I just got back from my monthly critique group and am ready to wrap up our discussion of those pesky Manly Guy characters. For those of you just dropping in, we’ve been talking about how to write from a male point of view, and have critiqued some snippets of novels by a number of women writers over the last few days.
Yesterday, RelevantGirl posted this spoof segment, which shows exactly how NOT to write a Manly Guy (or a Womanly Girl):
Lawrence tipped his teacup to his lips. Too hot. He dabbed the corners of his mouth while his mind wandered to the buttercup fields of his youth where he and Mother would gallivant the meadows searching for just the right spot for a picnic. Oh, how he ached for those picnics again–the tiny crustless sandwiches, the petit-fours, the clanking of the china cup to its flowered saucer. He’d give his best suit to sit next to Mother again.
Caroline smoothed her dress and burped.
Lawrence gasped. “You can’t be serious, Caroline. That’s hardly ladylike behavior. I thought better of you, actually.”
The woman who’d soon be his bride slurped her tea, spat it back into the cup and grimaced. “You got any chew?”
Lawrence drew in a quick breath, then calmed himself. He picked at a hangnail. “Darling, whatever do you mean?”
“Chew, chaw, Copenhagen. Anything. I’m dying here.”
Lawrence looked around, his eyes wet with disappointment. “Would a pipe do?”
She smiled. She ransacked the tiny cottage, thrashing about. “Now! I need it now!”
Lawrence slunked off to the corner and shook.
“There it is.” She flicked the lighter on and off, on and off, her face like a macabre black and white movie. “Now I can blow this place up!” She ran over to Lawrence and kicked him square in the gut. “And if you’re smart, you’ll get out of here or you’ll be toast.”
The last thing Lawrence saw was his precious cottage engulfed in growling flames, his fiance’s cackle booming in his ears. Lawrence cried. Then cried some more.
RelevantGirl is of course my friend, Mary DeMuth, an accomplished novelist who knows better than to make a grown man cry. And cry some more. I think Mary hit pretty much all the wrong notes here, both for Lawrence and Caroline. Attagirl, Mary!
Moving on then, we have a few other questions to tackle:
How does a boy think differently from a man, or is there a difference? I mean, boys can be pretty sensitive right? At what age does boyish bravado change over to manly ego? Or are they the same thing?
Randy sez: Boys start thinking like men pretty quickly. I would guess by age 4 or 5, they are already pretty well lined up with men on a lot of issues. Let me say right now that I have no idea whether there is a genetic basis to “Manly Guy” thinking or whether it’s just cultural. I would guess it’s a bit of both. But it kicks in pretty early, if my own memories are any guide.
I agree, this has been very interesting and thought provoking. But I also am curious about the more insecure and softer sides of the manly man, especially in their actual thoughts. Surely they do at times think that way, so how can we portray that without making them seem wussy or worse?
Randy sez: You show them faking being strong and tough, but show flashes of that softer side. For any number of examples of this, watch any Bruce Willis movie. The old Die Hard movies are great examples. Bruce is as tough as they come in those movies, but you also see flashes of inner pain. Just a little bit, but it’s enough to know that he’s got real emotions. Manly Guy emotions.
I have a question, or maybe it’s an observation. But isn’t it true that in romance novels the guys think more like women and that’s why (some) women like reading them so much and wishing her man was that way? (I don’t read romance novels very often and if I do they are Christian ones and the Christian romeo is usually a stellar fellow who of course would never think about sex and blowing things up. Food is OK. Football, too.)
I have a number of friends who write romance novels, and many of them secretly worry that their male characters are “transvestites” — characters with male bodies who actually think like women. After I gave my infamous talk a few years ago on “Writing From The Male POV,” one of my friends asked if I thought it would be OK to use male characters who are the way women want them to be. I don’t see any problem with that, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing and if you’re writing a novel for women who have expectations for that kind of male character. The hazard would come if you are creating that kind of character and DON’T realize it and imagine that you are really creating a Manly Guy.
Bottom line: Don’t fool yourself. If you write a Less Manly Guy character, be intentional about it.
Of course, the ladies should not complain if we guys create female characters who are made the way WE want them. (Think Lara Croft.)
D.E. Hale wrote:
Ok, so if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, then a manly man would never stop to think about anything “sad” while they are focused on one of those other areas? Goal oriented – got that! So, if my MC’s wife was just murdered by the evil wizard Gorkon, then he will not stop to “mull” it over, instead he will immediately go after the evil wizard to blow him up, behead him, or whatever. Right?
Randy sez: If the murderer were right there, then the Manly Guy will not stop to feel sad, he’ll go into Revenge Mode immediately, and nothing will stop him. But if the murderer is far away (the normal case) then the Manly Guy will go through the normal feelings of loss. Then he will map out a plan of action that will take him to the murderer and he will execute vengeance in a Manly Guy way, which will probably involve high explosives or machine guns or hot pokers placed in inconvenient places.
Randy, I am loving this – educational and incredibly entertaining. Ever think of writing a book/let about how women should write men? Something tells me it’d sell like hotcakes.
Randy sez: Good point. I may just need to insert a segment in Fiction 301 on that.
This has been a very informative discussion – thanks Randy, and all who have participated. I have one question to add to the mix. If a male POV character is an artist, is he permitted to think in more than 11 basic colors?
Randy sez: Yes, because that’s part of the job description. However, if a guy actually knows what “mauve” is, then he had better also be gifted in some Manly Guy trait, such as karate or mountain-climbing or beer-drinking.