Writing the male voice – Jane Lovering

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By Jane Lovering

As a novelist there is sometimes a tendency when writing from both female and male protagonist characters points of view, to make the men sound as we wish men were, rather than as men actually are in real life. (Warning: this post may contain traces of gross overgeneralisation).

Although everyone knows at least one man in real life who is full of emotional declarations and long descriptions of clothes, houses and decor, most men on being asked what someone looks like will answer ‘Er. Sort of, your sort of height. I think. And they’ve got … hair, like, brown. Ish. But they drive a beige 1984 Ford with a dent on the driver’s side and a scraped bumper and I’m pretty sure the passenger side tyre was slightly flat.’

Because men don’t work quite like women. Women tend to be more social, they rely on networks of friends for support and comfort and they always have to be aware of their own safety. A woman in the company of a strange man might feel uneasy, unsettled, afraid. She may want the reassurance of her friends afterwards, to discuss how he behaved, whether there were any red flags in the things he said.

Women are, after all, more vulnerable than men. A man in the company of a strange woman is more likely to try to suss out whether she is interested in him. He’s not likely to have that unsettled feeling (unless she is really scary) and he’s unlikely to gather all his friends around afterwards for a debriefing session. While both men and women notice details, women have a tendency to notice peripheral details, whereas men notice the details that are most important to them, at the time.

So, my advice to authors when writing the male voice – have one eye to moving the story forward, one eye to building the romantic tension, and a third eye on keeping the characters as ‘true’ and realistic as you can make them. Go out and listen to men talking, not just to women but to other men. See how they talk differently when they speak to their work buddies or to their wives (actually this advice holds true to writing any kind of dialogue – go out and listen to real people talk.

We can get so bound up in our characters having to get over certain information necessary to the story we forget to make their words sound realistic. Listen to the rhythms of their speech, note when they pause, how they convey information. Make notes about your male character – what kind of ‘voice’ does he use? Is he hesitant in speech because he likes to make sure he’s got every detail right before he speaks? Does he dominate conversations because he only speaks when he knows what he’s talking about? Does he notice detail to the exclusion of the ‘bigger picture’?

The real truth is that writing realistic characters can be hard, whether they are male or female. Because most of us writing women’s fiction tend to BE women, we find it easier to write female characters. But it is well-rounded male characters, be they hero or anti-hero, that makes the novel stand out to the reader, because they can forget they are reading fiction and believe that they are reading a slice of real life – and isn’t that what we all want?

Jane has been a published author of romantic comedies since 2008. Her novel Please Don’t Stop the Music won Romantic Novel of the Year in 2012 and Best Romantic Comedy the same year. She has ten novels and two novella currently published, and calls what she writes ‘dark, psychological romance – with jokes.’ Her latest book, Little Teashop of Horrors was published on 28 March by Choc Lit.



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