Minutes I spent on a pedal boat this weekend: 30
Days afterward that I am still sore: 3
Words written on my novel over the holiday weekend: 0
From the time I was 12 until I was 18, I babysat a precious little boy who performed “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” for me. I knew then that I needed to have a son when I grew up. Boys and men were an enigma; by having my very own, I would learn how they thought and understand the opposite sex in a more meaningful way.
Last night, I went to book club to discuss Catcher in the Rye. Good news: I know what the title means.
After a great discussion, maybe one of our best, one of the women said, “Maybe we can’t relate to it very well because we’re women, and Holden is a teenage boy.”
Eureka. Although I did have a deeper appreciation for the writing at age almost-40, I was sad to report that my current reaction mirrored my 13-year-old reaction: Hmmmm.
Here are the things I can report from my individual life experience about men, boys and male fictional characters:
1. When the going gets tough, men get angry. It’s reported that depression often manifests itself as anger in men. Holden Caulfield is a perfect fictional representation. When you’re writing your stories or novel, keep this in mind.
“I’m afraid our ice cream flavor of the day is vanilla, not bacon.”
Female character response: “Oh, and here I was, thinking about bacon. Hmmm. Let me look at the calendar. Bacon is tomorrow? Great! I’ll get vanilla today and come back for bacon tomorrow!”
Male character response: “D*%& it all to h*&$. Let me talk to the manager. If I have to fry up the bacon myself, I’m getting bacon.”
2. Men notice details, just not the same ones women do.
I got dinged in writing group for describing a (granola, earth mother-type) character as wearing Naot sandals and shopping at Whole Foods. The man in our writing group said she came across as “materialistic.” The women disagreed, saying it spoke to her character; these weren’t social-climbing brand names, merely specifics that helped us see the character better. I would argue that women use brand names in clothing, shoes and accessories as a way to help other women visualize the items.
I wear $17 Target sunglasses because wearing Kate Spade or Coach ones would be throwing money into the swimming pool. I also tell my husband that this makes me low-maintenance, and he laughs. Copiously.
Contrast the clothing/accessory details with men and cars. Picture this scene: a car drives by and throws a large can of paint out of the window. The police officer responding to the call asks my husband and me, separately, to describe the car.
My husband: “It was a Subaru Impreza WRX 2012 in Blue Pearl with a custom body kit. It sounded like he may need more transmission fluid.”
Me: “It was really blue and new and had four teenage boys inside. The paint they threw out was Sherwin Williams Sahara Gold PX 450.”
3. Men don’t ask you about your feelings.
Men would rather die than say something like, “So how is your husband feeling about his mother’s death?” If there is food or alcohol being served after the funeral, men are all over it.
Women want all the details, including which medications are involved, which t-shirt is being worn 24-7 and whether he is seeing a therapist. If so, which one? How much does she charge? Is it helping?
4. Men don’t like to gossip. Except when they do.
I have been fortunate enough to have many male friends since becoming an adult. They are fun. We laugh.
But across the board, they will tell you that they do not like to gossip. Blatant lie. The men I have known have been the biggest gossips around. They’re just sneakier about it. And they don’t elaborate in the same way women do.
Man, talking about a coworker: “Did you see Delilah? I saw her go into Thompson’s office at 8 p.m. when I left work. And, well, you know…”
Woman, in a neighboring office, talking about the same coworker: “Did you see the champagne-colored dress she was wearing before she walked into his office? I would never wear anything that short! I loved her strappy heels, though. I was thinking of picking some up for that wedding I have to go to this weekend? I wonder where she got them. I’ll ask her tomorrow when I stop by her desk for the details. Anyway, I noticed her texting someone when I walked by her desk at 5:30, but then when I asked her if she was heading home, she said she was ‘working on that Barber account.’ You know we haven’t had the Barber account for six months…”
5. Men often say exactly what they’re thinking. Exactly.
When I was younger, I used to think that men had complicated webs of thought spiralling around, just waiting for me to uncover them. If only I caught one in an unguarded moment, they might reveal the nature of their true feelings to me.
Teenage/early 20s-era male I might have liked: Dude. This song is amazing.
In your eyes
I see the doorways
To a thousand churches
Me: It really is. We had such a great time tonight. Thinking: I wonder if he looks into my eyes and sees the doorways to a thousand churches? Is he hoping we’ll get more serious? Should I ask him if he wants some more beer? No. I better not move. I want to find out how he really feels. Sit still. Be in the moment. He has gorgeous eyes. What is he thinking? Why won’t he ever tell me?
Male: Thinking: Dude. This song is amazing. Awesome drums. Awesome drums.
How do you write differently about males and females, whether they are POV characters or not? How do you keep men and women from being stereotypical but at the same time, keep them true to life? What strikes you as unreal when you read something about a man or woman in fiction?