On Writing Realistic Male Characters (aka, Men Are Jerks)

Note: A reminder that tomorrow is the last day to submit a guest post for the contest. Thanks to the folks who have submitted so far. It looks like I'll have some tough decisions coming up ahead. :-)

I just finished the third draft of my young adult fantasy and sent it off to beta readers. I'm super excited because this is the first time people will be seeing it in its entirety. Foisting  Subjecting Sharing my work with unsuspecting acquaintances   writer friends who can't say no  new readers is hands-down my favorite part of writing.

So this week, to celebrate, I'm letting my hair down with a story.

A while back, I was having some trouble with the male protagonist in my novel. His voice wasn't coming through as authentic. Since my writing group is all female, I decided to show a scene to my husband J for feedback. I gave him the basic background information, then waited while he flipped through a few pages.

“Okay,” he said after a quick read. “Let me get this straight. So Tristam and Jack are 17 year old squires?”


“And Jack falls off his horse.”

“That's right.” So far so good.

“Are they friends?”

“Yes, they're very good friends.”

J jabbed his finger at my draft. “Then why isn't Tristam laughing?”

I blinked. “What?”

“He should be laughing his head off! You know how mean 17-year-old boys are to each other?”

“But falling off a horse is serious! Wouldn’t Tristam be worried about Jack being hurt?”

J gave me a longsuffering look. “If Jack's breathing, and conscious, Tristam should be laughing.” I started to argue, but J had already moved on.

“And this passage here,” He pointed to another line. I peered over his shoulder to get a better look:

“You fell off your horse?” Asked Tristam. The question came out more incredulously than intended and Tristam wondered whether Jack would be offended or pleased at his tone.

J raised his eyebrows. “You have a dude, thinking about what another dude is feeling? About the tone of his voice???”

Okay, maybe I could concede that one.

But I still wasn't ready to believe that guys would just sit around and laugh when their friends got injured. Over the next few days, we asked all our guy friends what they would do in that scenario. And surprise, surprise, they mostly agreed with J.

So I went back and made Tristam just a little bit meaner, although I made him feel guilty about it. I still secretly believed that men were good people at heart. Maybe they'd laugh about minor, non-life-threatening injuries, but surely if their friends were in real pain, they would be supportive.

A few weeks later, we had dinner with another friend K, a nice young man from Nigeria. For some reason, K was telling us about a friend who'd lost his girlfriend to another guy. The heartbroken friend had been devastated, staying in bed for days and refusing to eat or drink. K spent several weeks comforting him and coaxing him out of his misery.

This rare example of male solidarity intrigued me, and I wanted more details. “How did you comfort him?” I asked.

“Oh,” said K with a big grin, “I just laughed at him. He’d be laying there in bed, and I just laughed and told him how ridiculous he was being.”

And at that point, I decided not to write any more books from a male POV. I don't understand men, and perhaps never will.

So, a question to my male readers. Do these characteristizations seem accurate? And to both genders. How do you write from an opposite gender POV?

P.S. Halfway through writing this, I realized that I've talked about empathy gender differences from a more scientific standpoint. Check out my guest blog at Nathan Bransford blog.

PPS In case you haven't figured out yet, I don't actually think men are jerks or think they are horrible people. I like them a lot, and am married to a great guy whom I love very much, even though he does laugh at me...

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Men Prefer Reading About Men, and So Do Women

Note: Congratulations to J. J. Brown for winning a copy of The Forest For the Trees. I will be contacting you for your mailing address. Also, I'm doing a Goodreads question and answer session  on reading, writing, neuroscience, and psychology. If you're a Goodreads member, come on by. And finally, remember to submit entries for the guest post contest.

Would The Hunger Games have made it big if Katniss had been a boy?  If Pride and Prejudice had been about five Bennett brothers and the proud (and wealthy) Miss Darcy, would readers still swoon? Keith from On Fiction recently covered a study that speaks to these questions.

The authors of the study wondered whether a protagonist’s gender affects the reading experience. They took passages from popular novels and presented them to readers either in the original form or with the protagonist’s gender switched. The researchers then had male and female readers read the text and answer questions evaluating the passage.

Thank you, Introductions, Book Giveaway, and Guest Post Contest!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! This week, we have a hodgepodge of things.

First of all, a huge thank you again for your support during the From Words to Brain promotion. The Amazon sales ranking went up an order of magnitude and stayed there for the whole week! The promotion was  a pricing experiment with my publisher, and it worked so well that they decided to discount their entire inventory on Amazon to $.99 for the month of February. So again, thank you  to everyone for checking out the essay, spreading the word, writing reviews, and everything else.

If you liked the essay, you might want to take a look at some of the other 40K ebooks. I highly recommend The Narrative Escape by Tom Stafford (see my interview with him here). Other titles include Selling Stories Successfully  and short stories by Bruce Sterling, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick, and Paul Di Filippo.

Second, the blog has reached another milestone. We now have over 1000 RSS subscribers :-) I would like to learn a little more about you. If you have a moment, please come by the comments section and introduce yourself. Do you write? How are your projects going? If you commented during our last get-to-know-you thread at 500 subscribers, give us an update on how things have gone since then.

Third, since guest posting was useful in growing my own blog, I thought it would be fun to do a guest post contest here. So if you would like to guest post, e-mail a blog entry (one per person) to liviablackburne [at] gmail [dot] com before March 1, 2011.  I am mainly looking for posts that are useful to writers, although you get bonus points if it makes me laugh. Previously posted entries are okay as long as you tell me where it was posted.

Lots of things going on this week.  Take care! :-)

Psychology as Inspiration For The Writer’s Muse

Note from Livia:  A huge thank you to everyone for your support during the From Words to Brain promotion!  I'll have more to say about that next week.  For this week though, we have a guest post from Joanna Penn, author of Pentecost: A Thriller Novel.

The understanding of the human mind and behavior fascinates us and it’s why we are drawn back to fiction repeatedly. The lives of characters can inspire, warn or teach us about ourselves, so it’s inevitable that aspects of psychology will pervade literature. The discipline is often centred around case studies, detailed explorations into the life of an individual affected by some kind of psychological or neurological issue. These case studies can be a rich source of inspiration for the writer’s muse.

For this reason I love psychology and my bookshelves are full of fascinating tomes I delve into for inspiration. I studied psychology at college and in another lifetime I would have been a psychologist so when I decided to write a thriller, my heroine just had to be one! It gave me an excuse to revisit the subjects that have intrigued me for years. As writers, we need to feed our creative wells with information and experiences that merge together to form new ideas, and psychology is a rich source.

Here are some of my favorite examples that might also inspire your writing.

What's Your Internet Code of Conduct?

I was in the middle of writing a post for today when I logged onto google reader and learned about the newest firestorm hitting the YA blogosphere. My post wasn't really working out, and I do have some feelings about this, so we're switching tracks.

The scenario is a familiar one. A magazine made some unwise decisions. The news spread all over twitter, response posts went up all over the web, and the magazine was inundated with angry comments. Now, the situation isn't quite black and white. It's a magazine, not an individual or private citizen, so presumably it’s more open to debate and controversy. Also, many of the responses have been professional, respectful and well thought out.

On the other hand, many responses were not.

And as I scrolled through the responses, I couldn't help but think, “Dear God. I hope I never piss off the Internet.”

Social media is a powerful thing. I like to think of Twitter as word-of-mouth on crack. Usually great for getting news out, but it also means that when stuff hits the fan, it really hits the fan. If you say a stupid thing in real life, a few people get mad at you. But if you do it online, the entire world knows and is all too eager to tell you so with the click of an anonymous mouse button.

So I’ve been thinking about my own conduct online. What do I do when I see something that I vehemently disagree with? I do have a pet peeve when it comes to bad neuroscience. Not the occasional misconception, but the really soul crushingly bad stuff – usually spoken with authority -- that makes me wonder whether we're talking about the same species. These are the times when I'm really tempted to post a link telling people how stupid it is, and sometimes I've succumbed to that temptation.

After some thought, I’ve decided on these rules for myself:

1. If I see something blatantly wrong or offensive, I will respond in the comments section of that post or website.

2. If I feel the need to elaborate, I may blog or tweet about the subject, but without names and without links. This way, people who already know what I’m talking about will understand, but I won't be bringing new people into the fray.

Those are just my thoughts for now, and my opinion may change. I also don't mean to single out people who have given opinions in this particular instance. Like I said, many of the responses were professional and well thought out. These are just things I've been thinking about with every new Internet blow up.

What say you, dear readers? Do you have an internet code of conduct?
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