Writing a Believable Male Character - Guest Post by John Hansen
Well, it’s time for a confession: I’m still in high school.
Yes, it’s true, and because of this I get a lot of questions about how one should go about writing a believable male POV. I wanted to add my thoughts here. Before you read on, I suggest you read Jay Kristoff’s post last year on writing outside your gender, because I agree with all of it
Good. That means it’s time to tell you the long-lost secret of writing a believable male character. Ready? Here it is:
There is no secret.
It’s annoying, I know, but that’s the secret. Just like with any adult, there are so many different types of teen guys that there is no real secret to writing one. Even so, there are ways to do it well.
Identify Your Type of Male Character
First and foremost, you have to know your character. There are an unlimited amount of teen guys like there are an unlimited amount of types of adults, but in a broad sense, you have to identify what kind of guy your MMC is. Is he popular, athletic, a total chick magnet? Or is he smart, shy, with a sweet crush? Or is he a class clown type kid, who’s just in it for pulling pranks and cracking jokes? Or maybe he’s in between—athletic but shy, smart, and awkwardly funny? The combinations are endless. Write down four adjectives to describe your male MC. From those you should be able to give him a basic position socially, physically, mentally, etc.
So now that you’ve identified that? You have your exterior. This is what your MC will act like on the outside. This is also where stereotypes help you: Most male teens, in fact, act like their stereotypes on the outside. But that is only on the outside.
Identity the Interior
Now that you have the exterior, you need to get inside your MMC’s head. Making his personality realistic but also unique is not easy and neither is it supposed to be, but there are ways to make it work.
First off, every teen is different, so keep in mind that stereotypes don’t apply to the deeper personality. For example, a smart kid can still be extremely competitive in sports. A popular kid can be still be the kindest person ever. A class clown can still be a genius. A rebellious kid can still care about others. And so on.
Also, make sure your MMC isn’t too perfect. He should have a lot of redeeming qualities, yes, but he should have his flaws as well. So you can make the MMC good-looking and athletic if you want, but maybe make him overly cocky, or something else to flaw him. Be sure to show his tender side, too. Show his insecurity. Show his stress. All these factors count. Another thing is, while girls should be on your MMC’s mind, make sure he isn’t only in it for the girl. Give him motivations outside of his relationship, give him a personality of his own. Make him human.
Which brings me to my next point: All male teens feel insecure deep down, no matter the social status. We all have angst. We all have compassion somewhere. We all worry. We all fear. We all stress. All of us. It’s part of being a teen. It’s what makes teens fun to write. It’s an underlying theme that you need to capture when writing one. And with all that stress, confusion, struggle to stand out in the world, etc. all teens have that one thing that makes us feel better. For some, it’s a love interest. For others, it’s just being with friends. But your character might be different. Give him that one thing. That one place. That one person.
I like to use John Green’s characters as good examples of male teens. He does such an excellent job of making them so different, so quirky and smart but with the flaws most male teens do, in fact, have: His characters can be stupid, ignorant, insecure, but you can’t help but like them anyway. Plus, they have clearly defined agendas beyond just the relationship. Or if you want a complete opposite type of teen guy, Kody Keplinger does a great job of contrasting Wesley Rush’s self-centered, carefree exterior and his vulnerable interior in THE DUFF… and he’s not even the main character!
Note the Gender Differences
So there obviously are differences between how guys and girls think. For example, teen guys don’t talk much, but we have a ton—and I do mean a ton—of angst and awkwardness and words we want to say but don’t going through our minds every second of every day. To write a good male teen, you really have to get inside his head and show this contrast between thought and speech. Show what he wants to say, but doesn’t. Show how often he wants to kiss the girl next time him, but doesn’t. Show his thoughts, his restraint, and his choosiness of his dialogue. This also applies to writing any teen character.
You probably already know this, but teens, male or female, tend to think in extremes. Be sure to capture that in your writing.
Another thing: Guys can be as insecure as girls when it comes to relationships. Yes, some will brag all about a crush, but others will keep it to themselves. This is where you need to go back to knowing your character—what would he do? Would he really tell everyone about it? Many guys won’t, but yours might. It’s a lot to do with social status, how past relationships went, etc. I know it sounds shallow, but it’s true.
One last comment: Don’t forget to give your character something he cares about beyond just the relationship. Everyone has something they love to do, and it’s important to show this. It makes your character more realistic and human. It also helps readers find common ground and connect with him. For example, maybe your MMC loves sports, or academics, or computer programming, or writing, or whatever else you can think of. It would also be interesting to see a teen with a passion for something fairly quirky; I’d suggest making him obsessed with memorizing the last words of famous people, but John Green has already taken that.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make your character different. Unique characters are more fun to read about, anyway. That said, always be true to his personality. When something is forced, readers will notice. And, of course, good luck! I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thanks for reading!