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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Character Clinic: Kurt Lancer and the Difference between Guys and Girls

On the couch today I've got J.C. Martin's character from her crime novel. Kurt is 32 and a homicide detective with Metropolitan Police. He's got an 8-year old daughter Meghan who suffers from a disorder that will eventually effect her ability to see. His wife Angie died a year ago and now someone is threatening his daughter's life. He's working to solve a string of crimes seemingly leading up to a coup d'etat at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

JC wants to know: If Kurt is a man who keeps things to himself (the strong and silent type), how to I make him compelling without going too much into emotions, which is a rather female reaction? Are their psychological distinctions between how a man or a woman would react to the same situation?

While I usually write my mini-assessments out to the character, I think this one is for all you authors out there. So here we go, JC!

You're right, of course, about the female reaction being much more emotional. If I had to pinpoint a word that describes the majority of male reactions it would be rational (basically to offset the female). This is in generalities, not facts.

Men are fixers. They see a problem and can seemingly more easily look at a situation, break it down into manageable steps, and go to work. Women tend to gloss over those steps and cry and breakdown with how overwhelmed they are. From what I've noticed in my career, men seem to go into action mode when reacting while women go into almost an inaction mode (at least at first) because they are taking it all in, processing it differently. Women tend to overanalyze, playing out various scenarios. Men are action-oriented (read Wild at Heart  by John Eldridge for more on this)--not to say that they don't think, but act while they think.

Hopefully that made sense!

Randy Ingermanson has a popular workshop that he does on writing from the male point of view. He talks about the three main differences between men and women. Here it is, in Randy's own words from his blog:

  • Ego. The male ego is on average different from the female ego. The male ego can drive a guy to do things that are slightly crazy or a lot crazy. There is no simple explanation for this, and asking for one is never going to get an honest answer. The male ego can get a bridge built but it can also result in a torn ACL. Go figure.
  • Lust. Guys are visual. The way women dress creates visual images in a guy’s brain that can linger for days, months, or even decades. I hope I don’t have to draw a picture here, but honestly, women seem to be completely unaware that guys don’t think their dress is “cute.” Guys aren’t looking at your dress at all, ladies, they’re looking at what’s under the dress or what’s not even covered by the dress. If they like what they see, it’ll stick in their brains for a long time. You can decide for yourself whether or not you want those images in a guy’s brain.
  • Feelings. Guys are a lot less likely to share their feelings than women are. For most guys, feelings are private things which are none of your business. If you ask and he won’t tell, then asking again is not going to get you anywhere you want to go, but it could get you blacklisted for any future conversations. Be warned.

You can make Kurt compelling, operating within these three avenues as guidelines. Nothing's set in stone, and you have lots of freedom where needed. I don't think Randy's saying that men never talk about their feelings. Too many women have forced men to have the DTR (defining the relationship) talk, and I guarantee you that most of those men were extremely uncomfortable--even when they liked the girl! So if things swing into the emotional realm, I'd show his discomfort, perhaps in a physical way.

He's going to visually notice his neighbor, and those images that are burned into his retinas will remain there for a while, so I'd have him revisit them, perhaps during a harrowing crime scene. Like an off-the-wall memory. Depending on what type of novel you're writing, you could go into really crude internal thoughts or keep them vague--but even Christian men notice these things (they just channel those thoughts away, ideally).

I hope this helps out some. I found Randy's stuff useful. I also really like the following books for describing the differences between men and women:

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray
Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti by Bill and Pam Farrel
For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn

Thanks for writing in!


Jeff King said...

Awesome... these always help.

J.C. Martin said...

Ugh--sorry for taking so long to reply to this--loads of other stuff got in the way, including an impending wedding--mine!

But that sure helped a lot! Thanks, Jeannie! It's helped clear some things up, and reconfirmed a load of what I was thinking! Especially since I seem to be living with a man who thinks a lot like a woman (not to say he's not masculine! :P), this helped a lot! Thanks for your help!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.