Wednesday, March 9, 2011


by Shirley Hailstock

How many men do you know who hunker down on snowy evenings with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa? I don’t know any. All the men I know, regardless of weather, want a bottle of beer, a loaded pizza, and a 55-inch television tuned to any sporting event where the possibility of blood exists. These are real men, not fictional characters, but the ones we live with -- the ones with body odor and dirty socks left wherever they discard them.

In writing, we want our men strong, characters we can love and fall in love with time and time again. Giving female qualities to a male character (and vice versa) will throw a reader out of a book as fast as lack of motivation or bad writing. Maybe I don’t want my hero to be the guy on my couch, but I do want part of him, a composite of a real man. This is not a stereotype. Many men are sensitive, but they are also male.

Other than trying to fix every situation and buying GPS’s by the truckload so they never have to ask for directions, what do males do? How do they react in situations? The answer lies in their character, who they are and what or who you, as the author, have borne them to be. Is he an alpha male or a beta male? Alpha’s are take-charge guys, no holds barred, shoot first and ask questions later kind of guys. Think Jason Bourne, Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Beta’s are the sensitive guys, those who think through the situation, weigh the options, make a decision and then act. Think Jack Ryan, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington. Not that a beta doesn’t act quickly. His thought processes can be a split second in length, but he’s sized up the problem and discarded every option that has no chance of success.

To say men and women are different is a no brainer. There are times when women have to act with strength and there are times when men need to show their sensitive side. These usually arise from the situation, not from choice. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and we know in writing there are no rules that can’t be broken. Writers develop characters that fit the plot of the book. If the story calls for a woman to be physically strong, i.e. Angelina Jole, a police officer, CIA agent, or for a man to not be part of the Monday morning quarterback brigade, the character still needs to have the qualities that go with their sex. There is no need for her to be a beauty queen or him to have the bulging muscles of a body builder.

Think about the characters that populate your novel. Who do they think they are? When they are alone, what do they do and what do they think? Are they artisans or hunks? Would Heathcliff decorate his living room? Could you imagine Gerard Butler distinguishing the difference between mauve and pink? Would Annette Benning resort to physical assault?

These are all characters that have a type of expectation. When it comes to the male character, the reader also has an expectation and a good book with a cup of cocoa are not on the list. You want to keep the reader in your book. Don’t give them a reason to put it down.

by Shirley Hailstock
Kensington (Dafina)

BOOK SUMMARY:  Smarting from her lover's rejection, Amber Nash gives up on love and decides to spend the summer in Martha's Vineyard pretending to be rich so she can snare a wealthy husband. Don Randall, manager of a nearby hotel, gets Amber's blood pumping, but she's not looking for a middle-class working man. Little does she know that he's actually wealthy hotel chain heir Sheldon St. Romaine, who's trying to both turn the hotel around and convince his father he's matured. Sheldon struggles with hiding his identity from a woman who thrills him like no other.

Shirley Hailstock began her writing life as a lover of reading. She likes nothing better than to get lost in a book, explore new worlds and visit places she never expected to see. As an author, she can not only visit those places, but she can be the heroine of her own stories. A past president of both New Jersey Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America, Shirley’s 27th book will be released in 2011. Visit her at


  1. What if the cocoa has whiskey in it, and the good book is by Tucker Max? What if the guy is a recovering alcoholic, and cocoa is his replacement beverage of choice because it reminds him of cozy winters with his grandparents?

    I have to respectfully disagree with your post, Shirley, because you're making generalizations about gender norms and what being male means to "all" men. In the process, you're also ascribing characteristics to women, and female readers, that may not necessarily apply. What exactly are "the qualities that go with our sex"?

    Suzanne Brockmann subverted gender stereotypes with the most popular couple she has created: Sam and Alyssa. Sam is the one who cries, who throws up when he's stressed out or horrified. Alyssa is the shut down, emotionally distant character who has to learn to let people in. She also functions as the XO of an elite anti-terrorist team. It doesn't make Sam any less of a man or Alyssa less feminine.

    Men in Bollywood films sing, dance, wear pastels, and cry at the drop of a hat. They even hold hands and hug. They're still being male. Because they *are* male.

    Moreover, Annette Bening and Gerard Butler aren't characters. They're real people. For all we know, Bening might run around punching people in the face. I have no doubt she could throw down for her kids if need be. And who is to say that Gerard Butler can't distinguish between pink and mauve? A writer can apply those same levels of depth to a character, because reading and drinking hot cocoa isn't an expressly female act; it's a human act. I think the key is to let our characters be *people*.

  2. Good Morning, Shirley!

    What a wonderfully insightful post. You definitely have the male character (both fictional and real) nailed. I love the part about the dirty socks and would add, then they want to you to help them find their socks! LOL

    SOME LIKE THEM RICH sounds fabulous! I haven't been to Martha's Vineyard in years, and am looking forward to picking up a copy and reading about Amber and Don/Sheldon. Congrats on the new book!

  3. I agree with Suleikha - my husband is a man who hunkers down on snowy evenings with a good book and a mug of cocoa. He also hates sports. In fact one of the reasons I married him is that he doesn't do things he doesn't like just because 'that's what men do.' I see that as a sign of great self-confidence.

    As a woman who rarely does the things that women are supposed to do - I appreciate more a character who is aware that he doesn't always have to behave as his society expects him to behave. It's an issue I've wrestled with all my life, so I feel that my characters should too.