On Writing the Strong Male Character

Times are certainly changing, aren’t they? Women action heroes. Women judges. Women (woman, singular) late night host. We’re witnessing a female renaissance, a time when women feel powerful enough to stand up on their own and shout, “Hey! I’m a Woman! I’m Strong! I’m Proud! Maybe Don’t Sexually Harass Me At Work And Black-list Me When I Say No!”

The day clearly belongs to the women. Thrillers aimed at women, written by “women” (Shout-out to Scarlet!) Female villains. Female CEOs. Everywhere you look, women own a good 1/8th of the conversation, of the top jobs, of the success and accolades.

And in this time of unprecedented focus on women, it’s easy to leave everyone else in the dust. It’s easy to get so caught up in the progress, that we forget who held all the power up until now.

That’s why I’ve made a concentrated effort to put Well-Rounded, Flawed yet Strong Male Characters into my novels.

Why? Because it’s a hard time for men right now. They’re being told no, and having to accept that. They’re having to give up marginal amounts of space they previously fully, independently occupied. They’re being told that they’re not necessarily entitled to things just because they were born with a penis.

They’re facing unfathomable challenges right now, and who better to prop them back up in fiction than me, a woman?

A lot of mistakes have been made in writing male characters previously, and I’ve been very careful to navigate the terrain. Broad, sweeping generalizations about men and male behavior help no one, though they’re easy traps to fall into. Luckily, I have an all-male team of people to explain to me how to write better, and I’ve been fortunate that they’re not afraid to tell me when I’ve gotten masculine details wrong, and to point out how cute it is that I tried.

I think it’s important men see themselves reflected in current fiction so they feel like they still have the majority of the space in this world. Everybody deserves to see people like them in their fiction, and that revelation has been especially hard on men. They’ve gone from seeing only themselves, to having to give up token roles to women and POC, and accepting that equality matters has strained their relationship of entitlement to the world. All my efforts are going to soothing that, to making sure men see themselves included in important, representative roles.

So how do you write a strong male character? The best advice I can give is to start with a human woman, and make her a man. We all know that in this pro-equality era, the best character archetype we have is a female one. So start there, with a really well-rounded human woman, and then give her a guy’s name. Make sure to define him as a man, too. A great way of doing this is to have him analyze himself in the mirror at some point, worrying over his features individually. How his calluses are holding up with age. If he could pass for a younger lumberjack. What his penis is doing, and how much of a “good size” it is (Not too big! Remember, we want flawed characters.)

And for their behavior, think about how men act in real life, and dial it back by about 50%. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes your strong male characters more palatable to men. They want to see themselves as level-headed and rational, and presenting men as many act in real life—brash, petty and terrifying—leaves a bad taste in men’s mouths and attacks the very core of their self-identification as men. Though we want accurate depictions, writing men as men creates unlikable characters that your male readers will reject.

Remember, this is fiction and you do have artistic license, and this is the area you should flex it in. Step back from what you as a writer know of rejected men in bars, male bosses in office settings, and men whose pride you’ve injured. Go instead towards your ideal for how men should behave in real life. Have them walk away after a woman refuses to hand over her number. Have them cross the street when they find themselves walking alone behind a woman late at night. Have them mind their business when alone in an elevator with a woman. This will help men see themselves as the good-guy hero type in your fiction, and will therefore please them.

And most importantly, of course, have fun! Your enjoyment of working to make the world an even more man-friendly space will come through in your writing. If you enjoy writing your male characters, men will enjoy reading them.

And if not, they’ll be sure to tell you.

Wilderness Years

I like to joke that my mental health was better before I was a writer.

Laughing is one way to deal with hard truths, right?

Though, to be frank, I’d probably be this tightly wound no matter what I was doing. Writing and submitting and querying has just provided me with a laser-point focus for it. If I had a different hobby I’m sure it would shoulder the brunt of the blame just as writing does.

I also like to say that I’m the most prolific writer you’ve never read. A part of me wants to claim an affinity with Kilgore Trout but I’m pretty sure those dudes I know with their stories in Playboy have more a right to that honor than I do. I like those people, but I’m also going to say they’re *s for taking that from me.

It’s a struggle to keep plugging away when success seems perpetually out of reach. That’s the problem with being friends with so many writers. All around me people are getting book deals and accolades and interviews while I spend 4AM to 7AM every morning, doing this thing the best I know how.

I have the files to prove it, too. It’d take two hands to count the full-length novels I’ve written. Probably a bucket of hands (if you can’t make your own at home, store bought is fine) to tally up my short stories. Multiple movie scripts. A ten-minute beat poem (no, seriously, it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Other poems.

I like to joke that I’ve got all the hustle and none of the talent.

It’s at times disheartening, knowing you can churn out the words but also knowing they lack the quality for them to mean much of anything.

Sometimes I lean into the hill I’m climbing, sure if I just work hard enough, I’ll top it. That it’ll build my endurance for the next hill.

Sometimes I sit on my ass, stare down how little I’ve climbed and debate just packing it in and declaring that hills can go fuck themselves.

I never mean it. I don’t quit things. But not everything is sunshine and beard daisies and sleeping puppies. Plus, I know I’d feel worse if I quit, so eventually I get back up, dust my ass off, and start climbing again.

Anybody fighting to create something the world wants understands this dance. It is the best of endeavors, it is the worst of endeavors.

Let’s change directions a bit.

Recently, I listened to Eddie Izzard’s book Believe Me. Read by Eddie Izzard. That last fact is important. I have no idea how long Believe Me is in text but I’d wager it’s nearly twice as long as an audio book. I mean, he googled stuff during the recording and every glorious minute of it is in there.

At first, I wasn’t entirely on-board. It was entertaining, sure, but rambley, as you would expect from Izzard. It was fine but just not as engaging as I was looking for in an audio book.

Then he got to talking about his early performing years and managed to say every single thing I needed to hear at that exact moment.

Izzard uses the term “Wilderness Years,” coined to describe the years Winston Churchill spent without a government position, to talk about his own early struggles. He writes about the attempts, the failures, all the bad he sludged through before he found what he was good at.

How those years taught him how to deal with a crowd. How they showed him his strengths, taught him what he did and didn’t want to do. How he hustled tirelessly, taking his blows and pushing on regardless.

How ten years of struggling taught him perseverance, and showed him who he was.

And that it’s okay if you’re struggling. It’s okay if it’s not working, so long as you’re still pushing. That success taking time doesn’t mean you’re a failure, that you suck and should quit. You’re just in your own wilderness years. Learning. Growing. Finding who you are and mastering it.

It was what I needed to hear. It was the sign I was looking for to keep me leaning into that hill and fighting my way up. I don’t care if it sounds superficial or cliche, it was help when I needed it.

I am still learning. That was honestly the hardest thing for me to process in my writing, that you don’t come out farting glitter and shitting gold from the get-go. Sure, some people do, but those people are unicorns, rare and ethereal, and most of us are not. There are things I do well, and many more that I don’t yet. Internalizing that I can learn, that I can get better, has helped me drastically.

Now the mental language isn’t that I’m bad at what I’m doing but that I’m not as good as I will be if I keep working at it. Every critique, rejected story, every blow to my ego shows me where I can improve.

Every time I get on stage with a mic and people don’t laugh, well, I learned something about those jokes, didn’t I?

Izzard’s book helped me understand that I’m not wasting my time. I’m forming the base I’ll eventually stand on. I’m learning how to make the parts of me as good as they can be.

I’m learning to keep my eyes on the top of that hill and push until I get there.

I’ve got the drive, and the staying power.

These are my wilderness years. They are not a stumbling block, but a building block. I am going to enjoy them, and wring every lesson I can from them before I cast them behind me, withered and fully used up.

Welcome, Friends!

It's looking pretty darn schnazzy around here, if I do say so myself. 

Welcome to the new home of Govneh.com! The launching of this site means a lot of things. It means that I finally admitted my lack of technical know-how and moved from Wordpress to Squarespace. It means I have a pretty decent site that functions how I want it. It means that I'm paying money to a completely different entity. 

But most importantly, it means I am launching new adventures and have access to a web store that supports digital downloads! I don't want to say anything YET, but I do have something I love very much in the works. I need to push a few more buttons, turn a couple more knobs, and hustle just a while longer before announcing it. Soon, my loves. Soon! 

In the meantime, poke around the site, make yourself comfy, and hopefully I'll have announcements for you soon. Not everything is quite polished up yet. The store isn't functional, and I don't have my stories loaded. BUT! Now you know I'm here, so when I finally announce things, you'll be able to say you were part of the Famclub before it was cool. 

Cheers!

-Govneh