I am often asked how I manage to create so many uninteresting male characters when writing fiction.
It’s something which comes naturally to me, so I’ve never really given the matter much thought. In fact, I can’t recall ever spending any time thinking about the craft of writing at all, until now.
Nonetheless, a very learned friend of mine – who is by trade an author of literary fiction (and has won several prizes) – cajoled me into a spot of edification.
According to her, there is simply no shortage of female characters who feature in classics of modern prose, as decidedly uninspired constructs.
By contrast, their male counterparts tend to be depicted as complex and highly absorbing. “Convincing portrayals of real human beings”, as she put it.
My acquaintance wondered if I might be willing to help tip the balance, therefore; by demonstrating – on this very page – how easy it is to achieve an unemphatic characterization of fictitious men.
As a favour to her, I am only too happy to oblige.
Rather than spend a lot of time and effort pondering the ins and outs of characterization, however, I considered it best to simply provide clear examples of this material in action.
Perhaps the following excerpts can be regarded as a portrait gallery, of sorts.
“Maurice sauntered over to the bar – musky and tenacious – lifting his trouser leg; and slowly revealing a be-socked ankle.
His chin stuck out straight and true; the figure-hugging wrist-watch he wore glinted tantalizingly in the reflection of a light, or some such; which was shining from somewhere.
I could see the details of his credit card, impressing themselves against the taut cloth of his fibrous jacket pocket. His little flanks looked delicious”.
“Boris stood lordly above the shrimp and persimmon sandwich – his lips mouthed the word ‘caution’; but his stomach grumbled ‘proceed’. His gamey man-bosom was concealed only by the tweed jacket he always wore to the less welcome funerals.
Also the shirt underneath it, which was tight enough to both lift and separate, becomingly. His earlobes were plump and firm – imbued with the type of inherent nobility, which only centuries of inbreeding among the aristocracy can truly guarantee”.
“I am the little gopher – who enjoys a bit of the old how’s-your-father. Hear me squeek!” he whispered softly. “Yes” I replied.
“Has anybody ever lost their virginity to the ravishings of an especially virile male gopher?” he intoned. “Other than a female gopher?” I asked, uncertain. He smelled like a wax crayon.
I mimed the act of stroking his imaginary tail, mulling over the possible motives why some mammals have prehensile appendages – while others do not.
Romance with a gopher, who had faintly prominent pectorals, was a particularly specialized fantasy come true”.
“I could not help but notice his serene, manly handsomeness – the proud regard with which he seemed to hold his eyebrows, his hips; and his legs – crossed fetchingly at the ankles.
He then slammed the ammo cartridge into place. ‘Lock and load!’ he cried, with a sultry flick of the eyelashes.
The eight-man SAS patrol approached the compound, with their svelte frames enshrouded in immaculate uniforms”.
“Colin Burn ambled testicularly towards the buffet cart. While his loins were cold and damp as yesterday’s muesli – they had entered the room before the rest of his body; due to implacable laws of nature.
This symbolic happenstance was further enhanced by the fact that his long forgotten hairline revealed a lustrous and slightly pinkish-grey forehead.
His jowls had always been shapely – but now they were glowing with phlebitis; while the regal bearing of his buttocks was a sight to behold. Even if he did say so himself.
‘If only I could find an outfit to match’ he pondered silently; as the crest of his ample, poignant man-bosom heaved above the vest which clung to him – like a shipwrecked sailor, grasping at rocks in a swelling tide of some kind”.
“Following the divorce, Bailey had undergone plastic surgery in one or two key areas – and remodeled his body by doing lots of press-ups. His beautiful brown eyebrows had remained constant throughout.
He was now lying on his bed, in the halls of Residence – with his bare elbows exposed – when his fellow mature-student of archaeology, Sheila, knocked at the door.
She had come to help him with his dissertation.
The door opened – and there he stood: his generously proportioned biceps moved freely, as he twisted the door handle, nervously. His taut, rippling knees were simply bewitching.
Bailey’s voluminous derriere had always prompted remark, whenever a female gaze rested upon it. He now turned, and led Sheila towards the bed.
They discussed the recovery and analysis of excavation data long into the night”.
As you can see, it’s really rather easy to portray male characters in this fashion. So why don’t you encounter them more often in works of fiction?
There are many, many examples of female equivalents depicted this way in countless novels and short stories. It requires no real effort or imagination to write them at all, in fact.
I can only conclude that too many male authors simply regard men as more complex, and profound, than women; and portray them accordingly. Performing a real disservice to themselves and their readers, in the process, I might say.