Strong Male Characters

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

So I’ve talked about what I think makes a strong lead character; strong personality and connection to the reader. Now I want to talk about specific types of characters. Let’s start with gender-types because most people can identify with a gender. When dealing with a character of a particular gender we need to consider the effect that social gender roles play in developing these characters. In my opinion they shouldn’t have any effect, but we are all raised around this society-driven concepts of what is “male” and what is “female.” I’ve seen it in my -own writing where I’ve subconsciously let these concepts infect/infiltrate my writings. I won’t get on my soap-box of how much I abhor any form of gender-role (if you know me IRL you’ve probably heard me spout off about it before).

Since this ended up being such a long subject matter I decided to split this into multiple posts. So today let’s talk about “male” gender types. The two stereotypes that I’ve found most often in male-driven narratives are the “superhero” and the “emo cry-baby.”

The “Superhero” is the man who can do no wrong and fears nothing. He is the epitome of everything we (aka society) see as “Male.” His flaws are superficial is often has a very shallow character arc if any, and really is just two-dimensional. Now, what I’m describing is a very extreme version but generally these are the characters who never really express vulnerability to the reader or face their fears. They are always brave and never really stumble in the face of fear or their enemy. They rarely if ever misstep or make a wrong choice. It’s important to let characters make mistakes, it makes them human and real. Heroes that we read about as children always make the “right choice” and live “happily ever after,” but most children have yet to face any hard decisions or made any real mistakes other than getting caught in the cookie jar. As readers get older I think that they want to see characters who are as flawed as they are themselves and see them struggle through. They can conquer evil in the end, but make them fight and take a fall or two to get there. That’s how life works and I think it makes for a better story.

Now the other side of the spectrum is the “Emo Cry-Baby.” A lot of times you’ll see this as the male side-kick to the strong female lead (a Ron Weasley to your Hermione Granger). It’s used as a device to play up “Look how strong she is compared to these boys!” This is equally as annoying to me (don’t worry I’m as much of a Potter-head as the next one of you). If a female character is strong on her own she doesn’t need the caricature of the whiney boy next to her to prove her worth. However, more common (especially in YA fiction) this is the dark-broody mysterious one. Now I love me some broody boys, it’s a staple of paranormal fiction since maybe Bram Stoker, but that character should grow overtime. Do they eventually learn to express themselves in a constructive way, do they learn to accept whatever trauma caused the brood-fest to begin with? You can even flip the concept on its head and take the brooding to a really dark place, maybe they become some maladjusted psychopath that goes on a murdering rampage through the streets of Boston. Take a great normal kid/boy/man and throw him into a vat of tragedy and drag him into a dark broody place. Just make sure that your character changes in some way during the story. For me a flatline brooder becomes annoying by the end of a book and drags a story down.

Again we go back to the basics of, make the character relatable to your readers and allow them to grow and be affected by the events that occur in the story for better or for worse. If a character I’m writing about leaves the same person they were at the end of the gauntlet then they haven’t really grown.

Happy Writing!