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How to Write a Male Character (If You’re Not)

I will now attempt to answer a cosmic question that has eluded even the best of authors for centuries.

Now, as a general rule, females are much better at writing males than males are at writing females. That said, there are some critical mistakes that I have noticed over the years when it comes to male characters written by females, and I would like to offer my assistance.

So here we go: How to (accurately) write a male character!


The male mind is much harder to write than you would think.

When I read a book with a male hero written by a woman, there are usually two diametric outcomes: either the hero acts and thinks exactly like a girl pretending to be a boy, or the hero is uncannily convincing and spot-on. It’s rarely middle ground.

The classic Revolutionary War novel Johnny Tremain is an excellent example of a female author, Esther Forbes, who absolutely nailed the male mind in her book. Even though Forbes still writes with a beautiful, distinctly feminine voice, she manages to make Johnny and all the other male characters believable and realistic. Forbes understood that she didn’t have to change her voice as a female author to accurately describe a male character.

On the other hand, I have also read other books where the main male character is just … off. He doesn’t act or think the way an actual male would. He’s either unnaturally moral, brave, selfless, and sacrificial … or woodenly selfish and crude without a human bone in his body.

So here are some tweaks to make your male character more realistic. Most of these will pertain to a protagonistic role, but they will help gain perspective on any male character.

Mistake #1: Giving Him an Overly Protective Instinct

Solution: Constrain most protective instincts to his subconscious

Yes, boys are protective. But they’re hardly aware of it—and rarely think about it.

A common mistake I see in a female author’s book will be a description of the boy’s thoughts about how he will protect his sister, his mother, or his crush. It’s an attractive thought, one that is perfectly good, wholesome, and desirable.

But it’s not always realistic.

Let’s say you’re writing a scene where the hero needs to save a girl. To be realistic, do not write a single thought in his mind about how he would never forgive himself if anything happened to her, or how he can’t let this happen. Or, if you must, write it in a chopped, underlying way. He hasn’t the time.

When a man steps into a protective role, it is 90% instinctual. Men are action-driven, and most protective moments happen before they even think about it.


When a man steps into a protective role, it is 90% instinctual.

A man's mind gets put on hold while his training, his gut, his reflexes take complete control in an urgent situation. Write how he does it, not what he thinks while he does it. Minimal thoughts, mostly actions. Yes, he’s doing it out of love, ultimately, but that is not what is on his mind at this very second. His mind is wholly focused on how to save her, not why.

Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes those thoughts do go through a man's mind, and it's not wrong to write them as such. But it is hard to accomplish in a believable, relatable way.

Mistake #2: Making Him Totally Selfless

Solution: Make him mostly selfish, even when he acts selflessly

This one will get me in trouble, but I have to address it.

Even if you're writing about the good guy, never mistake his selfless actions for selfless intentions. You’re writing about a man, not an angel. Your male character should at least notice what's in it for him.


Your male character should at least notice what's in it for him.

This applies to every male character, good or bad. It also works for females, of course, but you absolutely can't forget to address this for your male characters.

So whenever your hero does something, good or bad, mention why he’s doing it—and never make that reason just “because it’s the right thing to do.”


You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Now, I’m not saying males never do anything because it’s the right thing to do. In fact, good men have that single motivation all the time. But unless you live in a man’s mind for a couple of years, it’s nearly impossible to time that kind of motivation correctly.

In short: unless you're writing about Captain America, who literally does everything because it's the "right thing to do", give each male character some kind of incentive in what he does. Definitely let his conscience play a role, but try to tie each thing he does to a personal reason.


All right, painfully honest moment over. Let's move onto the next one:

Mistake #3: Making Him Too Sensitive

Solution: Give him a little arrogance

Before you sharply disagree, let me clarify my point. Men can be and are sensitive—some more than others. There is absolutely nothing wrong with including sensitive males in your story.

But it’s challenging to execute the sensitive male correctly, which is really what I’m addressing here. It's just too easy to wander into sissy territory, and—unless your character actually is a bit of a wimp—it makes it harder for the reader to like him.

To automatically improve your male character’s believability, give him an air of confidence and indifference … a devil-may-care attitude. Or at least let him try. Even if he cares, odds are nine-to-one that he won’t show it. Guys often won’t show that they care unless it’s a fairly serious moment. And when they do show their truest feelings, it's probably a moment they'll remember for the rest of their life: a profession of love, an admittance of guilt, a recollection of a tender memory.

So if your character is a likable male, make him act confident, even if he’s putting it on. Even shy males will attempt to behave confidently, whether they know how to or not. It’s a natural tendency for a guy to act like he’s in control—this applies to any personality type. As always, there are exceptions … but they are exceptions.

Speaking of Sensitivity in Males …


Have your guy be a little clueless about the feelings of others (depending on his personality, of course). How others feel shouldn’t be on his mind very often. What others are thinking or planning, sure. But thoughts pondering what his friends are feeling should be spare and occasional.


As a general rule (according to experts like Jordan Peterson) men are more interested in things, while women are more interested in people. This naturally gives men a tendency to pay attention to how things work than how people work. Demonstrating this will instantly give your male characters a believable feel.

Make the moments when a male character tries to be sensitive awkward, because it will be a foreign area to him. For example, if he’s trying to figure out the way a girl feels about him, you probably shouldn’t let him get it right.

When your male character is being sensitive, here’s some tips:

  • Make his attempt a little rough around the edges

  • Include some humor (a common way for males to break the tension when things get touchy)

  • If he’s sharing his heart, make it REALLY difficult for him. No matter how in touch he is with his feelings, the words won’t always be on the tip of his tongue, even if he can hear them in his mind. It’s just how it is.

  • Let some of his words come out all wrong—when males try to be sensitive, many of their mental filters stop working; often they’ll say something rude or crude without realizing it, which can add fuel to the conflict in your story.

Although we’ve only scratched the surface, hopefully you find these tips helpful! Of course, there’s no wrong or right way to do this, and personal experiences will vary from person to person. If you want to learn more about writing male characters, I recommend reading this excellent article by Hannah Heath. It actually taught me a lot about writing male characters myself, even as a male author. I also found this amazing article on Wattpad to be a super helpful guide.

Did I miss your most burning question about male characterization? Let's chat in the comments!

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댓글 25개


I found this post at just the right time. After reading The Outsiders, I've been feeling a bit low about my own skills in writing male characters, and these tips are a big help. Also, great example with Johnny Tremain! I read that book every year and Esther Forbes' ability to write a character so different from herself blows me away every time.

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Joshua Sword
Joshua Sword
3월 04일
답글 상대:

I’m really glad this helped you!

좋아요

First off, thank you soooooo much for making this article. I've been writing male character since I was less than ten because the other girls I wrote with never wanted to write guys. As a consequence, I have this LOVELY problem where I'm most likely to write them too protective and too sensitive. Currently, I'm writing the primary male character in a roleplay I'm doing with a girl, and this guy is literally an angel. 😂 A guardian angel to be precise. However, he's very much like a human. I lamely excuse his protectiveness and emotional thinking as him being an angel and therefore different than a human man, but I knew since I started writing him that I'm writing him way…

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Joshua Sword
Joshua Sword
2023년 6월 29일
답글 상대:

Love the conflict you've got going here and that you are being very conscious of how the characters relate to each other. You're on the right track.


It might come across a bit forced if you have Anahera blurt out all of his past emotions. And I'd argue this isn't just a male trait. If he's moving through the five stages of grief, he's moving past anger into the "bargaining" phase. Since the events can't be undone, this would probably look like him focusing on the "what-if" scenarios: what he should have done, what everyone else could have done, what could have gone differently.


BUT you're an author and you want the juicy stuff to come to light. You want…


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게스트
2023년 6월 27일

First off, thank you soooooo much for making this article. I've been writing male character since I was less than ten because the other girls I wrote with never wanted to write guys. As a consequence, I have this LOVELY problem where I'm most likely to write them too protective and too sensitive. Currently, I'm writing the primary male character in a roleplay I'm doing with a girl, and this guy is literally an angel. 😂 A guardian angel to be precise. However, he's very much like a human. I lamely excuse his protectiveness and emotional thinking as him being an angel and therefore different than a human man, but I knew since I started writing him that I'm writing him way…

좋아요

게스트
2023년 6월 07일

At first, really thanks for writing this article!

It's so helpful when a man tell me how to make a male character!

But i have a question... I always write my male characters' reactions based on my brother, my boyfriend & my male friends

But when i want to challenge myself by writing a boyxboy relationship... Some of my friends that saw it, said that boys don't get worried about each other like this or don't talk about their day like this! And tell me this couple, both feel a bit like girl!

But my brother & boyfriend do it & talk to me...

So i don't why this time my make characters aren't acceptably believable...

May you guide me?!

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Joshua Sword
Joshua Sword
2023년 9월 09일
답글 상대:

*EDIT* Some of the most interesting male friendships are the ones that are unequal. The skinny intellectual befriending the big dumb warrior is so popular that it's a cliché … because it works. When you write a male friendship, look for their inequalities and see if they can build a relationship out of mutual respect for each other's different strengths. This can be a lot more interesting than two chess champions who have more of a rival relationship but no real differences. It can be much more fun to watch a mismatched pair: maybe a klutzy dude who is brilliant in the English language and his Mexican friend who speaks broken English but has a master's degree in mechanical engineering and is…

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게스트
2023년 4월 14일

"Now, as a general rule, females are much better at writing males than males are at writing females."


[CITATION NEEDED]


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Joshua Sword
Joshua Sword
2023년 5월 19일
답글 상대:

Hey I got out of the citation by saying “general rule” 😂


But one citation would be the Bechdel test, which analyzes fiction written by men to see how realistically they wrote the female characters. The requirements to pass are low—you just need two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. And the overwhelming majority of male authors do not pass even that low of a hurdle.


I’m not an advocate of the Bechdel test as a carte-blanche way of criticizing fiction. Some of the best stories out there fail the test, especially books and films written for male audiences. But it definitely exposes how difficult it is to accurately portray the opposite sex…


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Joshua Sword

I'm twenty-six and work as a livestream producer by day. I'm highly facetious. It's very hard to take me seriously, a fact that I carefully nurture and protect, because I don't want people calling me Mr. Josh and kissing my hand and handing me scotch or whatever they do in the serious world. I like my own world just fine.

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