Well, the sneak peek of my novel has been up for about a week and I've heard good things about it, such as "WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?" Which, as a writer, I love to hear. So, read the sneak peek, tell everyone you know about it, and read my novel when it comes out. Details forthcoming.
Last week I wrote about how difficult it is to write strong female characters, aka, characters who are undoubtedly female (they act, speak, and think female) yet are strong characters who act and are not acted upon and push the story forward. This week I want to talk a little about how to write strong MALE characters, which, after a lot of thought, I've decided can be just as hard.
I don't usually run into this problem when I write science fiction and fantasy. I'm building on the foundation left me by Tolkien, Asimov, Bradbury, Rowling...the list goes on and on. Generally, it's easier to write strong characters in epic fantasy because the characters can be kings and queens, warriors and magicians, characters with the sheer power needed to influence the plot. It gets harder when writing realistic fiction, especially comedy, and that's what I want to discuss.
Remember last week when I talked about a strong/feminine continuum? I believe there is also a continuum for men. On one side we have men who are strong and masculine, but brutal and uncaring, and on the other side men who are effeminate, foolish, and weak. The Wifebeater versus the Suburban Numbskull. I feel like I see this dichotomy a lot on TV.
If the character is meant to be that way, then so be it. The character comes first. However, when writing a strong male character, the writer does not have to make him violent, cruel, or womanizing. A man can be strong and caring at the same time. Think Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a character who has a strong moral code and, importantly, affects the plot and the other characters.
I guess the main jerk-back reaction I have to the problems with writing strong characters, be they male or female, is that it is so easy to fall into a stereotype or the mirror opposite, which can be just as bad. In trying to make a female character look strong, it's easy to write her with the thoughts, speech and action of a man, AND to make all male characters look weak and silly. On the other hand, in creating a strong male character, it's easy to show him dominating silly, weak women. Neither one of these is good writing.
There are real physical and cognitive differences between men and women, and a good writer knows this. The readers certainly know it; I can't tell you how many times I've offered up a piece of fiction and gotten told that my male protagonist sounds like a girl. Also, human beings are complex, convoluted creatures. They don't tend to fit a stereotype. Not completely, at least. I once heard (or read) a quote that said, "Hitler loved dogs." Even the most depraved people have soft spots, and even saints have sins. It's for the writer to flesh out a real person, not a caricature or even a answer-back to conventional stereotypes.
So, how do you write a strong character? I guess the first thing to do is decide what you think it means to be strong. For me, it's moving the plot forward and acting rather than being acted upon. Then build the character with the strength to be strong while adding the talents, flaws, and personal traits that make the character a real person. Male or female, it's just good writing.