The Impossible Male Character (and how to avoid him)

Friday, January 17, 2014

via Pinterest
...I think I write these posts more as a prod to myself than anything. Ahem.
I've been very adventurous in my reading lately. The first book out of my comfort zone is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, because there are so many conflicting opinions surrounding this book that I had to make up my own mind. The other is Insurgent by Veronica Roth, because I read the first book, thought it reasonably enjoyable, and a friend of mine lent me the second one. (You know how that is...)
I have yet to decide sound opinions on these books, so stay tuned on that measure and we'll keep it out of the weighting.
However, I've noticed a particular trend among these two novels - and several others of their contemporaries.

The men are impossible.

Characteristics of the Impossible Man:
1. Flawless good looks (a must).
2. Falls immediately in love with the main character (because with whom else would he fall in love?).
3. Has impeccable character (flawless, remember?).
4. Saves the day (can anyone say 'hero'?).
5. Is either a strong man of God (Christian Fiction) or a relatively moral man with a grounded sense of duty (Other Fiction).

All these traits are marvelous, I must say. I mean, this is every woman's dream partner, chiseled jawline and all, right?

Er, not quite. The problem with this man? He's too perfect. He's too predictable. They're all the same. And worst of all? They're hardly realistic. I mean seriously, when was the last time you saw one of these men strolling down the street and saving you before you fall in a puddle on the way to the coffee shop? Nuh uh.

I'm guilty of writing this man into my books, for sure. My first novel was your typical boy-meets-girl story and not worth the 20,000 words I spent on it. I can't deny he's wiggled his way still into my protagonists from time to time, and I have to beat him out with my Writer's Stick because he doesn't belong in my fantasy novel! And guess what? He doesn't belong in yours either.

How to Avoid Writing the Impossible Male Character
1. Make him attractive if you must, but not gorgeous. Give him manly features! Dirt beneath his fingernails! Chapped lips! Anything to pull him away from the world of Edward Cullens and back to reality. I can't tell you how many times I've started a book and watched an 'attractive, young man with sleek brown hair, sparking blue eyes and a firm brow' walk in: every time, my head screamed 'love interest!' Don't make it easy for your readers. The love interest should not be picked out in the first chapter.

2. I'm guessing the character in your head at the moment is your main male character, and quite probably the love interest of someone in your book. So making him fall in love with Her is indeniable. But if that is the case, make it creative. Maybe he doesn't like her at first (Mr. Darcy is a favorite among women despite this aspect). Perhaps they quarrel, and perhaps he's interested in someone else. Or he's not interested in marriage at all. Either way, mix up the plot to make him a more realistic gentleman. He can be nice and loving, but he doesn't have to fall all over Her.

3. Speaking of nice and loving, let's talk character. Every man is a sinner (Romans 3:23), don't let this guy be the exception. He should make mistakes: big mistakes, not just dropping a dish every now and then, and maybe forgetting to say 'Thank you.' Maybe he made the wrong decision (but please, no tortured-pasts-i'm-an-orphan stories) or saved himself before someone else. You don't have to make him a villain, but the most beloved and endearing characters are the ones who were unlikeable in the beginning, and made you love them by the end (just ask Elizabeth to tell you about Sidney Carton). Make him dynamic, make him change. Make him human.

4. I can't really debate saving the day, but do try to make this one feasible and not so unrealistic.

5. Again, I hate to debate a Christian man with a strong faith, or even a man with sound morals. But, dovetailing with number 3, men aren't perfect (neither are women, I ought to mention) and therefore one with a perfect faith is rare. He should struggle between wrong and right, even if he does choose right in the end. There should be contending with sin, and if the character is in a compromised situation for an extended amount of time, determine the outcome logically. Don't just make him persevere and win because you want your audience to think he's got it all together. He doesn't. No one does. And if audience-love is what your after, they will appreciate (at least I would) a man who struggles with his sinful nature, perhaps not always successfully, but makes the right choice in the end, without whining. That's character.

Have any tips to add for avoiding the Impossible Male? Please share!

14 comments

  1. I think you've covered just about everything, and that very well. I might add that if your character is "perfect" in this way, work it against him! These sorts of people are insufferable, and you can use that in a novel as well. I have a real stud of a main character, and he knows it, and oh my lands he can be insufferable. You still love him, but oh my lands that man. XD

    The moral: make the characters real.

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    1. Precisely. The perfect characters always make a real annoyance for the other characters as well, which can be great fun...^.^

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  2. Great post! This is what I love about jane Austen. her men are real. Mr. Darcy has a pride problem, Edward makes excuses to himself, Edmund falls in love with the wrong girl, Captain Wentworth struggles with forgiveness, Henry Tilney has a temper, and so does Mr. Knightley.

    I think this problem stretches to girl characters too, especially when the guy is the MC. Some of Dickens' heroines are a bit...sickening.

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    1. While I hate to bash Dickens, especially considering I've only read one of his books, you are right on that measure. He's not known for his dynamic characters, after all, but his good writing style and meaty plots. ;)

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    2. I've read most of his works. Agnes Wickfield takes the cake for annoying female characters. But his characters are awesome normally. It's just usually the love interest girl that bores me. Except Estella. She's wonderful in a horrible way. And he writes an awesome POV heroine. Read Bleak House, Esther is wonderful.

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    3. I agree about Estella. She and Pip are his most realistic leading characters, because both have flaws.

      This was a terrific post, Bree!

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  3. You could make him a complete villain who falls in love with (or kidnaps as part of a ransom plan) the main character and decides he needs to get things straightened out. And definitely rough-looking- when was the last time you ran into a Charlton Heston on the street? Make him a contractor, maybe- Lord know we're always covered in dirt/sawdust/sheetrock mud/concrete/gas&oil.

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    1. Ah, but that would be a good story! I appreciate the ideas - and the manly input, since while we ladies do like to banter about our male characters 'til we think we've got them straight, we'll never really know until they are put to test by real men. O_o

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    2. Three words: The Black Moth. Possibly and Co., but I haven't read the sequel yet. Stay tuned.

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  4. I really liked this post! Although, I have to say, when there's a almost "perfect guy" in a book, despite the perfect-ness, I still usually really like those guys. :) *hee hee*

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  5. great point, Bree - especially about the 'good-looking' aspect and the flawless nature... however, I do not necessarily love it when a character is all flaws... Jenny was right in that... they have to be real, in perfection and in-perfection. My favourite is when a character grows. A great example would be Mr. Thornton ^_^

    I think for me, the most difficult aspect to work on is moral flaws... I really hate doing that, and yet somehow I keep wanting the characters to be lovable on this aspect.

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    1. Good, good! I hope I didn't make it sound like all-flaws is my aim, though: I agree with you on that measure.
      Moral flaws, also known as You Either Make Him An Angel Or He's The Devil, because balance is so very tedious. :P

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  6. Let the good looks be a flaw. Let his kindheartedness make him a little naive and too quick to see himself as the defender and rescuer of the helpless.

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