Writing well-thought-out male characters are just as important as writing well-thought-out female characters. Letting stereotypes or lazy writing influence how you craft your male characters could ruin the whole book for your readers. To avoid making these mistakes, view my top 5 male character pet peeves and how you can avoid them.
The Ill-tempered Detective
The grumpy or anti-social detective is a staple of the crime, mystery, and thriller genre. Yet, this character has become so common that some authors write a detective who is automatically in a bad mood all the time just because they have gotten accustom to this trope. While you don’t have to make your detective lead a shining ball of rainbows and happiness, you do have to provide a reason why he is the way he is. Maybe he is this way because of a particularly gruesome unsolved case that he could never close. Or maybe his wife left him because he was overly invested in his work and neglected his family life. Make sure your detective character isn’t an asshole just because he’s an asshole.
There are two good examples of this. E.Z. Rinsky‘s Palindrome does have your typical gruff detective, Frank Lamb as the lead but he juxtaposed by his business partner, Courtney who is a granola-loving hippie—quite the opposite for your stereotypical detective. Plus, Frank has a daughter who he is loving and affectionate towards, showing he is more than just a rough-around-the-edges private investigator. The second example is Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House. While he is not typically a detective he is modeled after Sherlock Holmes (Holmes…House…get it?) and does solve a mystery at the end of each episode even if it is medical and not criminal in nature. We do learn that part of the reason House is such a horrible person is because he is in horrible pain almost every second of the day. Plus, he does let the audience know about his nihilistic view of the world which backs up the reason he is awful to be around.
If you are writing about a grumpy detective, private investigator, or someone who solves mysteries, make sure they are written as a whole person with different attributes other than their bad attitude. And that bad attitude better come with an explanation.
In case you aren’t familiar with this term, a Nice Guy is a guy typically in his teens or early twenties who thinks that just because he is polite, women owe him a relationship or sex. This mentality can stem beyond romantic relationships. Many Nice Guys think that the world is an unfair place and that everything is stacked against them. These characters blame other people for their lack of romantic or professional success, instead of trying to improve themselves. Examples of these can be found in books, movies and television including Perks of Being a Wall Flower, 500 Days of Summer, The Big Bang Theory, and basically any story with a manic pixie dream girl.
What’s worse than simply having a typical Nice Guy character is when the author has the same mentality. The Nice Guy character is never forced to revaluate himself or his behavior by the author. He doesn’t have to rise up and make himself better to overcome a particular circumstance. Instead, the author crafts the plot so that every woman who rejects him dies or is now married to a loser. And every male character who insulted him is at his mercy for some reason or another. This revenge narrative and outward projection of blame is a little too similar to the mentality that many mass shooters use to justify their actions and it’s not an outlook that an author should be endorsing.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t write a male character who is an underdog or may be treated unfairly by women or by life in general. But it’s annoying from the readers’ perspective to follow around a character who takes a “Why me?” stance on life. If you do have a character with this mentality, it will be more entertaining for your readers to see his mindset get challenged by the plot of the book and perhaps he changes for the better.
The (Unjustified) Best of The Best
Countless stories from across the spectrum of entertainment have male characters that are the best in their field. Yet, these characters do things that imply that they aren’t as good as everyone claims they are or the audience never sees proof of them succeeding. My first example comes from a short story I recently read where a highly trained government agent is introduced as one of the best special agents in the world. After he is given his weapons, he promptly puts his pistol down his pants without a holster. While I am not a specialist on weapons by any means, I know enough to tell you that putting an unholstered weapon down your pants is one of the stupidest things you can do and that any “best of the best” agent would never do something so idiotic.
Another example is Rodrigo from Mozart in The Jungle (The TV show) where the audience is repeatedly told that he is a genius conductor who will definitely save the struggling New York Symphony. Yet, every performance that we see Rodrigo put on for almost the entirety of 3 seasons, the audience sees maybe one performance that goes off without a hitch. For someone who is an experienced musical genius, we don’t have any proof of this claim, other than what people say about him. I am still a huge fan of the show, but I do get annoyed from time to time when classical music hijinks constantly interrupt Rodrigo’s performances denying the audience a chance to see how good he can be.
If you are going to have a character who is at the top of his professional field, he needs to first act like it and not make rookie mistakes. As the writer, you should research his profession thoroughly so that you don’t accidentally write something that makes him look foolish to those who actually work in his field in real life. Secondly, you can give your best of the best character challenges and misfortunes, but the reader needs to actually see (and not hear second hand from another character) him doing his job extremely well at least once before he can really earn the title of best of the best.
The Manly Man
Many media critics point out how certain female characters are given no other features other than simply being female. These characters act as stereotypical shells of women and have nothing more to offer the narrative other than their womanliness. Well, I believe the same can be true of male characters whose entire identity revolves around their stereotypical masculine traits. These guys work outdoors, wear lots of plaid, love fishing and hunting, scream at the TV during a football game, and can drink a child’s weight in beer. If you have a character like this, you have essentially written your own version of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Not only is this hyper masculine character boring, its kinds of insulting to men. There is nothing wrong with men—real or fictional—liking masculine things but there is something wrong with using these things to define them. All people have unique characteristics and are not walking stereotypes of their gender.
If you are writing a male character who is your typical football-loving, beer-drinking, man’s man type, give him a few other unique characteristics. Maybe he has a killer sense of humor, maybe he is a hard worker, so he can take care of his young sister, or maybe the reason he is obsessed with football because he used to watch games with his now-diseased father. Just make your male character seem real and interesting.
The Ugly Villain
I understand that it makes the audience immediately dislike the villain more if you make him an ugly sack of potatoes but in real life creepers don’t always look like an unkempt weirdo in a rusty van. For instance, some serial killers appeared to be handsome, well-adjusted family men. Ted Bundy was famous for his good looks and used his appearance to disarm his victims.
Thankfully, there seems to be trend in the thriller/mystery genre of writing handsome or average-looking villains. Some of the most recent books I’ve read featured a villain who is a dashing stranger or the perfect husband. This give the book a dash of realism as attractiveness doesn’t automatically make someone a good person in real life. So, when you’re writing your next story, just remember villains, especially male villains, don’t have to be physically unappealing to be a bad guy.
I'm not just picking on male characters. Check out my post on my Top 5 Pet Peeves About Female Characters.