Welcome Harry Marks to the Alley!


Writing Male POV

It’s probably safe to say New Adult is currently a branch of the Romance category. Main characters tend to be female and the men they’re involved with seem to fit a particular mold. Whilst (yes, whilst. I’m a complicated dude and I can use complicated words like “whilst”) scouring Amazon’s New Adult section, I’ve seen the following terms used to describe the men in these books:
  • Sexy
  • Player
  • Successful
  • Good looking
  • Arrogant
And the covers back these up, amirite? Shirtless guys with flat chests and washboard abs as far as the eye can see. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with these covers if these are the characters you’ve created. No one is saying the men in these stories need to be overweight mouth-breathers engaged in neverending battles with their moobs. I’m not sure how many books would sell if the covers featured a topless Kevin Smith eating a sub sandwich, but guys come in all shapes and sizes, and even the ones fresh off the Magical Mike-stery Tour should have more going on under the hood than, “You’re hot. I’m hot. Let’s do this.”
The (cis) male point of view is a funny thing. It’s fickle, like a child picking out his favorite cereal at the grocery store. You might not realize it, but writing a male POV can be difficult.
Men are often stoic. Emotions are hard to deal with and when society has placed the burden of strength upon the male’s shoulders, he does his best to uphold it. I’m not saying all men are the equivalent of Liam Neeson in Taken. There are plenty of guys in touch with their emotions able to express their feelings like a fire hydrant in summer. However, in my reading, the characters in many of today’s NA books are “guys’ guys” and they behave with a certain strong, “nothing gets to me” attitude. The key is in understanding why these men behave this way.
Men are flawed, though they won’t admit it. More importantly, they’re vulnerable, even when they don’t appear to be. Call it men’s intuition (or call it four years of high school and not being popular or athletic), but I’d be surprised if most men, even underneath the expensive clothes and toned bodies, weren’t insecure at heart. Men don’t cheat because they don’t get enough sex (usually). Men cheat because they need the validation. The main character in my second NA novel religiously checks Craigslist’s Missed Connections even while he’s already juggling a girlfriend and a lover. It’s not because he doesn’t love them, but because he’s dissatisfied with himself. He doesn’t feel good about himself and two beautiful women don’t change that.
We exercise and buy nicer clothes to look better and attract better mates. We strut to hide the doubt that no matter how well our suits are tailored or how ripped our arms are, we’ll always feel like the scrawny kid in high school who couldn’t get a prom date to whom he wasn’t related. Of course, we’ll never admit this. We work hard to hide those insecurities as best we can. We’ve been conditioned to repress our emotions so what we show to the world is tough and virile, even though on the inside we may be on the verge of tears or a nervous breakdown.
Men are also “fixers.” If your female lead has a problem, chances are there’s a guy in her life who’s going to try to solve it. Is she fighting with her best friend? That Guy has the solution! Did she just lose her job? That Guy to the rescue! Nine times out of ten, when a female character needs to vent, the guy she’s venting to is going to wrack his brain for a fix, and nine times out of ten, he’s going to fall flat on his face. Why will he fall flat on his face? Because he doesn’t understand she doesn’t want her situation fixed. She wants him to listen, to acknowledge what she’s going through sucks, and that he’s there for her. Her fight with her friend isn’t a broken toilet. The only valve he needs to worry about closing is his mouth, but a lot of guys don’t understand this. An authentic male character talks when he shouldn’t.
This brings us to the final card in the deck of the male psyche: disconnection. It sounds like it runs contrary to the “men are secretly emotional beings” point made earlier, but what it really means is men can get so wrapped up in what’s bothering them, they don’t (or can’t) understand why something might be bothering others.
If a male character’s girlfriend just had a major falling out with her best friend, he might tell her, “Forget her. You can always make new friends.” He’s committed two sins against her—trying to fix the situation and distancing himself from the problem at hand. Maybe she’s known her friend since childhood and can’t cut ties that easily. He can, because friends come and go and he’s only got so much time and room in his life for the ones he sees every day. He can more easily turn compassion on and off when he needs to. It’s a defense mechanism and a consequence of his gender identity.
So, when you’re writing your male characters, try getting into their heads. If they’re the strong silent types, ask yourselves, “Why?” Why do they keep it inside? What are they hiding? On the flip side, if your male character enjoys sharing with his partner or family, what makes him different? Why isn’t he plagued by the shackles of his cis maleness? Make sure your guys have all three dimensions fleshed out. We want to root for real dudes, not caricatures.

About Harry:
Harry Marks is an aspiring novelist from New Jersey. He can be found on Twitter @hcmarks and on the web at hcmarks.com


Post a Comment

  1. Harry, I really enjoyed your post. It's so nice to hear from a male writer talking about the male POV in NA. How refreshing! Thank you for being so genuinely honest and heartfelt in sharing your words of wisdom :-)

  2. Thanks for this, Harry! I often worry that my two POVs will sound all too similar, and while I give each character some speech quirk to differentiate the two, I struggle with maintaining the voice from inside the character's head. I love that you brought up the "fixer" issue. This has happened in my personal life recently, and it helped me see how I can apply this to the conflict and resolution in my current WIP. And as always, your wit makes these nuggets of wisdom even easier to digest!


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