Ok, guys this post may hit a sensitive nerve for some people so please don’t bash me, but I heard a few writers complaining that reviewers call their characters too girly and unrealistic and they wonder where they went wrong. I’ve especially been thinking about this topic ever since a great author friend of mine has received the same treatment from a reviewer and I felt honestly bad for her.
Firstly, I’m gonna point out that it really is a matter of tastes on how fluffy you want your reads to be. Some readers really enjoy characters who are open about their feelings and make lots of love declarations and use lots of endearments. For those readers, these kinds of books won’t be a problem at all.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are readers who want to read about very manly men. Tough and rough and gruff guys who’d never acknowledge their feelings and when they eventually do, they spit them out through their teeth, feeling as if they’d bit into a lemon.
A total matter of tastes. I'd like to think I’m a versatile reader and I enjoy all sorts of stories as long as they’re beautifully written, and I think most M/M readers are a lot like me. However I sometimes stumble upon one of those books that sounds so freaking cheesy it makes me want to barf from too much sweetness and then I realize I do have a limit as well.
But how would an author avoid making their male characters look like girls with penises? Here are my tips:
*Don’t make your characters instantly fall in love. This is the biggest mistake a cheesy author does and, sadly, I don’t want to generalize, but I stumbled upon this mostly in shifter stories L. (guys, just because they're fated mates doesn't mean they need to say "I love you" from the first five chapters; give them a little room to know each other). Take this situation: character A meets character B and he’s so attracted to him that for the whole chapter he sings his praises- he’s so sexy, so beautiful, he has pouty lips, he has rosy cheeks etc. They have a roll in the sack and A tells B he’s never met anyone like him. B says the same. He suddenly calls him “babe” or “sweetheart” or “honey” etc and they act like a married couple. After three chapters, they say the “I love you”s and for the rest of the story, they will continuously reiterate how they couldn’t live one without the other, and how lucky they are to have met each other, and how much they would hurt anyone who’s dare tear them apart.
Why is this a problem:
** Ask yourself this: where’s the emotional conflict in that? Where’s the pain of unrequited love or being separated or struggling with falling in love? It’s like a situation where a single person meets up with a pair of newlyweds that call each other sickly-sweet names in public and make the single one feel like a third-wheel. Total turn off.
** Readers seek romance because they want to read about the hardships of finding love, not read about instant lovey-dovey moments. That’s not what romance stories are about. The reason why instant love makes characters so girly it’s not because girls are necessarily like (like the stupid blond cheerleader cliché. It’s just a cliché. Not all blonds are stupid, not all cheerleaders are stupid, nor are they all blonds, but that image is stuck in our collective mindset as the illustration of what a stupid girl looks like), but because it’s not realistic, because they act silly and superficial, which, unfortunately, is how sometimes some girls are perceived as. As a result, your characters will look like girls. Rarely would a writer pull this kind of plot off without having their characters look corny.
*A posteriori, refrain from using terms of endearment between the characters. Guys are known not to express their feelings much. Even if your hubby may call you “pumpkin”, try to remember how it was when you guys first met. I really doubt your husband/boyfriend called you “pumpkin” after the third date. I think it took more like 100 dates, most definitely the length of a whole novel, time-wise. Terms of endearment are a way of expressing affection. Affection takes time to build up. In order to like, let alone love, a person, you first need to know them, you need to have something in common with them. Love and affection can form after first going through some trials or after revealing to each other your vulnerabilities. Now, this is a topic that leaves room for juggling for those authors who really love their characters to be (obnoxiously) sweet. For example, terms of endearment may depend on the character’s personality and degree of flamboyance (I love to have my flamboyant characters use ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ all the time, but I would in contrast, make them look manly using other artifices; this is a talk for another day though) or they may be part of their cultural background. But, generally, if you want your men manly, then try limiting terms of endearment. In my opinion, no manly man would call you "pumpkin" in public unless threatened with castration. even in private, they may find it awkward. If they do call you that, lucky you; you must be very loved, but he’s one in a million. Really.
*Don’t make them whiny. This, I confess, is something my characters suffer from and I really struggle sometime to not make my men moan like some five year olds. Yes, unrequited love is a pain in the ass, fighting between MCs is also a depressing thing, but when a character lies in his bed and bemoans his horrible fate it’s not that sexy. It pretty lame. And it makes them look like girls L
*Communication is the key BUT too much talk will only make your men look like girls. Yes, I know. You’ve read in plenty of writing advice columns that you shouldn’t have a plot where everything could be resolved with a good talk. Sadly I made the mistake of writing such a story once or twice myself (LOL Listen to me talking like I’m an important person). And that’s a sound advice. You should always come up with a plot that’s real and not full of pseudo-obstacles, but that has nothing to do with character being chatty. I recently betaed a manuscript where character continuously talked about their issues and how to solve them, and after they talked, magically, everything was alright between them. Mmmm, that’s not how men act, in my opinion. As far as I know, women are the ones who want to talk about things, while men would rather hide in hole and die starving than talk about their feelings and their relationship issues. You see how talking would make them look like women? I’m not saying they shouldn’t talk at all about how they feel, but, as the writer, you should find a way to make that realistic. Have them spill out their metaphorical guts after a particularly emotional scene, not on an every day basis. I’m a woman and I find it extremely hard to talk about how I feel. I’d rather eat a pint of ice-cream or watch a TVshow (or both hehehe) every time I feel depressed than call a friend and unload my issues on them. Every time you tell someone about how you feel, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable, you’re practically giving that person ammunition to later hurt you and that’s something a lot of people have difficulty doing (smart people like me J). Especially men, who are raised to be manly and are taught that men must have pride. Well, pride mostly implies not to show your weak side to anyone. Remember the saying “big boys don’t cry”?
*No corny sex scenes. I know this might sound ambiguous and hard to understand for some people. How the hell could one avoid corny sex scenes in the first place? Sex scenes in romance books are all about showing the love between your characters, they’re kinda bound to be a little corny, right? Well, this is my humble opinion, but the hottest sex scenes I ever read (see here: Josh Lanyon, Jordan Castillo Price, Abigail Roux, A.E. Via, feel free to fill in the blanks) are often times about men trying not to show their feelings. Everything that’s going on, emotionally-wise, is strictly in the head of the characters. The sex becomes a battle between dominants, because men are equal and just ‘cause one is a bottom, doesn’t mean he’s not on top. In effect, it takes a really brave man to be on the receiving end. There are a lot of things going on during sex on a mental and emotional level (for instance, some people think about laundry during sex :P ). So before you start writing that sex scene, you need a little exercise in psychology: what could go on in these guys’ heads? Why are they even having sex? What’s the whole context of the plot? Are they doing it because they’re desperate? Because they can’t get enough of each other, like a freaking drug (remember there’s always a part of the addict that hates their drug of choice, despite, but also because of how much they love it)? Because they need someone to, maybe, heal their wounds? Because of revenge or in order to blackmail? God, there are so many reasons to have sex, but there’s never sex without a reason. Simple attraction is a reason. But never forget that men are always terrified of looking weak (sorry guys!) so analyze your plot and take advantage of every weakness your characters have, then use it in the context of sex. Play with their mental state and make them struggle not to show how much they love it. Even when they show it, make them just a little uncomfortable after the deed (that could definitely translate into not being chatty). I guarantee they won’t look as girly.
Well, these are some ideas on how to make your men less girly. I may not be a great writer, but I'm an avid enough reader and I've read plenty of amazing books to know how to recognize the less amazing ones. If you have any more advice please do share your opinions :D
Hugs and kisses! Shayla