My male characters are my favorite. I’m pretty sure you don’t doubt that (if you do, just run back through my blog real quick until you do). But I’m not the only one – they’re everyone else’s favorites, too. I’m asked frequently, however, how to write a believable male character. So, I did my best to mull it over and figure it out, and I think I’ve come up with some ideas that might be helpful.
1. Don’t describe your character as hot, sexy, or any other ‘attractive’ adjective over and over again. I like to create my character and let the reader think what they will about them. I’ll describe them, and let the reader decide whether or not they’re attractive. One thing that irritates me about YA literature these days is how authors seem to feel as if they have to tell us how uber-sexy their boys are every other page. It’s condescending to the reader and makes the author come across as desperate and unimaginative.
2. Watch the actual guys you know. Watch ones you don’t (discreetly. You don’t want to be taken for a creep who stalks guys at the mall). How do they walk? Do they hunch their shoulders, or do they swagger? Do they walk with their hands in their pockets? Are they bobbing their head to music, or striding with purpose?
3. ‘Raven black.’ ‘Ice blue.’ ‘Full lips.’ ‘High cheekbones.’ Okay, these are all very nice things. But not every single guy has to have them. Eristor had them, because he was my first male character and to me, that was ‘perfect’ at the time. I still love him to death, but even then, as a fourteen-year-old wide-eyed kid with no idea what she was doing, I had the good sense to scar up his face a little.
4. If your character looks ‘perfect’ for good reasons, you have to make his character not-so-perfect. Nobody wants a Gary-Stue (the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue, for those of you blinking in confusion). Jace from “The Mortal Instruments” got on my nerves because the author felt the need to point out how perfect he looked, how sexy he was, how even his RUDENESS was just so downright HOT you forgave him. Please. If you wouldn’t like your character in real life, your readers won’t like them on the page.
5. Not every guy has a six-pack. Or amazing shoulders. Or built biceps. There is such a thing as skinny guy, or a short guy – and they can be totally attractive. In Not to Be, my characters Rukiel and Angel are both very popular – one is short and the other has no real muscles whatsoever. They’re both beautiful in spite of it.
6. Think outside the box. What isn’t used often, but could be added to a guy to make him really stand out? One of my favorite guy characters in any movie is a red-headed Jamaican guy from “Forever Strong.” He has a really small part, but he’s got a Jamaican accent and red dreads and he’s absolutely adorable.
7. Find a model for your character. I’m not just talking a face (though those help enormously) – a real person. I tend to use foreign singers or actors for mine. Watch how they move, listen to how they talk. What expressions and phrases do they use? How do they gesture? Study the nuances in their expression, the way they dress, the accessories they wear, how they style their hair. This gives you a ready-made model for your character and can make things as easy as falling off a log.
8. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE THEM IMPERFECT. Don’t be afraid to give your character flaws. They’re real people – they
have flaws. They’ll cough at the wrong time. They might have crooked teeth. Maybe they twitch when they get nervous. Maybe they have a tattoo they regret getting, or maybe they’re trying to break a smoking habit, or maybe they wear plaid all the time (not a flaw). Make them different. Make them human. HOWEVER, if your character is SUPPOSED to be beautiful or look flawless, that’s a different matter – but don’t pound it into the reader’s head over and over again. Let them decide for themselves.
To illustrate, I’m going to name a few of my male characters and condense their flaws, so you can have a few examples of what I’m talking about.
1. Ariel, from Painkiller. He’s beautiful. He’s supposed to be…except he cut up the side of his face with broken glass, trying to wreck his own beauty.
2. Hiro, from The Meaning of Always. He has a mole on his neck and crooked teeth, which I find endearing.
3. Deuce, from my NaNo novel in brainstorm-mode. He can be a real jerk. He’s arrogant because he’s good at stuff. Also, he has dyed irises, hair, and eyebrows and he patterns himself after a video game character.
4. Vey, from Acceso. He’s a hemophiliac with depression and suicide issues. He doesn’t like to show his real face to anyone because it’s flawed and imperfect; most people know him through his screaming music and his glam makeup.
5. Hide, from Angel in Disguise (brainstorming). He’s on his way to fame as a rock star, but his kind, thoughtful personality is being undermined by his lifestyle. He suffers from nervous breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and fits of temper.
Sometimes I look at my guys and think “Why do people like them?” I think, a great deal of it is that I love them, too. I love them so much. Only a writer can really understand it, but they’re real to me. I was chatting with the fantastic Lisa earlier today and she described character relationships as ‘siblings, friends, patients, cousins, enemies and children all blended together.’
So stop trying to make the next Edward Cullen or the next Jace Wayland or what have you. Make them unique, make them imperfect, make them wonderful. Make them real.