I ran across an interesting article at Fiction Groupie some time ago about writing male point of view. It provided a checklist of some things that men do and think about...fully admitting that many of these things were stereotypes, but pointing out that the list does have some basis in fact (most stereotypes do, on some level). My first reaction on reading it was that I felt it really didn't apply to most of the male points of view that I write. Was it just that I was avoiding stereotypes? Was it - horrors - that my male characters weren't male enough?
Fortunately, that's one of the things I have critique partners for, and I have male readers who have
assured me my male characters are working - but it got me thinking about
how I write male points of view. I do this quite a lot, in fact - two
of my three published stories have male protagonists, and my novel in
progress, For Love, For Power, has three points of view, all of whom are
male, for structural reasons.
First I think it's
important to think about stereotypical characteristics from the point of
view of core vs. peripheral characteristics rather than stereotypes.
Core characteristics are those that tend to be possessed by most men we
know. Peripheral characteristics are those that can be considered male,
but are typically possessed by smaller subgroups of men. One of the
things that will cause you to fall into a stereotype is if you give too
many of your male characters too many of these characteristics all at
once. To go with Roni Loren's list, if they're all action oriented,
impatient, visually oriented guys who like to be in charge, project
confidence but repress their emotions, say what they mean in order to
solve all problems, converse only to exchange information and think
about sex all the time... you have a problem. On the other hand, these
are all really valuable trends in male behavior in our society that are
useful to consider when designing male characters (especially for
category romance, which has its own idiosyncratic demands!).
thing I'd encourage you to remember is that a lot of the
characteristics that we consider typically male are based in our
society's cultural values - which means that if you're working outside
our society and its rules (as I am most of the time) the characteristics
of male characters are going to be heavily influenced by the
differences in the society around them. Dress varies widely (think Japan
versus US men, for example). So does the expression of emotions (think
European or Slavic men vs. Englishmen for an alternate example of
expressive style). When you're designing your world and the society that
operates within it, make sure to think through some of these core
gender-role variables and figure out what your society values.
for the sake of making this more concrete, I'm going to give some
examples from my own male characters. I'd say that typically each one
has one or two defining characteristics that are "male," but they vary
widely on a lot of the other variables.
current-society-normative of my characters are the humans from my Allied
Systems stories. The young man David Linden doesn't have women to
interact with, so sex isn't on his mind at all. He's primarily defined
by his need to prove himself to his father as a worthy scientist - which
can be done for either gender, but won't seem out of place for a male
character. The main character of my story in progress, The Liars, is
Adrian Preston. He's married and spends a lot of time thinking about,
and negotiating with his wife, but the story doesn't allow a lot of
extra time to explore the intimate side of their relationship. He's a
man who lives for his work as a linguist and loves it so much that his
idea of having fun is working on language.
The idea of
the importance of work is one that I didn't see mentioned in Roni Loren's piece,
but one that I think is common to a great many men. When designing a
society you should definitely consider identifying what activities are
considered worth dedicating one's life to (work), and which are
considered legitimate outlets for emotion and conversation (sports, for
example). Even Rulii, my wolflike alien, is very much centered on how
his work as Councilor will allow him to achieve his life's goal, which
he thinks of in terms of "landing the quarry of my life's hunt."
more nuanced example from my stories is the character of Imbati Xinta.
He lives for his work to the point of fanaticism, and he certainly
represses his emotions, but not for the reasons that men in our society
would do so. Because he works as manservant to the Eminence of Varin,
his job is to stand by and remember everything he hears, and to reveal
nothing through his face or movements that would jeopardize his master's
secrets. He is a trained bodyguard and martial artist, but in
appearance is quite effeminate, and emotionally he is very vulnerable.
There are a couple of things going on with this, one of which is that
I've known any number of men who go about covering up significant
emotional vulnerabilities - and the other of which is that Xinta is
expected to repress his own ethics and human feeling, and to be entirely
"selfless," since that is considered the ideal state for a member of
the servant caste. Xinta self-represses to such an extent that he's not
able to connect
with anyone emotionally beyond normal politeness, and sex is the last
thing on his mind. Which is to say I suppose that I'm using the work
focus tendency and the emotional repression tendency to negate the
tendency to think about sex in his case. As to his appearance, I'm
having him look the way he does - paying close attention to his looks,
dressing in bright colors, wearing jewelry, etc. - in part to please the
man he works for, and in part to echo that real-world tendency for a
"civilized" man to take on more elaborate habits that might be laughed
off as effeminate by a member of the lower classes.
suppose you could say that close observation of the people around you
can only go so far, because that will only allow you to see the
parameters being used by the people around you. I have found my
anthropological studies extremely valuable, because they've given me an
eye for paying attention to and interpreting the possible variables
behind different styles of social interaction. Particularly if you're
worldbuilding, you should try to see foreign movies or read books about
people in other times from the point of view of looking at societal
models of gendered and romantic behavior (Emma, for example, can be quite an eye-opener for someone used to the permissive ways of modern romance).
you're writing a male character, you won't want him to be without any
male characteristics (those recognizable to the readers). That can be
considered a given. But you don't have to cling just to the stereotypes
you know. If you cultivate a sense within your world and your reader of
what gendered behavior is like, then you can have your male character
follow that trend and see it as masculine. Furthermore, female
characters can possess Earthly "male" characteristics and still be
considered feminine depending on the views of the society you're working
in. The most important thing, I think, is to make sure that you've
thought through why your character behaves the way he does, why you
think he's masculine, and precisely how and why he deviates from the
stereotypes that everyone will be looking for, yet fearing to find.
It's something to think about.