How to Write Like a Guy When You’re Not

See full issue for 2016 12-19

The old adage to “write what you know” is kind of useless to most of us, because it means that women will only write from female POV’s and men will only write from male POV’s. How dull is that? I’ve written in both male and female POVs and have been told (a few times) that my male characters are sometimes more believable and/or relatable than my female characters. How’s that possible, if I’m a woman who has never been a man? (The rumors are false, kids.) It could be that I suck at being a girl, but I think it’s because I have researched, observed, and then made a few rules that I stick to when I craft my male characters.

I once did an experiment, where I asked several men and women to write a short scene about anything. I asked them to choose a genre they wouldn’t typically write in as well, to make sure there was no hint as to what their gender might be. I also took several samples of my own writing and put them through a gender guesser like this one and the result was always male. So, it was wrong.

Turns out, your writing style doesn’t really show gender, in most cases. As I mentioned, a while back I discussed whether or not you can guess an author’s gender by the way they write. It’s true, readers can identify favorite authors based on writing style, but from what I've seen, gender is tough to identify in writing. That doesn’t mean, though, that writing from either gender’s POV is the same.

The two are quite different. I know some of you don't believe a woman can believably write in a male POV, and vice versa. I don’t know how well the guys write in a woman’s POV, but I’ve read a few books where the guys have been pretty damn convincing. I’ve also learned a thing or two when researching male POVs (by researching I mean questioning men about all things male and using their answers to craft my characters, so if I’ve got it wrong, it’s their fault, because they lied).

First, men aren’t typically detail oriented in the same way women are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t notice things. While a guy isn’t paying attention to the label on a person’s clothes or the color of their pants, he will notice details that are relevant to him and/or his situation. Basically, it depends on the man, his personality, past experiences, and his career. For example, a police officer, male or female, will make a habit of noticing his surroundings and the people in it, because that’s how he’s trained and on the job, such attention to detail could mean the difference between life and death. The key is to tailor the level of detail mentioned or noticed to your character, instead of his gender.

Second, word choices and the sentence structure and length of the dialogue are critical. Men and women tend to dialogue differently. Maybe not internally, but we do with other people. If you don’t believe me, just pay attention to conversations around you and involving you for a couple of weeks. Make notes about word choices, sentence lengths, topics of discussion, reactions, and conversation lengths. I did this a while ago with verbal “in-person” conversations, as well as texts, and online communication such as direct messages and emails, and it was fascinating. Maybe my female-female relationships are closer or involve a different dynamic, but my interactions with my male friends and family didn’t involve as many questions or as many answers. Words used by men were often either vague or they were extremely specific and to the point. No fluffy shit. My female friends often went on tangents, and were very descriptive when answering a question. My guy friends didn’t usually discuss feelings, and even when the topics of discussion were serious, the conversations and sentence lengths were shorter than when I discussed similar things with women. The men in my life are also happy to let me carry the conversation, while the women… well let’s just say there were rarely moments of silence on either side. These things aren't true of either gender all of the time, but it was true enough times for me to see a trend and I use it when writing a male POV.

Next, let’s remember that men have feelings, but most guys express them differently than women. For example, sex is usually more physical than it is with women. Sure, emotion is sometimes there, but a male POV is going to focus more on how it physically feels, rather than what’s in his heart while he’s doing it. He’ll analyze the feelings (or not) later.

And crying with an audience is a big no-no, unless it’s with someone your male character trusts implicitly. Most men prefer to cry alone, or after enough alcohol to tranquilize a horse. But seriously, men cry all the time, but when writing a male POV, remember that it’s more likely he’ll bottle up the feelings and save them for a time when he feels safe enough to let them out. This is usually NOT around other people. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it is what it is. We can discuss the disgusting way men have been conditioned to be all tough and unfeeling and whether or not that’s changed with modern parenting another time. My point is most of the men I know almost unanimously agreed that most guys don’t cry in front of people if they can avoid it. I know a lot of women who prefer alone crying too. So, there you are.

All of this stuff is just theory and instinct in the end. You can forget all of it if you want. Instead of worrying about rules, pay attention to the men in your life and ask questions. You’d be surprised how willing most men are to tell you how they think and feel and act. At first he may be suspicious, because feelings, but when you explain you want to craft an authentic male POV, he’ll give you what you need. You should also pay attention to random men when you’re out. At the grocery store, the gas station, a restaurant, a bar; watch how they talk, interact with other guys, with women, and listen to the things they say as well as their facial expressions and body language. This kind of research is invaluable to truly capturing a male point of view. We will never truly know what it's like to be a guy if we're not, but we can try to understand, and that's the key to a girl writing a guy's POV.

Remember that guys are just human, with the same needs and wants as any other human. A penis doesn't make a character an alien creature with unfathomable motivations or desires. No matter what the gender of your POV, write for the character. Gender matters, but not as much as making sure your character, male or female, is three dimensional and authentic.


Renee Miller

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