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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - My Rules for Writing Tough Guys


Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in the hearse scene, The Magnificent Seven
Okay, so you know I like to say that male and female leads are of equal importance. And more than anything, it's about writing true-to-life, human characters. But when you're writing books about outlaws, you're inevitably writing about some pretty tough fellas. Comes with the territory. I grew up on movies, lots and lots of movies, and Hollywood is rife with examples of both the truly tough, and the sad posers. The book world, too. You know you've seen 'em - male leads that come across as oversexed jerks rather than stern heroes. My mantra is "If you can't imagine Steve McQueen delivering the line, then cut it." 
Steve McQueen as Hilts, The Great Escape
Welcome to the Lauren Gilley List of Rules for Writing Tough Guys:

1. Make Sure He's Not a Douchebag

Okay, this one seems like a given, and it's pretty ridiculous. But, sadly, more and more I see total douchebags being pushed as "strong" and "masculine" and "tough." In my book, men who are rude and cruel to women, men who talk non-stop about how awesome they are in bed, men who make fools of themselves for a little attention - douchebags. Controlling jerks who tell you what to wear, how to act, what to say, and who curse and insult you are NOT STRONG. They are insecure and I WILL NOT write male leads like this. Not ever. There's enough douchy fools out there in the singles' scene, I don't need them in a novel, thank you very much. All guys brag, and talk shit, and give each other grief, tease and poke fun, but there's a big difference between someone being a little cocky, and being a total jerk.

Okay, rant over.

2. When it Comes to Dialogue, Less is More
this drink I like it ANOTHER gif Thor high quality HD Imgur
Chris Hemsworth, Thor
Humans are talkative, so novels need lots of dialogue. But to give your hero an air of being sure of himself, keep his lines to the point, and keep the fluff words to a minimum. Remember, he can think whatever he wants in his head, when you're in his POV, but when he's speaking, he's not going to wax poetic about the color of a girl's dress. A few meaningful, heartfelt lines are much more impactful than paragraphs of overly detailed dirty talk.

3. Tough Guys Aren't Bullies
Chris Evans, as skinny Steve, Captain America

Picking on people for sport isn't a show of strength. End of story.

4. Confidence is Quiet
Clint Eastwood, The Outlaw Josey Wales
A capable, dangerous man is assured of his own strength and skills, and doesn't need to broadcast this to the whole world. The second a guys says he's a badass is the second he's anything BUT a badass. When I'm reading a book, and the guy thinks to himself, "I'm such an f-ing badass" I immediately chuck the book into the giveaway pile.

5. Cussing Doesn't Make the Man
Bruce can cuss however much he wants to.
We all cuss. More than we should - at least I do. Barns make sailors of us all, I suppose. And yes, men cuss a lot. But seeing it written, too many expletives will detract from your meaning. Populating sentences of dialogue with lots of F bombs doesn't make the man sound more manly, and it gives the impression the author is trying too hard to get across his badassery. Let his actions show he's bad, and keep the cursing to a manageable level.

Unless you're Bruce. Then you can cuss however much you want to.

6. Strong Men Are Respectful to Ladies
Denzel Washington as Creasy, Man on Fire
And are kind to children.

7. Tough Guys Don't Have Some Universal Rule Against Falling in Love
Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Each story is unique, and sometimes love isn't easy to express; a lot of times it doesn't come about smoothly (wouldn't be worth reading about if it did). Treat each case individually. But strong men are never made less strong by the love of a strong woman; there's no Badass Handbook that says "Thou shalt not love." Love shouldn't be instant, and it should be born out of true chemistry, but it isn't something all men are desperate to avoid.

8. Individuality is Key
Devoted knight, bucking the system when morality calls for it, Ser Davos Seaworth, Game of Thrones
Tough guys are humans, and need to have many facets; some are leaders, some are devoted followers. Michael is quiet and surly; Mercy is both the happiest and the most twisted of the bunch. Ghost has to make the hard calls no one else could or would. No one wants to read about a bunch of clones - keep things unique and specific when writing multiple strong personalities.

9. There Are Different Kinds of Strength
Hobbitses, The Lord of the Rings
Toughness isn't just physical. It's mental and emotional, too. And maybe a character who isn't any good with his fists is the strongest emotionally, making difficult decisions and upholding honor, honesty, and decency.

10. Humor
Marvel to DC after the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer.
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy
Everybody's got a sense of humor, even if it's just a small one. Don't forget to add some levity.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic rules for Strong men! You can write my hero any time!