.

I would like some help as to how to go about writing from a male perspective, as I've noticed how quick readers are to pounce upon prose that sounds too 'girly' or too 'sensitive' to be a guy's.

If it helps, here are some key elements of this guy's personality and back story:

  1. As stated, he's 19-20 years of age.

  2. He's had a mature-ish upbringing, bordering on emotionally abusive.

  3. He lives in a low fantasy setting.

  4. He has a cynical, nearly-cruel personality.

Please, any help and/or insights would be greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    Don't worry, I write about girls all the time! The best way is to forget that you're a boy/girl. I'll write an answer on this later I'm actually writing my novel right now, and am procrastinating and getting distracted by this site# – Daniel Cann Apr 27 '17 at 17:13
  • 1
    I would recommend you read Harry Potter. Rowling nailed it, at least from my experience. – Thomas Myron Apr 27 '17 at 17:28
  • 1
    Thomas Myron, who hasn't already read Harry Potter? Sadly, I don't plan on writing in third-person pov, so this doesn't really ease my predicament. :) – Jack Rabbit Apr 27 '17 at 17:49
  • 3
    @JackRabbit Harry thinks and acts in many ways that I find natural though, so it could still be helpful for you. Harry is of course not your character, so it is limited. – Thomas Myron Apr 27 '17 at 19:11
  • 1
    You should add to your OP what POV you're writing in. – storbror Oct 4 '17 at 6:50

11 Answers 11

13

There is one key fear that all young men share, and most older men, if we are honest: The fear of appearing weak. Men have an instinctive need to project strength, and will find any way they can to do it, even when it is against their best interests. They will do it through their behavior, they will do it through their speech.

The last bastion of strength is indifference. If I cannot change the world, I will endure it. If I cannot win the fight, I will not flinch in defeat. If I dare not face a foe, I will mock them.

Every word a male speaks is in some way shaped by this fundamental dictum of maleness: do not show weakness.

  • 8
    "all young men". Never generalize things to all when you can't check. – rus9384 Nov 28 '18 at 8:31
  • 5
    What a bunch of utter nonsense. – user34178 Nov 28 '18 at 13:01
  • 4
    I think this answer overlaps and is complementary with Chris Sunami's answer: Most of boys i knew when I was a teenager myself were prone to passion and inner conflict, yet none of us wanted to appear weak because we were told from a young age that men just have to "deal with it". Even one of my teacher told us stuff like "Only two things must make a man cry: illness or death", which was harsh for that age. I think the good answer might exist between these two: inner doubt under a shell of bragging. – kikirex Nov 29 '18 at 16:38
  • @kikirex That may be an American thing. I see these kinds of coaches and dads all the time in American movies, and maybe they have some reality there, but at least here in Germany it is very uncommon for anyone to talk to boys like that. – user34178 Dec 2 '18 at 16:56
  • @user57423 It may be an American thing, but i'm french. Maybe it has more to do with public schools (like the one I went in) or the fact that my grandparents have known the war and raised my parents this way, thus explaining why they raised us this way too. People who have known harsh times may be more prone to this kind of hard speech. – kikirex Dec 2 '18 at 17:03
12

Study Your Friends

You likely have male friends. When speaking with them, really think about their responses. Listen to their phrasing and try to remember exactly how they put things, then go back and compare them to how you would say something similar. Consider the cases where you wouldn't say something and they do, especially. What context was that? What could have been the impetus for them to speak up where you did not? Do the same with your female friends - you may be female, but you are only one female. Compare and contrast.

Ask Your Friends

Probably after you gather data from the previous exercise, explain to them that you're writing a novel from a male POV and need to understand the male psyche. Write an outline of your plot and the things that happen to your character. Ask your male friends how they would feel in the situation, and what their reaction would be. Once more, you can ask your female friends so that you can compare the data.

Study the Wild Male

This borders on rude, but such sacrifices we make for our art. Go someplace public where you're likely to find men who are similar to your character. A bar may work, but a variety of settings couldn't hurt. Take a journal and sit in a corner. Listen to the men around you similarly to how you did your friends in the first exercise. Pay particular attention to men interacting with other men, but make sure to analyze a variety of situations: Two close friends speaking, men interacting in a group of male friends, men interacting in a group that includes men and women, men interacting with male and female strangers. Do the same with women to compare yet again. Write down what you observe. (Like Henry Higgins!)

Remember that human nature doesn't change that much...

You're writing in a fantasy setting, but the presence of fantasy elements aren't likely to change human nature that much. (Unless the conceit of the setting is that the fantasy elements do, of course, but that may be a different discussion altogether.) For all of recorded history, humans mostly seem to be focused on making a living (whether that was through hunting and gathering or computer programming), figuring out where they fit in society, finding friends and romantic partners, and asserting that they are special and better than other people in some way. Men and women may approach these differently, but through your study perhaps you will find out if that is true.

  • 3
    +1 An extra upovote (if I could) for comparing male and female choices. And do try to note how some female choices approach some male choices. – Sara Costa Apr 29 '17 at 13:02
10

Sex or gender are just a small part of who your characters are. If you take all the female characters from contemporary literature together, they don't have many things in common.

As with all things, differences between the sexes are much smaller than differences within each of the sexes. My favourite example is body height: the smallest man and the tallest man are almost a meter apart, while the average man and the average woman only differ in about 10 cm. And for almost any given man, there is a woman who is taller than he is, despite the fact that women are smaller on average. If you look at individuals, average gender/sex differences are meaningless.

Your male viewpoint character should not be defined by some idea of maleness, but by what kind of person you want in your story. Simply,

stop thinking of him as a man and instead consider his function in your story.

  • 1
    I wish I could upvote this more than once. It may be unusual for your male protagonist to be as sensitive as you made him, but I think you'll find the majority of people think of themselves as unusual in some way. If you find that ALL of your male characters are like that though, then you need to start thinking about character differentiation. – IchabodE Nov 28 '18 at 21:41
  • Your height example is misleading. It's not the range of variation that matters, it's the standard deviation. And the height difference between men and women is twice the standard deviation. When a woman is taller than a man, that is unusual and something people note. I'm not sure if personality traits are quite that widely separated between men and women, but if they are, a man "acting/thinking like a woman" is something readers will pick up on. – eyeballfrog Jan 6 at 2:40
9

I consider myself a relatively refined and sensitive male adult, but I was a complete mess at that age, and I think the same is true of the majority of guys (not all!). Arrogance, deep insecurity, impulsiveness, quick angers and resentments, a deeply conflicted love-hate relationship with the opposite gender that often manifests as misogyny, short-sightedness, selfishness and narcissism --sadly, they all go along with the territory.

My advice for a woman writing a male character of this age would be to dial the introspection way way down, and the desperately concealed insecurity way way up.

You might also read some Nick Hornby. About a Boy is practically a woman's guide to understanding the young male psyche.

  • All your points apply to girls that age as well! You may be misled by a media sterotype, but if you look at real teenage girls, many of them are just as arrogant, insecure, impulsive, quick to get angry, full of resentment, and so on and so forth, as teenage boys. Just ask some mothers of teen girls. – user34178 Dec 2 '18 at 16:52
6

Detach

I think the best way to think like a male is to detach from yourself. I write about girls all the time, and in one of my stories, the main protagonist has been a girl.

What you've got to remember is that when you write, you are not you. You are the narrator. You are just the unbiased thing telling the story, you are not the characters, you are not like them in any way. You need to think like a narrator would. To write about a male, you don't necessarily have to dress up like a boy and pretend to be one, but you need to forget about the fact that you are a female. You are no longer a female. You are the genderless narrator.

It's very hard to describe. When I write with a chapter in the point of view of a girl, I can just feel it. I detach myself from these real-world thoughts that I am a little boy, and I become the girl. You've just got to embody the girl, you know? It sounds weird, and it is, but it works.

As the genderless narrator, you are able to insert yourself into any character. That's the great thing about who you are in the story. When you're writing about your male, just insert yourself into his soul, and control him.

Examine

This has been mentioned before, but examining the behavior of wild males can benefit you. What are they doing, how are they acting?

You should look for the type of male you want to write about. There's lot's of male-types. I'm slightly on the more soft, quiet side, but there are other hard lads who are really tough. It's about finding the one you want, I think. Imagine you're looking at animals in a zoo - it's dehumanising, but must be done.

This advice definitely applies:

Watch and learn.

Conclusion

I hope this helped you.

5

I will recommend you begin with a book, non-fiction popularized science, "Is There Anything Good About Men? [How cultures flourish by exploiting men]" by Roy F. Baumeister, the Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology at Florida State University (at the time of writing he was).

I am speaking from memory of Baumeister's illuminating ideas. The premise is simple, that due to the biology of mating, men are expendable, disposable, and this disposability (whether the men themselves think so or not) is reflected in their psychology and our cultural norms.

He begins with an interesting observation found from studying genetics: How many of your ancestors were male, and how many female? Your first thought that it must be 50/50 is wrong. 2/3 of your ancestors were female, only 1/3 were male! Until recently modern times, only about 50% of men reproduced, while over 90% of females reproduced, because very strong or rich men had many wives and children. A single man can father a hundred children in a year, a single women can be the ancestor of, at best, triplets, and on average, ONE.

This makes men expendable. Suppose I have a village of 500 men and 500 women, 1000 people, and we go to war and lose 400 people in battle. Now I speak in generalities ignoring caveats like religion and personal choice. That said, if I lose 400 men, the remaining 100 men can easily father the next generations, and the village can have 500 children and thrive. If I lose 400 women, I have 500 men that have to compete for the 100 remaining women, and I will have 100 pregnancies: The village does not thrive, it shrinks.

The future of the village is best served by making all intentional sacrifices of life, male lives. That dynamic exists throughout the animal kingdom: For horses, most males do not reproduce, and they fight to the death for the right of it. All females reproduce, however.

In human society, Baumeister notes, we have literally hundreds of legends in dozens of languages and cultures about a group of men banding together and going to seek their fortune; building a ship, fighting battles, so they can come home with riches and get themselves wives. Virtually ZERO such legends about a group of women doing the same to attract husbands.

They don't need to do that, the vast majority of women can reproduce with some male if they want to; their instinctive competition is not to get a male interested in them because they (the woman) has power or wealth, their instinctive competition is for the better males, the ones with power, wealth, and the ability to both protect and provide for the woman and her children.

Male psychology, including the involuntary parts, springs from this dynamic.

It is why they are quick to fight, why they (IRL) commit most murders, why they see women as sexual objects: Historically the male involvement in a pregnancy could be just five minutes of intercourse and end of story: child produced! The rest of his involvement could be just in authorizing the expenditure of his resources to provide for his wife and children. Like a salmon, he could literally die in battle the next day and still end up with a child.

It is why they don't care much about their looks and can be seen as sexually attractive to women even when aged or distinctly unpretty: The power and resources of a King do not require an athletic body or pretty face. For women, however, appearances matter, because youth, health and symmetry are key indicators, for a male, of the reproductive potential they subconsciously seek, and are usually wired to become aroused by.

It is why women have long been considered the property of males: THEY are the precious resource, not males. For a father, it is his daughters that other men seek and will pay much for, not his sons. If he wants his sons to reproduce he has to give them land and wealth. For his daughters he will receive land and wealth, because a girl of reproductive age is a valuable asset in her own right, in much demand by men; in fact they will risk their lives to earn the price. It is why virginity is prized in women, but not men: Virginity in the marriage bed ensures the offspring of that mating is the progeny of the man, and there is always the fear of a man that a child is not his. No such fear exists for women, obviously, their kid is unquestionably theirs, and if she knows she has mated with only one man, she is certain of the father, too: His virginity or not just doesn't really matter. [with caveats for modern medicine, of course.]

I do suggest reading the book; it explains much and lets you see both male and female POV with greater clarity, and get into their subconscious psychology with greater ease.

I am not saying the modern woman (or even medieval woman) sees herself as a reproductive commodity. But their sexual and social attitudes differ greatly from males. The vast majority of 21 year old females, on any night of the week and with no fame or wealth, can walk into a bar and walk out with a willing sexual partner within the hour. Note that the 'vast majority' also means there is no necessity for extraordinary beauty or physical shape.

Yet only an extreme minority of 21 year old men could do that (repeat: with no fame or wealth or extraordinary looks or physical shape).

That difference, and many more such psychological differences, originates in this observation that men are disposable, reproductively, and women are not.

  • 3
    +1 and I'd add that men in my critique group kept wondering why my male protagonist didn't 'notice' the women he met in his travels. They (and the women in the group) were fine with the female protagonist not noticing the men she met. – DPT Nov 28 '18 at 16:30
  • 3
    @DPT Yeah, males (if they are not under the influence of new love) will tend to see and judge all females in terms of potential mates, whether they have any chance with them or not. Obviously this can be hidden in social circumstances, but instruments prove they are doing it anyway! perhaps females do too, but they are not looking for physical attributes, instead they would be sensitive to clues of high social standing, leadership, wealth, etc that may be more hidden or demand more inferences (or knowledge). When they are subconsciously attracted, they have similar physiological responses. – Amadeus Nov 28 '18 at 18:15
  • 1
    Interesting. My female protagonist does indeed recognize a man who has the means to change her station in life, but it is not sexual in the least and FWIW in my internal envisioning she is asexual. She does not respond sexually to anyone, so I would have said she does not notice the men in the story. (At least, sexually, as a matter of character, with the exception of the man she is slated to marry, and that is a matter of analysis... not attraction.) Your comment here made me rethink it, and she does notice one (other) man precisely because of his station... and the freedom that represents. – DPT Nov 28 '18 at 18:44
  • 3
    @DPT Much of what we do on the sexual front is subconscious. Men that get in a fight in a bar over a spilled drink, or losing a game, or "disrespect" are seldom consciously thinking of how that links to them having sex or (even more remotely) reproducing. But this is precisely what it IS about, social standing before their friends and potential mates, not being seen as the omega dog. "Being a Man" means, in the end, women not having any reason to question your worthiness as a mate, that can defend and provide. Your female may not be thinking sex, but subcon she "notices" an attractive mate. – Amadeus Nov 28 '18 at 18:54
  • 2
    @DPT yes, in particular, even if she is asexual (personally I don't believe asexuality can be biological; I think it has to be a psychological denial -- but those can be powerful), the question is how does she imagine influencing a heterosexual woman, versus a heterosexual man? What would be her "leverage"? Why would her approach work? What does she have to offer? What would make a woman wish to favor her? (We know what would make a man wish to favor her). Even as an asexual, in her fantasy about the car is she willing to be seen as a sexual partner (or BE one) to escape her plight? – Amadeus Nov 28 '18 at 19:46
3

I'm going to go out on a limb and say just write the character and let the chips fall where they may. There's a lot going on in the brain and we don't understand this. Although I appreciate some ideas about genetic determinism (aka the need as an animal for basic necessity of life), the fact is that with our brain capacity a large amount of it is, in my own opinion, bunk. That whole google document thing that was written a while back, assuming the basic premise that genetics of male and female determine evolutionary predisposition to STEM fields, it neglects the fact that we didn't evolve to sit in a cube farm for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

I'm in the reverse situation, a male writing a female protagonist. I took up the whole project as a challenge because I didn't think I could write convincing women. Low and behold, she's one of my favorite characters I've ever thunk up... and most of her personality is inspired by agender personality traits I admire in various real life and fictional characters (and some flaws because no one's perfect). It's no different than what I would do if I was making a male character. The hardest part... and I mean this truly... is this is the first time I have to understand how dress sizes work... but then, I barely understand men's beyond "I must wear them in public settings". But hey, half the fun of writing for me is learning about new things so I get it right... even if it's fashion... shutters (Ironically, the biggest fashion conscious character in this story is her straight best guy friend.).

Anyway, back on track, if you are considering writing a male protaganist, its' probably going to be for books for guys. If that's the case, the best piece of advice I can give you is not how to write your character, but how to write your own name... use your first and middle initials and last name.

In dating myself a little bit, when I was a kid, the three biggest authors of books kids my age read the hell out of were by R.L. Stine (I personally wasn't a fan, but all my friends were), K.A. Applegate (huge fan!), and J.K. Rowling. All three wrote books that appealed to a male audience more than a female one and are listed in reverse order of number of books sold. The only male author is of course R.L. Stine and for much of the 90s and 00s, the books boys wanted to buy were authored by women and were largely from a male perspective (exclusively in Rowling's case... K.A. Applegate had a 2:1 male female perspective character ratio.).

As a kid, because of the names not betraying the author, I picked them up and read them religiously and thought they were written by men... until I used masculine pronouns to refer to Applegate, and the librarian I was talking to informed me that he was actually a she... and I was like "Oh, that's cool... still like these characters, I'm going to read more." When it happened again with Rowling, my reaction was along the lines of "Got me again... well played."

And again, consider the reverse. Look at how many men absolutely love the latest My Little Pony show unironically. The burning question of many who don't understand why is answered when you stop watching it as a girls show and watch it as a television show that features girls as the core cast... they don't emphasize "Girl Power" or "Battle of the Sexes" and "Girls are just as good as guys". They emphasize positive characters who are more indicative of their personality than they are of their gender. There is not one of the core cast that could easily port that personality into a male character (Okay... Rarity, the Fashion Pony, is hard... but then, have you seen how meticulously obsessive some Star Wars 501st Legion fanboys are about getting their costumes just right?)

Write your character as you see him and don't worry about how masculine he seems. Write your story the way you want it, and don't worry if he seems overly emotional... because at the end of the day, guys might not show it... but we do get scared, we do have doubts... we do worry about things... we might like to pretend we don't but men are not without emotions.

2

Nice to see this topic come up again. This answer may complement the existing ideas.

Answer: Write a character (as an exercise), for whom you do not know the gender. Write out a nicely-fleshed scene, maybe an entire day, with meals, chores, interactions, a job, a date, a call to a friend, to a parent. Always keep in mind during this exercise that you as the author do not know the gender of the character.

Keep a notebook (or second document) handy. Every time you write a thought or idea or interaction from this genderless character that 'feels' gendered to you, write it down.

It may work for you, or it may not. But I wrote a genderless character over the summer and found the exercise interesting because so many things in daily life do in fact feel gendered.

1

I agree very much with hsmv, but I would also like to add that writing from a male perspective is actually pretty easy, regardless of whether you are male or female. The vast majority of media that we consume (books, movies, news etc.) is presented from a male perspective. We are all brought up to see the world from a male perspective and to empathize with men. Unless you've had a strange upbringing where you do not read books/watch movies with male protagonists or talk with boys or men, you should not find it hard at all to write from a male perspective.

  • 4
    I think this is more a general commentary than a clear answer on how to write from a male POV. Perhaps you could edit your answer to add some thoughts on how to balance the ubiquitous patriarchal masculinity you describe with a more modern, nuanced and less stereotypical approach? – Chappo Nov 28 '18 at 0:55
1

Test publish some snippets to another community unrelated to any of your current circles; only, publish it under a male pseudonym.

If the criticism disappears, then you don't actually have a problem with your writing.

You might be surprised how often an author's perceived background affects views of their works.


For example, Isaac Asimov, a famous science fiction writer used to write under the name of Paul French, back when all things Russian-like was "a bad thing" in America, and France and America were allies.

-1

As already said, it's true that we males cannot show weaknesses, or a big difference from our group of friend otherwise we will be in trouble ;

Also, we tend to be direct and brief in what we say and not very talkative. We like to talk and joke or course but after some sentences we need to change the topic or stop to talk.

In this topic, we value people who are able to do strong "punch lines" (a short and powerful sentence that impress and let the other speechless).

You can also take in account what is being manly.

Otherwise than that a few men are extremely manly, most tend to follow more or less a man behavior but some are more sensitive, shy...

This is you who decide the personality of this character, ultimately.

  • Be careful with generalizing, or state clearly when you do. In my opinion/experience, men CAN show weaknesses - and should. However, when you look at modern societies, sure, it is still often looked down upon, as "it isn't manly". It is a very outdated gender-issue, which leaves thousands of men over the world depressed, traumatized etc. If what you write is your personal opinion or experiences, make sure not to state it as fact. :) – storbror Jan 6 at 11:17
  • While I agree that wanting to act manly seems unnecessary to me, your answer is wrong : we are not here to debate about gender identity but only to give hints on how the average teenager behave. – MyGamebooks Jan 6 at 11:22
  • Well, debating gender identity gives a lot of insight into the minds of "men", which is what I believe OP is looking for. I found your answer slightly generalizing and outdated gender-wise and suggested that you made it clear if something was your personal opinion. What in my answer (comment) is wrong? – storbror Jan 6 at 11:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.