Ask a male author about your male character traits or thoughts.

Amazon links to my stories: Autumn Breeze, A More Perfect Union, Double Happiness, The Wolves of Sherwood Forest, Neanderthals and the Garden of Eden can be found down the right side of the blog.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Welcome our guest host: Joel Dorr

I'm happy to introduce a recent addition to RWASD, a great writer and another male point of view, Joel Dorr:
Real Men Write—and Read Romance

How often have you picked up a novel to find all the male characters were as vanilla flavored as a Carnation Instant Breakfast? They have no purpose other than to be a man prop character to push the story along. You’ve read them, the boyfriend who cheated on our heroin for unknown reasons or how about the doting, layered fiancé who works all the time, leaving our leading lady alone wanting more sex. Vanilla characters have their place—getting the back story out and even as a dialogue dummy for our main character, but how do we add a little flavor to the same old boring breakfast?

As a male and writing from a male perspective in romance, I find it helpful to develop comical and quirky traits that make us laugh at these Y chromosome characters. Perhaps it’s the funny way he suddenly breaks into a sweat whenever he spots someone’s mini-wheat adorably licking an ice cream cone and fumbling it through their five year-old fingers within splattering distance of his Michael Jordon Nikes. Or the uncontrollable, yet nerdy predictable way, his head spasms to the right craning up to look at ceiling tiles, whenever a pretty Asian gal tries to start a conversation with him.  These idiosyncrasies not only build an interesting male character, but the quirkiness is also relatable to the audience and memorable.  Can’t you feel the anxiety of a child nearly dumping his ice cream cone on your $300 pair of shoes? What do you do when someone you find extremely hot walks up to you?
Let’s use that as an example and dig into the neuroses of a character --let’s call him Bob, the same name as the host of this blog--and discover what makes him avert his attention away from..let’s say attractive Asian ladies. Some writers might naturally toss out the cliche explanation of a childhood crush on a sexy Asian teacher… Would anyone like a little dry toast with your Instant Breakfast? Every character has the potential for a shareable moment that moves the story along and adds some flavor. One method I use is to think like the readers of grocery store tabloids, searching out the juiciest and most ridiculous of possibilities.
In my imagination, Bob’s issue would look more like this:
While Bob was a tween of fourteen, he was chasing after an errant Frisbee, overthrown and clearing the fence, landing in the petunias under the bedroom window of the grumpy next-door neighbor. As Bob rummaged around looking for the Frisbee, careful not to trod on the old Asian woman’s flowers and get grounded again, he glanced inadvertently into the window.  Sleuthiness turned into horror as he was frozen like a character in a Stephen King novel.
The old Asian woman was nearly naked!  

Unable to move he stared at her, clad only in her stained bra and grannie underpants, pulled up over her large, double tummy roll.

Bob had never seen anything so revolting—well, there was that two-headed baby on the cover of the Enquirer Magazine, but this was real life.  She screamed and Bob forgot about the Frisbee, making a beeline for his home, hoping she was so shocked or too old to realize it was him. Unfortunately for poor Bob, that image would be burned into his retina, an unwanted visual recall for a lifetime.

Ding dong, Bob’s days are numbered the doorbell seemed to chime. As predicted, the old woman came to the front door and he awaited her trumped up, stalkerish tale of their encounter. Bob mumbled under his breath, “If I were going to be a peeping Tom, why would I be looking in her windows, when we have two MILFs in the neighborhood?”

“Robert?” Bob’s parents called in unison and he marched toward them trying to get his explanation straight for a reduced sentence. Using his full name was never a good sign.

“Mrs. Wong brought over this package for you. It seems the postman made a mistake and accidently left it at her home. She was hoping to give it to you in person, but I didn’t know you were home.”

 Maybe she didn’t realize it was Bob. Or perhaps she didn’t see him. Whatever the case, he was home free. Or was he? The next afternoon while playing Frisbee in the front yard Bob saw Mrs. Wong on the front porch. She turned catching his eyes and…sent a wink!  Yes, definitely a knowing wink confirming the events of the previous day. He would never forget the image of hospital-issued underpants pulled up over human fat inner tubes. And that disgusting discomfort would stay with him forever, tied to any encounter with an Asian woman, beautiful or not.

Ok, now which explanation is more fun and interesting? Crush on a pretty teacher or old woman in granny undies? And even if this is your main character, it makes him human and kind of adorkable, for having such a silly quirk. If it’s a character you don’t particularly want your reader to like in the first place, then your layers make him even more of a pathetic, loser-like jerk. Either way, chasing the laugh may help you enjoy adding some personality to your male character making him much more interesting. And come on, we can all relate, to some ridiculous idiotic tick we’ve manifested as a result of a simple, yet traumatic event, which happened long ago, so wouldn’t your reader?

I used this technique a lot when writing my new romantic comedy Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People.  Yes, it’s true, real men also write romantic comedies along with the ladies.  I have the “real man” pedigree growing up in Montana and Wyoming, where as a young boy, my brothers and I raced by horseback across the grass pastures of my grandfather’s ranch. There is no video game that can match the exhilaration of riding full speed on the back of a galloping horse. With a full access nature pass, I swam, rafted and fished many of the lakes and rivers of Wyoming.  Early inspiration hit when I located and walked down the same dirt path Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to hunker down in their Hole in the Wall hideout. My brothers and I carried fishing poles, instead of guns, that is when we didn’t have a pretend posse chasing us. I was able to put myself through college playing basketball, getting degrees in Theatre and Broadcasting. Later I began writing and developing stories for film and television, until 2006 when I became the Editor of Dramabiz Magazine, a theatre business management monthly.
How does a writer describe himself--with a story, of course? About 20 years ago, I flew to Wyoming to visit my family. Seated next to me on the airplane, was a gentleman with long, white hair, pulled back in a ponytail wrapped in leather ties with beautiful beads. We fell into an easy conversation telling each other our “stories”. He spoke of his tribe, their history and traditions. I countered with my clan, cowboys and Irish and German ancestors. In true “cowboys and Indians” fashion, the conversation turned to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and “Yellow Hair”. Generations of Dorrs living in Wyoming and Montana heard the stories—and not the kind you read in history books. We had much disdain for George Armstrong Custer, the great injustice the U.S. Government put on the native Indians and the fiction portrayed as historical fact. Finding common historical ground, the gray haired man shared how this too is a story passed down through the generations in his family, in fact some of his relatives died as they fought the American encroachment led by “Yellow Hair.” At the end of our trip, my new friend revealed that he was the official storyteller for the Oglala Sioux Nation. He expressed honor in meeting another tribe’s storyteller, which struck me. He said that I, just like him, was destined to be a storyteller, and that it was my responsibility to pass down my tribe’s history. Years later, I have come to realize what he meant. I have always felt a need to tell stories, as did my father and his father. Ironically, as I reflect back, I remember that I wrote my first play after my father took me to the battlefield at Little Big Horn and explained the truth behind the Indian Nations last great victory. I was in third grade. Who am I?  My name is Joel Michael Dorr and I’m a storyteller from Wyoming.

Thanks so much, Joel, but did he have to be named Bob? The elderly lady I saw was dancing  naked under the moon. Oh, I almost forgot.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun post, Joel and Bob! I admit, listening to your story was more entertaining than the part you meant us to focus on - haha!! I heard the most wonderful speech by a Greek anthropologist teaching in Australia about storytellers and our vital role in protecting our villages. It made me feel proud about what I do for the first time! Now I think I'll go listen to the speech again! I'm inspired! :-D