This post is mainly for women who think they struggle creating authentic characters of the opposite gender. Below I have listed five tips for writing realistic men in fiction, and keep reading for an interview with my brother, Michael, who is a real-life man!
Tip #1: Don’t rely on stereotypes
This should be a given with either gender. Stereotypes are not necessarily bad or inaccurate (like the strong, capable fighter, as those do exist), but if they are to be used, they should be used properly. In other words, do not create a character out of a stereotype. The character comes first, always. And, obviously, not all men are cut from the same mold. You can have multiple strong, masculine men in your story (like if you were writing 300), but every character can still be vastly different from one another. If you don’t know how to add depth to the frail, nerdy male in your story, write a full background, a list of his interests, his fears, his faults, his strengths, and, most importantly, keep writing his story, and hopefully he will organically flesh out as a character.
Tip #2: Everyone has an ideal
All men are different, yet most men tend to possess or seek qualities traditionally attributed to masculinity, the way most women do to femininity. Most men want to be brave, stoic, pragmatic, logical, capable, and strong. Their ideal is someone with all of these qualities, and so their actions often reflect their desire to live up to that ideal.
For example, a man might avoid opening himself up emotionally because he views it as a weakness. His ideal would never be so transparent. So he keeps his mouth shut and his emotions in check. He might even practice this to a point where he is devoid of strong emotions altogether.
Everyone has an ideal that drives their actions. Think of what your ideal might be. My personal ideal is an intelligent, empathetic woman who is also energetic, well-dressed, and cheerful. This is the woman I strive to become every day. I read books, exercise, practice smiling in the mirror, and think about what I’m going to wear every day in an effort to become my ideal.
As you write from a male’s perspective, think about who he wants to be, and what kind of man he wants to be. This will help you define his motivations and goals, which will enrich his character and make him seem more real and relatable.
Tip #3: Talk to real men
The easiest way to learn how men think is to talk to them in real life! You can talk to your dad, your brother, your uncle, a friend, anyone who is male, about what it means to be a man and what they think about. You can write characters based off men you know. Just be careful writing characters based on other fictional characters, as that can make them two-dimensional and repetitious. You don’t see that kind of redundancy in real life.
Tip #4: Less is more
Don’t go over-the-top when writing the thoughts or dialogue of male characters, unless that is one of their defining traits. When you are writing about a man meeting a woman for the first time, you don’t need to wax poetic about her appearance if you are writing from the man’s perspective. Men are typically not as detail-oriented as women, and they don’t notice every feature of another human, especially upon first glance. When in doubt, stay reserved, use fewer words, and employ subtlety, particularly when a man thinks and speaks in your book.
Here is an example from Gray Haze, before I edited this section (written in the perspective of a 26-year-old man), and after. Which do you prefer?
Marcus thought he knew everyone in this town, but he has never seen her before. If he had, he might not have been single his entire young adult life. She looks young, but she could be in her early twenties.
Time seems to slow as droplets of rain run down her temples and drip from the dark curls by her ears. Her lips glitter under the dim porch light, drawn marginally apart by the subtle chattering of her teeth. Her almond eyes appear almost golden, and her warm, olive skin doesn’t bear a single perceptible flaw. Even drenched, she is beautiful. He invites her inside before his brain has time to draft a pure thought. He glances at the driveway and closes the door.Gray Haze rough draft, Chapter 2 [first attempt]
Marcus thought he knew everyone in this town, but he has never seen her before. She looks young, but she could be in her early twenties. Very pretty, by every discernible measure.Gray Haze rough draft, Chapter 2 [revised]
He invites her inside. He glances at the driveway and closes the door.
Tip #5: He is not just a man
The men in your story are people first, men second. They could have some feminine traits, some masculine traits. They are unique individuals, and although many men have similar traits shaped by society, by their parents, and by their biology, you cannot go wrong if you create a deep, interesting human being who just happens to be a man.
Special Interview with a man™:
I interviewed my 26-year-old brother, Michael, on February 16th, 2019. Here are his responses:
Q1: What do you think are the major personality differences between men and women?
A: Women like to talk more, generally. Women like security and attention, and men like respect and control. Women overthink things and tend to hold grudges. Men are quicker to forget, for good or ill. I would say when faced with resistance, women are more likely to be defensive, and men are more likely to be aggressive. If you’re writing a male character, their internal dialogue could largely be the same as women, but their reactions and mannerisms might be different. They won’t speak their mind as often. They won’t always want to sort out their feelings.
Q2: How do guys interact with other guys versus the way they interact with girls?
A: Very, very different. Guys don’t really watch what they’re saying around each other, but when a girl’s in the room it’s like an instant filter, if they’re decent guys. If they are comfortable with each other, a guy might not always change his speech around a girl, but if there isn’t a developed trust, most guys will definitely filter their conversation. It’s similar to the way you talk to strangers versus your friends.
Guys will put down other guys in a teasing manner, but when a girl’s in the room they’ll put themselves down. I think the reason they do that is because when they’re around other guys, they know that they can say things because they’re not taken seriously. But if there’s a girl there, they can say something in kind of a light or sarcastic tone, and they might think the girl won’t take it in the context in which it’s said. So if a girl’s in the room and a guy puts down another guy, the girl might take it too seriously, unless there is a mutual understanding already in place.
Q3: What male stereotypes do you think should be avoided?
A: I think one stereotype that I don’t like is women thinking that men have to prove themselves in front of other men. The opposite is actually true. When a guy tries to do that, they instantly emasculate themselves. The point is, guys who try to prove something are often looked down upon. The fact that you have to try in the first place indicates failure. It’s like asking your wife what she wants for Valentine’s Day. If you don’t know, you’ve failed.
Q4: Do you have tips for writing male dialogue?
A: It’s not that different. I would say there’s more variation in the personalities among men and among women than between men and women.
Q5: What do you think about?
A: Women. Wanting to not work. Wanting to play all day. I think about coming home and my apartment’s gonna be messy and no food’s gonna be made. I think about ways to not think about anything.
At work I think about ways to get things done. I’m very task-oriented, so I always think about the next thing I’m going to do. I’ve always gotta have something that I’m going to do next. I can never just sit there and do nothing. It doesn’t mean I plan everything to a T. I think about how I want ice cream, and then I get it.
I think about ways to elevate my standing in the world. Whenever I see something that resembles greatness, it drives me to try and do that thing. Rubik’s cube, Quake, piano, basketball, strong man competitions… It’s part of the reason why I like reading because I always put myself in the mind of the greatest person. That might be another personality thing, and not something that applies to all guys. I think more often than not people might more closely relate to the side characters like the Aryas and the Sansas, or even the Tyrions. I’m a Jon Snow or a Tywin through and through. I don’t take a back seat. I’m the guy.
Q6: How do you feel about the objectification of men in fiction?
A: It makes me laugh.
Q7: How often do you cry? What would it take to make you legitimately cry?
A: Last time I cried was probably in 2010. The season finale to the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series might make me cry. If I’m a seasoned soldier who’s seen nothing but battle for 20 years, and I see a quaint setting with a mother and her children, that might make me cry.
Q8: What are your biggest insecurities?
A: Embarrassing myself in front of a woman I’m interested in. I don’t like people thinking I’m anything less than a good person. My first instinct when I suspect someone might think ill of me is to prove them wrong.
Q9: Do you ever give insincere compliments?
A: No. And I don’t give compliments very often so that when I do give a compliment, it means something. If I don’t think a girl looks good, I won’t say she looks good.
Q10: What are your thoughts on male character cliches?
A: Men don’t like giving adoration. You often see the leader who commands respect and the followers giving it reluctantly. If you ever have a situation where men can choose their leader, it will always be someone whom they respect and who doesn’t want that leadership. Like Jon Snow.
Between the player cliche and the brooding rebel, the rebel bothers me more. I feel like the rebel would be way more annoying than the player. The player might be more accurate and realistic, but writers try to make brooding rebels deeper and more relatable than they actually are.
Q11: What are some of your favorite male characters in fiction? Why?
A: Aragorn, because despite his innate gifts and royalty and skill he recognized his weakness to the pull of the ring. And he slayed fools. (I don’t care what anyone says, I still think Frodo is the true hero of Lord of the Rings.)
Tywin Lannister, because he commanded more fear and respect than anyone in the seven kingdoms. I like Morpheus because even when faced with the utter reality that all of his faith had been in vain, he still refused to give up his faith, and it ended up paying off.
Artemis Fowl, because he was really smart and he didn’t let petty morality guide his actions. He had a grander vision. The Incredible Hulk, because strong. Mr. Crepsley, because he was loyal even when faced with certain death.
Q12: What do you think female authors often get wrong when it comes to men in fiction?
A: I think they underestimate the lengths that guys will go to for girls. Mainly to woo them. See: The Name of the Wind. Kvothe goes to the tavern every day to see Denna.
Also, guys who stick around when a girl is obviously interested in another guy don’t exist (unless they are creeps). Guys won’t share. See: Twilight. There may be multiple girls going after one guy. Girls are more competitive that way. But if a guy senses that a girl is interested in another guy, generally it’s a huge turn-off.
Q13: Describe your thought process when you see a pretty girl: What do you notice first about her looks and personality? What might make her attractive one minute, and unattractive the next?
A: I don’t know, everything? Is she smiling genuinely? A genuine smile goes a long way. If she displays a severe lack of intelligence, she instantly loses her appeal.
Q14: What emotions do you experience most often?
Q15: Would you describe yourself as a typical/average guy?
A: No. I’m definitely not average.
I hope you find the above tips and interview helpful! If you have more tips or advice that isn’t already given, please comment below!
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