Emotional Overload

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dios4vida
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Emotional Overload

Post by dios4vida » August 13th, 2012, 2:51 pm

I'll obviously welcome answers from everyone, but I'm specifically looking at the men of the house for some help here.

I tend to write male protagonists, usually third person limited POV, who are too whiny or too introspective or, well, girly to be believable. My critique partner confirmed my fears by stating my last WIP suffered from this. And wouldn't you know it, today I wrote another male protagonist into an overly-emotional scene that, even though it's a first draft, I know I can't (and don't want to) keep.

The problem is, I don't know what else to do with him. We've just hit the midpoint turn, where the past he's been running from has come back to bite him in the butt. It's alienated his friends and now he's left to deal with the damage. I need him to man up, for lack of a better term, and deal with this 'ghost' so he can rally himself and his friends to fight back. It's a vulnerable time, where he has to admit to things he's been hiding for a long, long time. I've been trying to write this for a few days and everything I try just reeks of girly melodrama.

Anyone have any tips for writing believable emotional struggles in a male character? I obviously tilt too far to the emotionally aware, I-feel-this-let's-muse-over-it-and-deal-with-it but I don't want to go all Conan the Barbarian let-go-kill-things-until-I-feel-better type "man".
Brenda :)

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by klbritt » August 13th, 2012, 3:19 pm

I would run the situation by some of your male friends and ask how they would respond. When I write critical responses to the main male character in my WIP, I try to picture how my husband would act and what he would say (not that the male character is modeled after him, because he's not. It's just my hubby is the primary male figure in my life and it's easiest to imagine those things that he would do/say.)

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by CharleeVale » August 13th, 2012, 3:33 pm

I'm hoping Sanderling will come and help me out, cause I feel like my entire WIP (which she just read) is male emotional overload.

I doubt it the actual emotionality or the depth of emotion that's causing you problems. Saying that you write a male 'over-emotionally' isn't really correct, because that implies that men have less feelings that women do, or that women tend to deal with ALL THE FEELINGS incorrectly. But men and women do process emotion in vastly different ways.

While women tend to dwell, to analyze, to rehash, men don't. The transmute. Men take emotions (and I'm referencing specifically extreme situations, and generalizing, don't come lynch me) and use them to fuel their other drives, because they are task oriented.

For example, in my WIP, my Male MC's girlfriend is being held hostage. Every time he makes a mistake she gets injured. It hurts him, hurts him deeply, but in the situation he can't afford to dissolve into a puddle of tears. He acknowledges the grief that he is feeling, and then pours it into his determination to save her.

I think that's what may need to happen here. Allow the pain and emotion to light a fire under your characters butt and make him determined. Don't let him wallow, make him actively trasmute his feelings (especially the ones he's having a hard time with) into something useful for him.

I hope this helps!

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by polymath » August 13th, 2012, 3:54 pm

Writing sketches for practice based on "male" behaviors are a best practice. They should be construed as throw-away exercises.

At the top, masculine men do not feel. When they do, they suppress their feelings. Bottle them up and let them boil over. Take them out on anyone nearby, whether they're blameless or not.

Masculine men compete for status. Any masculine interaction is a game of one-upmanship, king of the hill, top of the clique gaming for status. The point of masculine behaviors is to impress potential competitors into submission and coerce or seduce potential love interests into at least cooperation. If impression fails, then the level of clashing rises from contention to confrontation. If one party doesn't back down, the clash rises to conflagration. If one party chooses not to engage, that party is considered vulnerable or no competition by the aggressive party.

Human interpersonal interactions occur in seven categories:
Coodetermination: mutual efforts to satisfy mutual wants
Cooperation: reciprocal efforts to satisfy reciprocal wants
Coordination: proportioned efforts to satisfy proportioned wants
Contention: differences of wants
Confrontation: clashing differences of wants
Conflagration: open combat

Masculine men behave the same way toward feminine women, as toward feminine men or masculine women.

My toys, muscles, ideas, friends, lovers, jobs, homes, cars, neighborhoods, money, etc., are bigger, better, more expensive, more useful, work longer, work stronger, more impressive than yours.

Says you.

Oh yeah? Prove it.


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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by sierramcconnell » August 13th, 2012, 4:59 pm

I've never had this problem. Quite the reverse, actually. I always write women (when I have them, because there is a distinct lack unfortunately) as unemotional and detached or trying to get something. Or even if I do have girly characters, they're angels\demons and have the ability to choose sex or have no sex at all.

I think only one person said I had two characters that were a little too touchy, but because they grew up together and were essentially family and all they had, it was normal for them to touch so much in context to the time period and how they acted.

I'm not sure how you can 'man up' your guys, except to study how people act in public, in books, and in movies. There is a certain way guys just act around each other.

I tried typing it out, but there's just no way of explaining how people act. I would watch movies in your genre and how they differ.
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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by Sommer Leigh » August 13th, 2012, 5:12 pm

From my experience, men are very indirect about their emotions, so I write with that in mind. For example, if my husband is hurt by something that has happened, he shows that emotion in a different way, by getting angry or disinterested or over emphasizes an entirely different problem and never or rarely acknowledges the actual issue. He never just..hurts.

Man he'd love to know I was on a public forum pyscho-analyzing him. Let's just keep this between us, shall we?

Like others have pointed out, they are also task oriented and I think women tend to be more expressive when dealing with their emotions. My husband, again for example, will see a friend acting passive aggressive and confront her/him directly or ignore it if it seems silly to him. I, on the other hand, tend to consider how he/she is going to react when I confront them and consider the best approach before approaching. (Although my husband says I have tact issues, so I'm not a good female example in this situation, I think. Most girls won't confront at all.)

It's not a perfect system and it tends to strip us down to the bare bones of our stereotypes, but gender roles are culture/society taught and the members of the same culture/society are generally get taught the same way. Stereotypes might read boring, but they aren't completely off the mark either.

I hope Claudie has a chance to respond because she has a gift for writing male characters. Her male characters are completely believable and if I didn't know she was a she, I wouldn't guess it.
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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by wilderness » August 13th, 2012, 5:59 pm

To echo what others have said, the main difference is how men express their emotions. They tend to express it with action, not words. They are angry: they punch something. They are in love: they'll fix your car. They won't come out and say it, usually but then again actions speak louder than words. That's why we love 'em.

Of course the strong silent type is definitely a stereo-type but I do think the main complaint my husband has when reading female authors' male characters is that they are too wordy, especially about the one thing men hate to talk about: their feelings.

Oh, and what polymath mentioned about competition. Men are REALLY competitive, esp when their masculinity might be on the line.

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by wilderness » August 13th, 2012, 6:06 pm

dios4vida wrote:
Anyone have any tips for writing believable emotional struggles in a male character? I obviously tilt too far to the emotionally aware, I-feel-this-let's-muse-over-it-and-deal-with-it but I don't want to go all Conan the Barbarian let-go-kill-things-until-I-feel-better type "man".
He doesn't have to go and kill something, but I imagine he could let off steam with some sort of action, whatever is up his alley. Whacking weeds with a machete, driving his truck too fast, downing a bottle of Scotch, anything that might show his aggression in a male overkill sort of way.

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by LurkingVirologist » August 14th, 2012, 2:31 am

dios4vida wrote:I'll obviously welcome answers from everyone, but I'm specifically looking at the men of the house for some help here.

I tend to write male protagonists, usually third person limited POV, who are too whiny or too introspective or, well, girly to be believable. My critique partner confirmed my fears by stating my last WIP suffered from this. And wouldn't you know it, today I wrote another male protagonist into an overly-emotional scene that, even though it's a first draft, I know I can't (and don't want to) keep.

The problem is, I don't know what else to do with him. We've just hit the midpoint turn, where the past he's been running from has come back to bite him in the butt. It's alienated his friends and now he's left to deal with the damage. I need him to man up, for lack of a better term, and deal with this 'ghost' so he can rally himself and his friends to fight back. It's a vulnerable time, where he has to admit to things he's been hiding for a long, long time. I've been trying to write this for a few days and everything I try just reeks of girly melodrama.

Anyone have any tips for writing believable emotional struggles in a male character? I obviously tilt too far to the emotionally aware, I-feel-this-let's-muse-over-it-and-deal-with-it but I don't want to go all Conan the Barbarian let-go-kill-things-until-I-feel-better type "man".
Hrm. I don't think 'introspective' is necessarily a bad thing for a male MC, or even something I'd associate with a gender stereotype. What I think you are getting at, is that your feel like your male MC is introspective in a way that's too emotional or wordy? I'm certainly not known for having the kindest internal monologue, but I don't think that's terribly unusual. I'm not saying I've got an inner drill sergeant going 24-7, but I suppose I'm more likely to be 'aggressively motivating' than self-comforting. Not recommending it as a lifestyle choice, but hey, you asked :D .

I also tend to percolate much more than most of the women I've been close to. Things bubble under the surface while I mull them over in ways that might be considered cold or abstract, treating difficult emotions as a problem to be solved more than a thing to be experienced. As other people have mentioned, that 'fix things' stereotype is there for a reason. If anything, it sometimes results in a weird emotional back-loading, where the intense feelings and emotive behavior come after a difficult situation has been resolved, rather than as a prerequisite for solving it.

I'd suggest looking at break-ups as a guide - either your own, or those of close friends. I think the ways that men and women process and behave during the break-up of a long term relationship can be used as a template for how they deal with other intense situations. Especially if you contrast 'sudden' break-ups (acute emotional stress) vs. the failed marriage type break-up (chronic emotional stress). It's an imperfect analogy, but it might help you get into the right ballpark.

Finally, consider that asking for help is something of a challenge for a lot of guys (though certainly not all). Sometimes us men-folk will take complete ownership of a problem, going the stoic/self-reliant route, even to the point of being cold and pushing other people away while we deal with our problem. I'm not saying it's smart, but I will confess to having done it a few times, and things usually have to be pretty screwed up before I'll let somebody know.

PS Yeah - if we like you, we'll try to fix everything in sight. Car. Computer. Ikea furniture. Whatever. Doesn't matter how long it takes. The more difficult the better.
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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by Hillsy » August 14th, 2012, 5:08 am

As a man - I can't really help all that much actually. Effectively what you're after is a definition of an man, which I think is too broad to observe from inside the gender. Why? It's impersonal, and it's very difficult to be impersonal about yourself. And so, from a male point of view reading this thread, I see it largely as a mixture of stereotypes, macro-psychology and social construction.......which, granted, is a perfectly acceptable way of looking at it...

Now here's where I will throw in some thoughts. Taking all of the advice as generalisation and probability, there's always outliers. Not every man can fix things, not every man is a "Hmm....that is bad news.....I'm just going outside where I can let this calm, quiet facade fall and smash stuff with tools". But you have to consider 3 factors when stepping outside the norm....

1. Consistency: (Or if you are 95% frog, people are going to call you a frog) If you have a lumberjack who spits tacks, drinks diesel and wrestles bears, we're thinking of a stereotype. If he then goes all weeping at gameshows, we've got a huge bridge to gap between the two. Yes, you can make it a feature but that takes a ton of skill (though you can argue the pay-off is worth it).

2. Situation: (Or don't send a eunuch to impregnate the maid) If you have a non-stereotypical man, you can't really have a world that would ignore him if he wasn't the main character. For example a tribe favours strength and action, and yet a man who mopes and whines about life like Hamlet trapped in the big brother house, wins one punch up and is proclaimed tribal leader. That doesn't fit. For a great example of this, check out The Steel Remains, Richard Morgan. One of the most revered swordsmen in the land is homosexual and will kick your teeth out of your head. The different way each individual reacts to him based on how they view the world is a masterclass...

3. Reader: (Or Basil leaves and pine nuts ain't a salad! A salad is tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce....) Here's the real kicker - If you're doing something different, some people just wont accept it. You can do all the clever plotting and world building you want, but sometimes you won't get through. I have a similar thing about young protagonists in books, which is why I don't read much (if any) YA. My world view will never accept them as drivers of plot. In that I'm in a minority, but I can quite easily accept an inactive, introspective male character (hell I know 3 or 4)....The problem is if I'm also in the minority for that - there's a problem there. Readers come to the party their own expectations and you can't change that really....all you can do is work on making the protag believable and in the right place in the world. Then just cross everything....

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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by Margo » August 15th, 2012, 11:13 am

You might try conveying some of the emotions through action that illustrates the emotion. Did you ever read the Wicked & Tricksy post I did on why my characters don't cry or say "I love you"? That.
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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by MattLarkin » August 16th, 2012, 10:36 am

Margo wrote:You might try conveying some of the emotions through action that illustrates the emotion. Did you ever read the Wicked & Tricksy post I did on why my characters don't cry or say "I love you"? That.
Yeah. That was kind of what I was saying. Showing us how he feels, rather than having him analyze his feelings will go a long way. He can be introspective about the reasons for his actions or feelings.

Introspective males are fine. And males can be emotional. But if you convey these feelings in a way that feels effeminate, the character will feel effeminate. That's not bad, if that's the kind of guy you want--but it wasn't what you wanted.
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Re: Emotional Overload

Post by dios4vida » August 16th, 2012, 11:55 am

MattLarkin wrote:
Margo wrote:You might try conveying some of the emotions through action that illustrates the emotion. Did you ever read the Wicked & Tricksy post I did on why my characters don't cry or say "I love you"? That.
Yeah. That was kind of what I was saying. Showing us how he feels, rather than having him analyze his feelings will go a long way. He can be introspective about the reasons for his actions or feelings.

Introspective males are fine. And males can be emotional. But if you convey these feelings in a way that feels effeminate, the character will feel effeminate. That's not bad, if that's the kind of guy you want--but it wasn't what you wanted.
Margo - of course! I read all the Wicked & Tricksy stuff, and that post was one of my favorites. I've tried to incorporate it as much as I can but sometimes my brain just doesn't translate it well or something, because I'll completely forget it until it's mentioned and then - <headdesk>.

With this particular scene I mentioned, I think I was confused because the primary reaction he was feeling was of being lost. Not a lot of actions go well with that. But then I realized that was the wrong feeling in the first place. Now I get to have a snowball fight. :) (Trust me, it actually does make sense.)

Matt, you're exactly right. Introspective is fine, but like you said I think I've just been going overboard with it. I'm still getting used to the whole actions-show-emotion thing. My first instinct is to be exceptionally clear on what they're feeling, and then show actions that emphasis it. It takes a lot of effort to remind myself that I've got it backwards, and to show their emotions through actions and let the reader interpret. I love this advice and know it makes great writing, and I'll even give that same advice out from time to time, so why do I have such a hard time doing it in my own writing? Sheesh. The joys of being a writer, right? :)
Brenda :)

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