Recently, I saw an announcement for a workshop that promised to teach writers to “think like a guy.” This isn’t the first of these I’ve seen, in fact it seems to be a fairly consistent workshop topic. The idea is that women writers need to be told how guys think and act so that we can actually write a believable male character because, I guess, the male psyche is so alien that we can’t really figure it out on our own.
As you might guess, I find all kinds of problems with this idea, beginning with the assumption that women can’t figure out how men think because they’re, well, weird. This isn’t exactly a new concept. In fact, a lot of male writers seem to have adopted a version of it regarding women. For these guys, women are alien, foreign, indecipherable, and their heroes repeatedly encounter mysterious women who do things no man would ever do for reasons hidden deep in their treacherous souls. Usually nasty things, of course.
The other problem with this whole “think like a guy” thing is the male character it frequently produces—the beer-swilling, belly-scratching, foul-mouthed alpha who has trouble keeping his knuckles from dragging when he walks. In other words, “think like a guy” becomes “think like a stereotype.”
But I wonder if it’s really necessary to “think like a guy” at all when you’re creating a male character. From my own point of view, some of the most interesting romantic heroes are the ones who don’t think like guys, or at least not like the stereotyped kind of guys. A lot of Jennifer Crusie’s heroes fall into this group. So do heroes by Julia Ross and Eloisa James and Sarah Smith. The kind of heroes I’m talking about have a sense of humor and a sense of the absurd. They’re frequently torn by doubts about their plans or about the direction in which they’re headed. And while they may not be as tearful as the classic “sensitive guy,” they do have emotions that they occasionally express.
In other words, they behave a lot like women. Or at least the way women are thought to behave.
I’ve tried to do this with my heroes to a certain extent. The Toleffson brothers in my Konigsburg books are all beset by doubts in some ways, and Tom Ames, from Brand New Me, is more interested in making his bar the best that it can be rather than in demonstrating his level of testosterone. On the other hand, when Deidre Brandenburg, his SO, is annoyed with his stubbornness, she calls Tom the worst thing she can think of—“You, you…guy!” Which maybe sums the whole thing up.
Actually, I think this is what women writers can bring to male characters—an acknowledgment of the female side of the alpha male. I’m not arguing for effeminate heroes, but for heroes who manage to pick up some of the more non-stereotyped aspects of the female psyche along with the more obvious male ones.
Does having a female side make the heroes less masculine? Nope. But it does make them less stereotyped and a lot more interesting. And who knows, it might also make them more human. So maybe instead of “think like a guy” workshops, we need ones that teach how to “think like a human.” At least the outcome would be a lot less predictable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Benjamin is the author of the Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing. Book #3, Be My Baby, won a 2011 Epic Award for Contemporary Romance. Book #4, Long Time Gone, received the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Indie Press Romance. Book #5, Brand New Me, was a Long and Short Reviews Best Book. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon kitties (well, partly anyway). Her Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.