Thursday, December 8, 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.

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 was released in 2011. Visit her at

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