Tight Tights: on Male-Character Romance
I'm sick today.
I thank my lovely wife for passing along this nasty cold with a kiss to me. How ironic.
So, in honor of being sick I'm binging movies. Harry Potter it is! As I write, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is playing in the background. I've been doing my #Potterwatch tweets all day too, which you can check out on my Twitter Profile.
One of my wonderful writer friends, @Gurru_Says asked if I'd write a blog post on the guy side of romantic chemistry, so. Here we are.
First off, a few disclaimers. This is not meant to continue the immortal fan debate over who Hermione should have really ended up with (although I will touch on it). in addition, this is not a critique on JK Rowling's substantial writing skills, either.
This is all about writing!
That being said, let us begin:
Reading and binging Harry Potter books and films, I always felt like the guy ends of the romantic relationships were lacking. There was no chemistry. There was no actual sex appeal. Not from my guy's perspective, anyway. So, if you're a girl or otherwise etc etc etc and you're writing characters with romantic relationships let's set some things straight about guys.
Guys have a sex drive. There. I said it. Let's get that right out there where we can deal with it. Even if you're writing YA, In order to make it believable, really sell it, you need at the very least be aware of this fact. I'm not saying we're all greedy horndogs out for one thing. A great example, other than HP, where I think they did male characters a general disservice was in That 70's Show. There are multiple episodes where that's literally all the male characters are referencing is sex. Are they teenagers? Yes. Can teenage boys be the scum of the earth? Sure, you bet (seeing as how I was one once).
However, there's more going on underneath those bulging muscles and distant eyes. (I know I know, believe it or not).
Taking it back to Harry Potter romantic chemistry - the next thing is that guys don't think like girls. They usually don't operate like girls (yes, I know we live in a diverse world - these are just my thoughts). So, especially in the last HP book, the Deathly Hallows, I think Harry acts like a girl for the vast majority of the book. This isn't a slam on girls - this is, I think, a case of incorrect character action.
Guys are Do-ers. We think less and emote less. We do. This is why, I think, guys can in general get over things faster than ladies. Sure, we still feel and hurt and struggle; however, we usually find physical ways to express those emotions besides just running inner monologues and single word replies. If we're angry, we act out. If we're feeling all lovey-dovey, we get... you know... in the mood.
- And that's where you can bring out the physical aspects of romance with characters.
One of the reasons I think a debate even exists between who Hermione ought to have really ended up with is because, among other things, we only ever see her spending time with Harry. Is the series named Ron Weasly and-the-fill-in-the-blank? No. (Although, there are some hilarious memes floating around the internet!) We have a character-arc history between Harry and Hermione. Ron is shown as the best friend. It's also worth noting that there is a trio trope in YA-Urban-Fantasy as well.
Could Hermione and Ron be spending significant relational time together that we just don't see in the book/films ala-Rozencranz and Guildenstein? YES. (Which is why personally, I still believe in Ron-Hermione). It's important to remember that while the Harry Potter series touches on a whirlwind of different human aspects, it's primarily about Harry Potter. It's not meant to be a romance.
My lovely wife likes ya fantasies that go heavier on the romance. Recently I read one. (I accidentally read them from time to time as well... one can never be too careful) And it's the same thing that drives me nuts, whether it's Outlander or Graceling or Twilight. Guys. DON'T. Work. That. Way. In a day and age where so much of the negative aspects of male behavior in western society is being roundly commended (which personally, I'm all for shedding), I think perhaps if those who's duty it is to craft future popular imagination via storytelling (that's us, Writers!), we would do well to do our best to write good male characters. To be able to accurately and movingly illustrate positive male strength in a world sorely lacking it.
I'm an unabashed George MacDonald fan. One of the things I adore about his enduring fantasies like Curdie and the Goblins and Curdie and the Princess, is how there ARE good, strong, just, happy Kings and Fathers and heroes. First, I think we need to remember that not everything has to be awful (*Cough, GRRM). Good people and situations and outcomes can and do exist. There IS such a thing as magic and high goodness in our world today. It is not yet so dark. And if you're reading this and you don't believe me, that ok. Try to at least begin with imagining what that idea what might actually be like in as purely a hypothetical environment as you need.
Men, like all people, are neither saints nor devils. So, if we're shooting for a touch of realism in our own character developments, it goes to remember this. Now that I'm a bit older, I see how much guys and girls are similar in some respects. So much of the time, we're both awkward when it comes to expressing our romantic feelings at first. But HOW we express them is different.
Once upon a time, a girl in college asked me how to get boy's attention. Barring being slutty, I passed along the age old adage, 'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach'. Soon, this same girl began texting me when she got off work at a local fast food place, saying she was bringing a bunch of extra food to the guy's dorms. Then, I would dutifully spread the word to the rest of my fellow dudes. Get to the common room early, and you got apple pies and ice cream - arrive late and you got naught but salads.
Little did I know, the one guy's attention she was trying to get was mine...
Which brings me to my next point. Guys are DUMB. Yes yes, I can see all you girls out there nodding a little too enthusiastically. (I see you.) But that's because we communicate differently. We express feelings differently. Conversely, guys desperately wish all you ladies would just tell us what you actually thought and felt (no, what you ACTUALLY think and feel). No, we don't magically know. No, we can't learn how. We generally lack the emotional hardware to even pick up on all your telepathic chatter. So, remember that the next time you're writing your male characters. The disconnect is where the relationship grows, because the growth of the relational trust underneath all the emotional finery is what saves the day.
As George MacDonald once said, "It is greater to be trusted than loved." - And that's because love can't do much without trust.
Harry and Hermione are often displayed on screen as having oodles of emotional trust. I mean, hell, in the third book/film they go back in time together. I haven't even done that with my wife yet (as far as I know). So when Hermione and Ron suddenly get eyes for each other, it's like something out of Sims. Ok, now Kith. If you're going for believability, be aware of this.
Another thing I think it's worth putting out there is how there is so much unspoken pressure for guys to be a certain way. Act a certain way. Think a certain way. No, this is not meant to be an excuse - cart-blanche for the crimes movements like #metoo victims have brought to light. Just like with girls, there is how we act in public and how we act in private. It is how we marry the two which helps our character shine. Do guys really go back to their dorms and curl their beard hair while sighing over a cute girl. Probably not? Yes, we do talk - but it's not gushing with... gushiness. (another foible of romantic YA-fantasies I'm just not into). If you're a girl writing with romance as well as for a partial male audience in mind, know that most of us don't really care about a blatant emotional journey. Action is what we tend to gravitate towards. Not subtle action. Action action. Fights, battles, daring feats. We're men. Manly Men. We wander around the forest looking for fights! Can there be romance? YES! But that's typically not our primary motivator. Emotional action does not usually equate on the same levels for guys as it does for girls.
So, on one hand, don't be an utter tease like Arya in the Eragon series - but don't be wench #3, either. Don't be Gaston - but don't be Samwell Tarly, either. Beyond physical attributes, there's something about a girl that a guy falls in love with. We're dumb and slow, and we think with our lower brain more often than we think with our upper one, but if you can capture our hearts, we will go to hell and back for you. Launch a thousand ships for you. Claim the throne of Gondor for a you. Overcome our inner demons for you. Together, a relationship can, and often does, define the fate of the galaxy (Infinity War).
Could I go on?
Will I continue espousing said observations and opinions?
Not right now...
I have more Harry Potter to watch.
I'd love to hear your take.