Monday, October 10, 2011

How to Write Like a Man

You may have noticed that we're a little estrogen-heavy here at YA Confidential. To redress the balance, every month we'll be bringing you a guest post from an awesome YA guy.

And to kick things off is one of my favorite YA guys, the wonderful and hilarious Copil Yáñez, aka The Black Wiggle (don't ask, he doesn't like to talk about it!). He writes humorous YA sci-fi, is a widely-regarded authority on women's shoes, and, as this post will proves, is a dude.

How to Write Like a Man
by Copil Yáñez, a Man

If you read and/or write YA, you are most likely a female. Go on, I'll wait right here while you go check. This is not to say that boys and men don't read or write YA; it simply means they are underrepresented in this genre based on their percentage of the population. It's like ugly teenage vampires: not very common. (Seriously, EVERY SINGLE VAMPIRE IS HOT?! No vampire nerds? There's not a single homely sanguinarian who, while the other blood-suckers are eating skinless chicken breasts and doing endless crunches to get six-pack abs, stays in his coffin reading Pinkwater books and crushing on the librarian?! /end rant)

There are many possible reasons for the dearth of males in YA. One of them is based on science and argues that the language and learning centers of the brain mature more quickly in females than in males. In our defense, the male “cleavage-leering gene” develops so rapidly that it sucks vital nutrients away from other parts of our bodies. So the theory goes that girls are more likely to be strong readers in their teen years, thus more likely to read YA and, by extension, are more versed in the conventions of that genre if they decide to become writers. So YA readers, predominantly girls, beget YA writers, predominantly women, and the cycle of life continues (cue "Mufasa's Theme").

This scientific argument, though, seems unlikely to account for all the boys staying away from YA fiction. See, boys are like spider monkeys: they like to stay in their comfort zone (and occasionally throw their own poo). But given the proper motivation (interesting male voices for the boy, a tasty guayaba for the monkey), both can be coaxed out of the jungle. Writers, male or female, who can effectively capture the male perspective will draw more boys to the genre as both readers and writers.

Now, I've heard all the arguments against having boys read YA. They'll become self-aware. They'll figure out the divine secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. They'll be so busy no one will have time to invent Four-Loko alco-pop drinks, etc, etc, etc.

But I don't buy these. More boys in the genre can only be a good thing. For one, they expand the audience for any given book. Two, they add diversity to the genre. Three, they result in boys and girls being exposed to each other's perspective (this one alone may bring about world peace, so it's worth the effort all by itself). And four, they will undoubtedly increase the number of booger jokes in YA. No? No takers on number four? Okay then, three. Three good reasons to try to bring boys into the fold.

How to do this? You probably think it's easy, right? I mean, c'mon, how hard can it be to write in the male voice?


“Herp-de-derp, boobies! Hahahahahahahahaha!” said your male character masculinely.
“Well that's just asinine,” said your strong, independent, Yale-bound female lead.
“Look it up.”
“In a dictionary.”
“In the A's!”

It just takes a little research, right? Hang out at the local gun shop, read some back issues of Maxim and watch nothing but NFL highlights from the last twenty years on ESPN Classic (after, of course, you get over the giggles at realizing that such a thing even exists – seriously, it would be like going through old issues of Hairstyle Magazine and reliving some of the best cuts from the past two decades – short-jagged-layered-Halle-Berry-pixie-cut, I'm looking in your direction).

If you've tried all that but your male character's still don't sound authentic, I'm here to help.

First, I should lay out my qualifications.

I'm a dude.

Not enough for you?

Reasons I may be qualified to give advice on writing in dude-speak:

  • I have scratched my gonads in public
  • I have named my biceps and penis (Run, Gun and Jersey, respectively)
  • I know the difference between funny and unfunny fart jokes (That was your first test in identifying the male voice. Extra points if you recognized this as a false distinction; there is no such thing as an unfunny fart joke.)

Reasons to be suspicious of my manly advice:

  • I can make cheesecake in my personal spring-form pan.
  • At various times I have been on Team Britney, Team Gosselin, Team Aniston and Team Chaz
  • I once broke up with a woman because she wore a pair of high heel cork wedges just as French heels were taking off. AS IF!
In presenting my qualifications, I hope I've revealed the core of my point. Boys will be boys. But within the species, there is great diversity. And it's this diversity that, when reflected in the stories we read, makes us feel welcome.

A rough-handed bully with early onset man-stubble is interesting. Make the same character a bully because it gets him detention with the prim and proper Dr. Pemberton, the school psychologist who smells like Jessica McClintock and rocks the Louboutins, and now you're getting inside my brain (go ahead, sit anywhere). Congratulations! Now you're writing like a man. Go slap someone's ass in celebration and then get back to your word count.

I'm not saying writers are slacking when they come up with their male characters. But we write what we know. And if you look at all your female characters and they all sound like Vassar grads with shiv-sharp wit while your male characters sound like braying donkeys, maybe you need to look at your male characters from another angle. (This is in no way meant as an insult to braying donkeys.)

Below are a few uniquely male attributes. Test your characters against these to determine if you've accurately captured the male persona. Technically I am under oath not to reveal these, but it would be bad cricket not to reward you for reading this far:

  1. All guys will deny it, but they looooooove bromances (just ask them about Shawn and Gus from Psych and watch their eyes roll to the back of their heads and listen as their breathing goes shallow).
  2. Every guy thinks he's Jim Halpert from The Office (in fact, most of us are Michael Scott).
  3. You will never go broke betting in favor of a male's fascination with his own testes.

And here's one last one for you. The only other time men are allowed to discuss this particular male behavioral truism is during the secret induction ceremony all males go through when they reach puberty (it's like an Aborigine walkabout – with appetizers):

  1. All males like to have their cake and eat it too.
No, really. If you ever need to make a male character sound more realistic on the fly, make him struggle to reconcile the inherent contradiction between what he has and what he wants.

Example? Many bad teen relationships stumble along to the detriment of both parties because a boy wants to be with other people just as passionately as he fears being alone. He could do the right thing and end the relationship but instead he'll act like a jerk and make you do it. So long as he can have you and behave poorly, he will.

Has this been helpful? Or insulting? Accomplishing both at the same time should firmly cement my male bona fides. It's also possible that the whole appeal of interesting male characters in YA is that they DON'T behave like every other boy you've ever met. This would certainly explain the wealth of vampire stories since, you know, vampires are not real (you hear me?! NOT REAL! And if they were, there would be one, just based on statistical distribution, with acne, bad breath and a polyhedral dice collection!). 

Your male characters are probably just as deep and complex as your female characters. If they are, thank you. If not, remember that well-realized male characters can open your material to a whole new audience that might otherwise skip your book. Let dudes see themselves in your characters and they will lose themselves in your writing.

Otherwise, we've got things to do. I mean, these M-80s are not going to light themselves.

Copil Yáñez writes terrible YA. Everyone else seems so balls-afire desperate to write good YA, he figured there would be less competition that way. You can reach out to him on Twitter (@Copil) or by email at copil[dot]yanez[at]


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