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Writing "Strong" Male Characters

While the portrayal of women in media is analyzed far more often than men, men face pressures and sexism as well. Male characters are often forced into ideals of masculinity or are played for laughs when they don't. There are set archetypes for speculative fiction male heroes, such as the cocky and dashing thief, rogue, or pirate (Han Solo from Star Wars and Westley from The Princess Bride), and the scarred warrior who knows how to keep his feelings inside (Shane from Shane).

Men who don't hold up to this ideal are mocked. The Big Bang Theory has its characters be humiliated when they don't achieve the masculine ideal and plays it as a weakness. In traditional media, men are divided into winners and losers. The "tough" man gets the girl, while the "weak," "annoying" man is humiliated.

A common go-to joke is the idea that men don't know how to be nurturing to children. Fathers are clueless about how to care for their children when the mother isn't around, and men like Hopper from Stranger Things resort to yelling rather than talking things out.

When this is what people are shown in the media, it creates pressure on men to hold up to these ideals. Since fictional stories have such a powerful impact on culture, writers have a responsibility to help change the perception around masculinity and show the diversity of what a strong man can be. Let's look at some examples of unique male characters .

However you feel about the Fantastic Beasts franchise, I must say that Newt is an amazing example of a great male character. He's not good at fighting and he's extremely emotionally expressive. He's humble and doesn't try to control or have power of other people. His main trait is his compassion and empathy, mainly for the magical creatures which he has a special connection to. When faced with the antagonists, he doesn't jump into battle to stop them, but uses his heart and his words to try to deescalate the situation. The best part about him is that this is not treated as a joke. Many men who are viewed as more feminine are played for comedy, yet in Fantastic Beasts Newt's gentleness is seen as a strength.

Junior from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie is another brilliant male character. The book is frequently challenged for its explicitness, but Junior and his friends make for excellent characters. This is because Junior is portrayed as human, with all the insecurities and complexities that come with that. He is small, suffers from seizures, and has a lisp. He doesn't present the typical masculine features, but he's not relegated to the stereotypical underdog either. He can be harsh and violent, but also sensitive, and he expresses his emotions through drawing. One of the reasons the book is so good yet is challenged so often is that it's unafraid to show all the sides of characters. Junior's sexuality and inner grittiness are explored as part of his inner character, which makes him that much stronger.

Sadly, there's a considerable lack of male protagonists in YA books. The most famous example is Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Charlie, too, is presented as a deep, complex character. He has passions (reading and writing), he's anxious, and he has PTSD. He's masculine, but he's fragile and he lets his feelings show. He's curious about relationships and sex and isn't skilled in these areas, but that isn't presented as a weakness. He's also incredibly sensitive, which doesn't make him less strong. Rather than being played for laughs, his sensitivity is treated with respect, and his struggles are portrayed with empathy.

So, if you haven't guessed it already, my message in this post is the same as in the last article—write male characters as deep, complex humans. Men are not simply "masculine." Gender is so ill-defined that you can write most any kind of character and still have them be a man. Masculinity can be physically strong, or it can be a quiet, kind strength. Neither is less than the other, although we need more nurturing men who are heroes. I can name examples of wimpy men from books and TV, but sadly, as mentioned before, many of them are simply played for laughs. And that's a shame, because representation like that is telling boys that they have to be violent and withold their feelings to be "real men."

While the focus on strong female characters has been great, there needs to be an equal focus on realistic male characters who show their emotions. Men need role models, and they need role models different from the stoic men that have dominated books and film for decades. Showing emotion shouldn't be portrayed as a weakness. So, if you're going to write a male character, remember their emotion. Men are not immune from feeling. If your character goes through a bad experience, he can cry. Men will break down. They have anxieties and fears, they can have panic attacks, they can suffer from depression and loneliness and social anxiety. They can also be happy and enthusiastic, and that's not a bad thing.

As before, when writing your male character, think about their relationship to society's idea of what "makes a man." What are the gender roles in your character's society? Are men expected to follow traditional masculinity, or fill some other role? Or are gender roles largely erased? As before, here is a list of the traits that have traditionally been associated with masculinity: —physically strong —stoic —assertive —protective —aggressive —sexually dominant —tough —a good leader Your character will be aware, subconsciously or not, of the ideal role he is supposed to play, and how he reacts to that role will be up to his character. Does he strive to fill that role, does he actively reject it, or does he choose to ignore it? How is he treated when he doesn't live up to the role (even if he strives to, he will fail at times)? What kind of power dynamics are at play among other men? Men tend to be more aware of power dynamics in a group, even if they don't desire power, simply because society has placed the ideal man in a position of power. This is an example of the way societal pressure can shape what someone notices. How is sex viewed in his society? How are queer men viewed and treated?

How does the character view sex? How would he react to unwanted sexual advances? Would he keep silent, or tell the person to back off? If he needs help, will he seek it from others, or will he struggle with problems on his own? What are his greatest dreams? Fears? Who does he look up to? What role models have shaped who he is? Is he satisfied with life, or does he feel chained down? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What is his self image? Is he comfortable with his body, or does he wish to change it?

Is he comfortable showing his emotions, or does he suppress them? What makes him cry? The answers to these questions are crucial to making sure you have a complex male character. In order to write a male character, you first need to understand who he is as a person. From his personality, you can then determine how he reacts to the masculine ideal, and in turn see how the masculine ideal has an effect on his personality. If any of you are writing YA stories with a boy protagonist, then tell me about it! It's great to see new and different representations. Do you have anything you'd like to add, or questions to ask? Tell me about it in the comment section!

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