Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Fictional Male

by Barbara Early

(A re-post from the Inky Archives)

I was half done with a post on writing descriptions, when a commercial came on the Sleuth Channel. For Father's Day, the network is airing a series of movies chosen for their appeal to men. The promo, featuring clips of gritty cowboys, promised there'd be plenty of man stuff, such as "drinking, fighting, gambling, and spitting."

I can't wait. Yeah, right.

Despite that stellar description, I couldn't help think about what it takes to create a real, live fictional male, one that rings true, but still appeals to the often female reader.

There is nothing worse (for me, anyway) than reading a novel, particularly a romance novel, and coming to the conclusion that the hero is girly. Or a stereotypical he-man. So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite fictional men from television and what makes them click for me. (Oddly enough, they are all either detectives or spies.)

Frank Hardy. Yes, I'm kind of dating myself here. But Frank Hardy was my teen crush. While others swooned over Joe (who could sing and had the hair) I kept my eyes on the older and smarter of the two Hardy Boys. Frank had a sensitivity to him, but also a determination to do the right thing. Perhaps he won my sympathy by often having to play second fiddle to his younger brother. Or maybe it was those gorgeous eyes.

Remington Steele. Besides being not bad to look at (an understatement), Remington Steele was an interesting character. He was the redeemable rogue--the charming jewel thief turned PI who turned Laura Holt's world around. While handsome and well-tailored, he held to his own code of ethics and over time proved himself an able partner worthy of trust. Besides, he looked great in a tux and the accent was to die for too. Sigh.

Lee (Scarecrow) Stetson. Lee was a bit of a cowboy, not literally, but in the sense he worked alone and was good at what he did, but not so hot at relationships. But throw this quick-tempered, hot-shot spy into a relationship with a divorced housewife? What a combination! He needed to grow to allow someone else into his life and to learn to value her opinion. And yeah, he had great hair.

Adrian Monk. Did I run out of hunks? Not exactly. While not the most handsome of the leading men on this list, Monk stole my heart like no other. How could you not care for this man who was such a combination of strength and weakness? How could you not cheer him on as he doggedly sought his wife's killer even though his OCD and phobias plagued every step? And he made me laugh.

Chuck. An ordinary man called upon to do extraordinary things. Chuck started out with promise: an intelligent man, whose education and future is interrupted through no fault of his own. Chuck is sensitive and caring, even if he did lose the girl and is underappreciated. But when a supercomputer is installed in his head, he becomes invaluable to the CIA. A fish out of water, he rises to the challenge. Oddly enough, I find Chuck to be a more modern version of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, only with the roles reversed. A little too young for me, but a sweet boy.

Castle. How could I not like the story of a mystery writer turned detective? Castle is sophisticated and successful on the outside, often relying on his many connections to pull strings and get his own way. But his sweet relationship with his daughter rounds out this character as he plays Watson to Kate Beckett's Sherlock. Or is it the other way around?

Question: Who are your favorite male characters? Why? What ruins a male character for you?
Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and facebook scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. She taught secondary English and science for several years in a Christian school before home schooling her daughter successfully through high school. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance, and was a double finalist in the 2010 ACFW Genesis competition. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband and daughter.


  1. I think it is hard to find that right balance for a fictional male written by the pen of a woman! :)

    May I just add that it's good to see a picture of Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy from the '70s) here? Although I think Joe was sweet (and as you say, he could sing), Frank certainly had appeal. ;) Those blue eyes!!


  2. Thanks, Amber. It's nice to meet another Frank fan. Back in the day, all my friends had a crush on Joe, and when I bought the series on DVD to share with my then teen daughter, she also had a preference for Joe.

    I guess there's no accounting for taste. ;)

  3. First, I adore Castle. I love his relationship with his daughter and the cocky yet charming relationship with Beckett. I also love the whole crime solving writer thing, in fact my career plan is to become a famous crime writer who then goes on to solve murders with the police (you know in my head this totally would work).

    I agree with your assessment of the "hero" they are often crazy macho or women with men bits. This ideal man who is sensitive to women and can still be strong and protective, it's nice but very unrealistic. That's why I love Monk and Castle, they have massive flaws and they sometimes say things that have me cringing, but it pushes forward the relationships and sometimes drags them back staggeringly. People often bemoan the fact that Castle and Beckett are not dating yet and we're onto season 4 this autumn, but if that were to happen it would involve the writers ignoring the times they've both made massive mistakes (ones that make them both realistic characters).

    I personally think Eugene Fitzherbert from Tangled (AKA Flynn Rider) is a good example of a well written male character, he has his flaws and his strengths instead of being the two dimensional male counterpart to the more fleshed out main character.

  4. I tend to go for the misunderstood bad guy who is really a softy just trying to protect himself like Sawyer on Lost or Alex Kerev on Grey's Anatomy. I also love the artistic but manly guy. Check out Lucas Scott on One Tree Hill. Be still my soul :) An author and basketball star.

    So far my books all offer multiple male leads. That gives me a chance to contrast different types of guys and gives me a chance to use the bad boy types. My sexy sea captain in Dandelion has become iconic among my friends. Otherwise known as "temptation personified." I make it clear that this kind of guy is trouble and should be avoided, but it really makes for an interesting story.

    Oh, and I love House as a male lead. I guess he's really just another misunderstood bad guy. Not as hot, but crazy smart, which I find almost as attractive.

  5. Pam--
    I think we should create a sisterhood of female Crime/mystery writers who solve crimes. We can get all Charlie's Angels-like, only more literary.

    But I think you're on to something. Men, like any good character, need flaws to balance them. I remember attending a workshop on writing romance, and one of the maxims given was "we like to fix our men."

    Only I'm not so sure that always works out so well in real life. I've seen lots of women marry men whom they thought they could improve. Seems that some men are resistant to this idea. ;)

  6. Dina--

    I just met your sea captain last night on my Kindle. Temptation personified is a good way of putting it!

    I have to agree about House. He's a fascination. I'm not sure what makes him so appealing. Frankly, he's a jerk, but yet... Maybe misunderstood bad guy is right.

    The others I haven't seen. I guess I need to watch more television.

  7. Oh, yay, you met Lucio. He's probably my favorite single character I've ever written. You don't get to see the misunderstood part of him in this book, but if I ever finish the sequel, he'll make a cameo appearance and that will come out.

  8. Barb, you took me back to my childhood tv shows. Although you forgot Face from the A-Team and the Duke brothers.

    I don't know that I have a favorite male character. Will have to think on that.

    What ruins a male character for me is when he realizes he must have heroine completely because he loves her soooooo much that he can't keep his pants on. That says to me love is selfish and demanding. If a hero truly loved a heroine, he would restrain himself and wait until they've married.

    Obviously this is my way of confessing I read ABA romances. LOL.

    What else ruins a male character for me?

    A mustache.

    I'm fine with a beard. I'm fine with a goatee. But a mustache?! That's generally enough to make me stop reading.

    Thirdly, a hero who loves the heroine for no other reason than because she's beautiful. Surely there's something about her character that draws him in, and if I can't find any mention of that, I'm rather annoyed. What makes that girl different than the others?

  9. Dina, I think House is hot too. And he is thoroughly flawed.

  10. Barb, I totally agree House is a jerk. Sometimes. To understand the lure of his character, you have to see who he was in season 1 and how he has softened because of the relationships with his co-workers.

    He was so mean to Masters (Amber Tamlyn's character) because he wanted to test her to show her that even amid trials, she won't compromise her character. Although she did in the last episode, and she realized she'd sold a piece of her soul in the process--putting her one step closer to becoming like House.

    And House knew that. He cared enough about her to push her away to save her from becoming as bad of people as himself and the rest of the members on his team.

    Plus I like a hero who doesn't care really what other people think about him.

  11. I love Pam's assessment of Castle. She summed him up so well. His relationship with his daughter is why I love him. Does anyone remember when he had his daughter duct tape him to the chair and then leave him to figure out how to get out of it? LOL! I love Castle.

    Like Barb, Monk is one of my favs - for the reasons mentioned, as is Remington Steele.

    My number one favorite male lead is Dr. Sam Beckett, leaping through time trying to right what once went wrong. Talk about a self-sacrificing hero who does the right thing no matter the cost. Sigh...

    And though he's not a hunk, I love the serious outer shell of the honorable and deeply sensitive Klingon known as Worf. I loved the way the writers developed his character. This is a true case of looking at the heart - at the real person inside - instead of outer appearances.

    This is fun, Barb!

  12. Oh, I forgot my newest flawed hunky hero - Nick Caffrey. Smart, definitely flawed, but definitely a sensetive hunk, creatively clever, and the way he wears that fedora. Oh my.

    I liked House (never thought of him as a hunk, though) until this last season. Yes, I understood what drove him, but I don't understand or like the direction it took him. I don't see how he can come back from this.

  13. Gina--
    I think I agree with you on all those things that ruin a male character--except perhaps the mustache. I could deal with a mustache. I don't find it alluring. It just wouldn't be a turn-off.

    I'm not sure I agree about why House pushed Masters away. I don't think he wants to keep people from becoming more like him. I think he relishes it. Since he thinks himself God's gift to diagnostic medicine, any step his fellows take to become more like him is a plus in his eyes.

    I suspect it had more to do with 13 coming back.

  14. Gina, I read ABA romances, too. Lol.

  15. i loved Remington Steele and Face from the A Team, but my personal favorite, hands down was MACGYVER. Handsome and handy for making something out of nothing. He was my monday evening date all through college *sigh*.

    I also liked Nick from the show Riptide (he was the helocopter pilot). For movie heroes: Indiana Jones and Maximus (loved the farmer, man of the dirt and family man thing).

    I guess I like rugged type men who have multiple talents or can fix anything because of their intelligence level.

    love the post

  16. Suzie--

    Sounds like we like a lot of the same men. I have to see if I can Netflix Quantum Leap. I never got into it when it was on.

    I do have to agree about Worf though. He actually reminds me a little of Casey's character on Chuck. The military guy a little late finding his sensitive side. And surprised and a little miffed that he has one. Adorable, for some reason.

  17. Hey Barb, before I get to your questions, I wanted to make an observation about something that is definitely wrong here. You said,
    For Father's Day, the network is airing a series of movies chosen for their appeal to men. The promo, featuring clips of gritty cowboys, promised there'd be plenty of man stuff, such as "drinking, fighting, gambling, and spitting."

    Am I the only one thinking that for Mother's Day, if I get the chance to sit around all day, I don't want to see movies of other mothers and their struggles, of PMS and menopause, or drugs and alcohol addictions?

    I want to escape into a world of fictional heroes.

    I want to watch movies of cute guys, muscular men and rugged ranchers.

    I mean, Mother's Day is a celebration of motherhood, but it's also a reminder that I'm getting old and that I've got more stretch marks than tracks leading into the Grand Central Station.

    And why is Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For a Hero running through my mind about now? :o

    Great post, btw. :)

    Anita Mae.

  18. Deb--

    Rugged men who can fix things because of their intelligence. That's an interesting trend too. I suppose House would fit into that category. Then again, so would Hank on Royal Pains on USA. I've seen him referred to as the MacGyver of medicine.

    Thanks for chiming in!

  19. Anita--

    I don't get the man appeal of a gritty Western either, or war movies for that matter, but I guess it is real.

    Although, if I have my druthers, I think I'd rather have my hubby watch those than have him escape into a world of cute babes, curvy women, and perky cheerleaders.

    Hmmm. I wonder if I have a double standard here.

  20. Suzie--

    Almost missed the comment about Neal Caffrey (White Collar). I like Neal, but for some reason find myself more drawn to the nerdy FBI agent.

  21. You picked a few of my favorites too, Frank Hardy, and yes, Adrian Munk. He breaks my heart with his constant devotion to his wife. I said to my husband just last week, that I thought Adrian Monk was was terribly romantic figure.

  22. Christine--

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Adrian has romantic potential. I think Trudy knew what she was doing.

  23. Oh, ho! DebH mentioned Nick from Riptide. I started to mention him on my list but got sidetracked by Neal Caffrey. I loved Nick. I loved The Mimi. I loved that show! I really need to sign up for Netflicks.

    Barb, I like Peter Burke, on White Collar, too. He is a nerd, but totally lovable. He and Neal and Mozzie have great male bonding chemistry.

  24. Thanks, Suzie--

    Peter Burke! I couldn't remember his name. But I agree, they have the great bromance going. Mozzie is adorable too.

  25. I agree with most of the comments! I would also add Walker, Texas Ranger. A little clueless in the romance department, but smart and capable of handling himself. In that same line there's Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

  26. Aji--

    Yes, I agree. Walker and Sully are pretty close. Both rugged outdoor types, but able to sustain relationships with intelligent women. Nice additions to our growing list!

  27. LOL--and it took me a while to recognize Aji as Joanne.

  28. Oh Barb, Parker Stevenson beats Shaun Cassidy in my book any day--I never appreciated Shaun's "Do Doo ron ron" song either, LOL. When Parker Stevenson was in the miniseries North & South Part 2, I was happy he still had his swooshy hair. I wonder what he looks like now.

    I love Castle and Chuck. Also Seely Booth on Bones. He's dedicated, a loving dad, funny, and the way Booth looks at Brennan melts my bones (no pun intended.)

    Ah, Byron Sully. :-) Super-supportive, gentle yet masculine, a true partner to his wife, and the man could toss an axe like nobody's business.

    Fun topic!

  29. This is a wonderful list of leading men! I notice that the men who appeal to us most are articulate and engage in a dialogue with the female lead (Booth and Bones, Chuck and Sara, Adrian and Natalie, Remington Steele and Laura.
    Mustn't forget Michael Weston. I like his style of tough guy who's idea of fine dining is yogurt for every meal. There is a strong relationship between him, Fiona, and Sam. But while he is tough and enimagtic to a fault, he always come to the rescue. He always takes up the call to defend the helpless. In fact that is the plot line of every episode.
    And he is never girly! It bothers me when women write men who express themselves like women. Michael Weston SHOWS his values and character more than talks about them. In this vein I find Castle a little too expressive - but then he's a writer.
    A final word - real men never, I mean never, say "That's cute," so please girls, don't make them say it.

  30. Susanne--

    How could it take this long to get to Seely Booth? Haven't seen his son Parker on for a long time though. But yes. Definitely list-worthy. I love the dynamics between the more emotional Seely to the analytical Bones. It's a role reversal of stereotypes.

  31. Gina, you and I must disagree on heroes with a mustache. Tom Selleck without a mustache just looks dumb. Totally did not like him when he went through that phase. Magnum was my first TV crush, and I will watch just about anything Tom is in. I love him on Blue Bloods.

    And oh how I love Magnum. I watch the Jesse Stone movies just because Tom Selleck is in them, ditto for Blue Bloods. And the characters have grown on me. He's AWESOME in Blue Bloods.

    Barb, you go girl!!! Joe is sooooooo overrated. Especially the Shaun Cassidy version. I love the Hardy Boys books, the Casefiles from the 80's and 90's specifically. That Frank is just awesome. In fact, even though I'm not a member of the Hardy Detective Agency community anymore, I'm still Vice-President For Life of the Frankettes.

    Quantum Leap is on Netflix, but not all the whole series. Love that show.

    And Captain Jean-Luc Picard... *drool* Everything about him!

    I also love Shawn on Psych. He's so utterly ridiculous how can you not?

    Also must give a shout-out to Dominick Cherrett in Lady of the Mist. Laurie Alice really outdid herself with him! And my CP's Cajun cop. Hopefully the rest of the world will get to meet him soon.

  32. Kathy--

    Michael Weston (Burn Notice)is another. I personally wonder if he might benefit from a few more flaws. He's a bit white-knightish, in my opinion. Sam is an interesting character, for that matter. Gotta love the lovable slob and sluggard who steps up when you need him.

    (And I think I took the 'cute' remark out of the novella. LOL)

  33. Rachel,

    Captain Picard. The hero for those of us who REALLY hate facial hair? Just teasing. Commanding, cerebral. I can get that.

    And I agree. Shawn on Psych is just plain fun. I like the conflict caused when he tries to be honest when his whole life is basically a lie. There's some serious growth there.

  34. From a Christian male point of view--I really hate men being portrayed as drinkers, hell raisers, rough, tough and spitting. I like westerns and I remember seeing for weeks an advertisement for a western show that was being aired on DirecTV. I couldn't wait. When I saw the first episode, I was sick. The language was terrible. The used four letter words that probably weren't even known in those days. I like Castle, The Mentalist, Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck has always been a favorite.)I really don't get it when the main character can't be a man without all the vulgarity. I think it takes more of a man to be true to himself whether in real life or on the screen. I subcribe to Netflix so I can find credible movies. 'Nuff said.

  35. Chalk up another Parker Stevenson fan, here!
    My first hero crush had to be Roger Moore as James Bond. *sigh* Followed by Remington Steele and Bruce Willis in Moonlighting, and later, the guy who played the lead in JAG.
    My current craze is for the guy who plays Damon in Vampire Diaries.
    But I have a hankering for comedic guys, too... Tom Hanks in Splash, John Cusack in Better Off Dead.
    It just depends on the story, in my opinion... Fun post, Barb!

  36. Amen, Tom!

    Nice to hear from the male quarter (or is it half?). Yes, a guy can be a real man without doing any of those things. In fact, more of a man if he doesn't--at least in my opinion.

    Anyone can go along with cultural dictates. It takes a man to stand for God and what he believes is right, even if everybody around him is going in the opposite direction.

  37. Ooooh, Niki. I forgot about Roger Moore. Loved him in The Saint too, even before James Bond. I have trouble picking my favorite Bond--Moore or Brosnan.

    I have to say, I like the comic hero a bit too. I've really taken to dramedy, that incredibly difficult combination of drama and comedy. Willis did it well in Moonlighting. So did Tony Shalhoub in Monk. There's something special about a character that can make you laugh, yet challenge you to really care about them.

    And you're right. This was a fun topic. And just think, we have that silly commercial to blame!

  38. Me, I prefer not to use Hollywood created males, which is why, when my publishers ask for actors who are like my hero, I am completely stumped. TV and most movie actors just don't do it for me.

    Since I write novels, I prefer to create the kinds of males who appeal to me in novels or just out of my on fantasies. I like damaged men, men with rough pasts, who are nonetheless kind to children and animals, have a sense of humor--not comedians, but can see lighter, brighter sides--and are just plain hot for some reason, that elusive je ne c'est pas of--dare I say it--sexyness. They also have to respect women. I'm not say are always push-overs. On the contrary. A little justifiable ruthlessness works for me. I've read soe articles by Christian males about the feminization and the baffoonery of males Hollywood has created in the past 50 years. It's always the woman who is smarter and more with it. In romance, herines are expected to help save the male from himself, but let's not unman him in the process, yet I see too much of this. I want a hero who is still standing as a man, or even manlier, at the end.
    The men I so often see in movies and TV shows now are just wimpy. They talk like their voices haven't changed yet and science tells us this is actually true, that men actually have les testosterone than they used to thus higher voices. Not apealing to me. Tenor adult male is one thing. Tenor who I can't tell from a teen is not. Yet teen males are maturing sooner.

    But what do you expect of someone who has a crush on an actor who died before she was born? Humphrey Bogart.

  39. Laurie--

    Good point. Just to make it clear, I wasn't talking about using Hollywood males in our writing--just asking what qualities of fictional males make them seem real and appealing (in the case of a romantic hero). And since television seems to be a medium from which so many of us can draw...

    I have to say, I agree with the comment about the feminization of men by Hollywood. It's one thing to having a sensitive side, a totally different thing to have a backbone made of jello.

    And clearly, Humphrey Bogart is the a great example--another who was not drop-dead gorgeous, but had that appeal. That final scene in Casablanca--incredible. There's a man making the hard decisions, and doing the right thing just because it's right. And yet Rick showed sensitivity too, especially when he allowed the young couple to win the money they needed for their exit visas from his gambling tables. Great character.

  40. You nailed so many of my own favorites, Barb. Seriously, we must have been separated at birth!

  41. Lisa--

    What can I say? Impeccable taste?

  42. Great post Barb and loved the comments. I adored John on CHIPS. The "other " cop. Ponch was annoying. Still is.

    Magnum. Love all the manliness with a silly side. He didn't take himself too seriously. Love that trait.

    I am so glad someone brought up MacGuyver. Lone wolf with a tender side.

    Dies anyone remember the show the District? Craig T Nelson played the police commissioner of Wash DC. Well one of his sidekicks was the bad cop played by David OHara. I was depressed when he left the show. Okay he definitely did not have the sense of humor factor. But Sigh.

  43. Deb--

    John (or was it Jon) on Chips was definitely a sweetheart. Come to think of it, the paramedics on Emergency were hard to say goodbye to too.

    I don't know why I never got into Magnum. I seriously need to start netflixing a few of these.

  44. I'm with you on Chuck. But he can be a bit girly sometimes too. ;-)

  45. Bex,

    Hmmm... I never thought of Chuck as girly, just nerdy and a tad immature. OK, maybe a tiny bit girly, especially when he's indecisive. I think the thing that makes him work (for me, anyway)is that he's a growing character, stepping up to the plate.

  46. Way to go with a subject we can all talk about, Barb!

    I just heard a rumor that one of my current crushes, Michael Fassbender, may be the next Bond.


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