By Livia Blackburn
A while back, I was having some trouble with the male protagonist in my novel. His voice wasn’t coming through as authentic. Since my writing group is all female, I decided to show a scene to my husband J for feedback. I gave him the basic background information, then waited while he flipped through a few pages.
“Okay,” he said after a quick read. “Let me get this straight. So Tristam and Jack are 17 year old squires?”
“And Jack falls off his horse.”
“That’s right.” So far so good.
“Are they friends?”
“Yes, they’re very good friends.”
J jabbed his finger at my draft. “Then why isn’t Tristam laughing?”
I blinked. “What?”
“He should be laughing his head off! You know how mean 17-year-old boys are to each other?”
“But falling off a horse is serious! Wouldn’t Tristam be worried about Jack being hurt?”
J gave me a longsuffering look. “If Jack’s breathing, and conscious, Tristam should be laughing.” I started to argue, but J had already moved on.
“And this passage here,” He pointed to another line. I peered over his shoulder to get a better look:
“You fell off your horse?” Asked Tristam. The question came out more incredulously than intended and Tristam wondered whether Jack would be offended or pleased at his tone.
J raised his eyebrows.” You have a dude, thinking about what another dude is feeling? About the tone of his voice???”
Okay, maybe I could concede that one.
But I still wasn’t ready to believe that guys would just sit around and laugh when their friends got injured. Over the next few days, we asked all our guy friends what they would do in that scenario. And surprise, surprise, they mostly agreed with J.
So I went back and made Tristam just a little bit meaner, although I made him feel guilty about it. I still secretly believed that men were good people at heart. Maybe they’d laugh about minor, non-life-threatening injuries, but surely if their friends were in real pain, they would be supportive.
A few weeks later, we had dinner with another friend K, a nice young man from Nigeria. For some reason, K was telling us about a friend who’d lost his girlfriend to another guy. The heartbroken friend had been devastated, staying in bed for days and refusing to eat or drink. K spent several weeks comforting him and coaxing him out of his misery.
This rare example of male solidarity intrigued me, and I wanted more details. “How did you comfort him?” I asked.
“Oh,” said K with a big grin, “I just laughed at him. He’d be laying there in bed, and I just laughed and told him how ridiculous he was being.”
And at that point, I decided not to write any more books from a male POV. I don’t understand men, and perhaps never will.
Men: All the same, all immature assholes. Nope, nothing wrong with this method of characterization at all. Further, all teenage girls are emotionally manipulative harpies. Always remember that stereotypes are more important and more interesting.