Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is Your Guy a *Guy*? by Ronie Kendig

Ronie Kendig
A few years ago, a brand-new author leaped onto the scene. I loved the author’s concept for the debut novel, and I jumped to read it. Just one problem: the author did not know how to make the male character sound like a male. Repeatedly, the character talked and acted like a female. I had to readjust my framework and remind myself—the protagonist is a male. The protagonist is a male.

Writing is a literary expression of who we are, what we feel and how we think, which may explain why many female authors find it so difficult to write male characters. I think it would be correct to say that in order to accurately write the male POV, one must understand the way men think (I hear many ladies snickering right now). In a world were roles are being redefined, some of that is bleeding into fiction, into the way we write characters. In my quest to understand how to best write gender-appropriately, one author told me she writes men the way she'd like them to be (doing laundry, helping with dinner...). The key to remember in writing male characters is that: It's really, truly okay for a male character to be MALE!

That line of thought led me to the Gender Genie and Gender Guesser, online programs that analyze chunks of writing to determine the author’s gender. The algorithm is based off a study done between Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology (full study findings here), which found indicators within documents that were distinctively male and distinctively female.

When I teach at conferences and workshops, I remind authors that every element of their scene should reflect that character, but I would also add that the composite of those choices will lend itself to determining your character's gender. Not just the dialogue (which is imperative) but the narrative and internal thoughts. It’s great if your male character sounds like a guy, but if they are thinking like a woman, there’s a disconnect.

Here are some tips to keep your male sounding like a guy (and remember, some are generalizations)

  • Men are one-box thinkers (see the Mark Gungor video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoqpjOZxf2M) – They say what they mean and focus on one topic. Typically, there’s no reading between the lines. Which brings up another thing I've often seen. The hero is running for his life, dodging bullets and IEDs...yet the female author has the guy thinking about his love for the heroine and how she makes him feel. Sorry. Not happening. Guys are not only one-box thinkers they're action oriented, doers. He's not thinking about shifting relationships. He's thinking about NOT DYING!
  • Sentence structure – Because they are one-box thinkers, men often take the shortest possible route—to make their point, in driving, in dialogue. So keep their dialogue short.
  • Men tend to state demands (“Give me an iced tea.”) rather than preferences (“I’d like a Diet Coke, please.” ) the way a woman would.
  • Action choice – make sure your word choices to describe actions are appropriate (have your male character, stalk, stomp, across a room). I cringed the day I read a story where the guy “giggled.” Please, please, don't have your guy giggle (unless it's a plot point). Girls giggle. Guys chuckle.
  • Word Choices – This should be weighed carefully whether writing a female or a male character because our word choices indicate much about us—career, background, and yes, even gender. It’s not uncommon to hear me use military lingo in everyday conversation, but that's not something you'd hear from someone who'd n ever been around the military.
  • Dialogue Length – The length of your narratives, dialogue, and sentences will probably be shorter, more concise when writing a male character. As writers, we’re naturally verbose. We have a lot to share with our audience, but don't let the author speak. Let your GUY speak! Men aren’t as talkative.
  • Men are internal thinkers, so much of what a character might work through should be done internally. . .but remember—men are THINKERS (generally), not FEELERS. So they aren’t often thinking about how they’re feeling. They’re thinking through logistics and a plan of action. (Don’t misunderstand—it’s okay to have your male character thinking about his feelings for a woman, but really—keep it short(er) and concise.)
Those are the quick tips to keeping a male character sounding like a guy. Men are a bit more complex than that, but those tips will go a long way in maintaining a solid masculine voice in writing the male POV. The point is, while generalizations about males and females are often exaggerated, they are based in truth—there are differences in the way men and women talk and think. Writers have the daunting task of translating the known differences into plausible, compelling fiction and characters.

Just remember: let your guy be a guy.
About the Author
Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling suspense author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-plus years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with four children and a Maltese Menace in Northern Virginia. Author and speaker, Ronie loves engaging readers through her Rapid-Fire Fiction, which includes the highly acclaimed Discharded Heroes series, the adventurous A Breed Apart series, and the much anticipated Quiet Professionals series.

Ronie can be found at www.roniekendig.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction), Twitter (@roniekendig), and Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK).

Beowulf: Explosives Detection Dog
by Ronie Kendig
A fiery handler. Her tough bullmastiff. A mission like no other.

Beowulf—a hulky, brindle-coated bullmastiff—is the only “boy” for Timbrel Hogan. And she has a history to remind her why. But when Timbrel, a handler at A Breed Apart, embarks on a mission to detect WMDs in Afghanistan, she reunites with Tony “Candyman” VanAllen and her no-other-man philosophy is challenged. While tension mounts between Timbrel and Tony, the team comes under fire after Beowulf gets a “hit.” When tragedy threatens Tony’s career and Timbrel’s courage, they must maneuver through an intricate plot and a mission like no other. . . .

Buy Beowulf: Explosives Detection Dog Now!

10 comments:

  1. Ronie, Good advice. I've had to face the problem from the other direction, since most of my protagonists are female. My solution came in the form of my wife, Kay, who is my first reader. She tells me if I misstep, and so far has been able to keep me on the proper path. Whatever the gender of the character, the writer has to be able to portray it appropriately. (Not sure how you get into the mind of a dog, however). Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Love these tips, Ronie. I'll be referring to them over and over in the future.

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  3. Doc Mabry,

    It's nice to know that both genders have difficulty getting into the mind of the other, even if they are award-winners! So glad your first reader keeps you on the straight-and-narrow. :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Sandy,

    Me, too. Another one for the bookmarked file. :)

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  4. Thanks, Angie, for inviting me here and sharing my article with your readers! It's such an honor!

    Doc and Sandra - Thank you for the comments. We all have room to learn and grow. I'm always looking for ways to improve my craft, so I hope this can be of help!

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  5. Very good points...although I don't like giggling females either. Makes them sound insipid and about three years old. I think I get male characters pretty well, having had two brothers, twenty boy cousins, a hubby and son...and knowing tons of hub's firefighter colleagues. I think....hmmmm....the editor kinda shoulda caught that female-ish hero during one of the editing rounds, and told the author to revise? Enjoyed the post.

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    1. That is exactly what my mom always said. She couldn't stand giggles and she raised five girls

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  6. That's a lot of men for reference, Tanya! I bet you can hear those conversations in your head without trying too hard.

    Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  7. Thanks for the great tips, Ronie! Like Sandy and Angie, I'll be referring back to them. :-)

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  8. Great tips, Ronie. I just deleted a particular word my hero used in my current wip after reading this post. Appreciate the reminder. :)

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  9. Great advice Ronie. Thanks for sharing.

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