Lee Child

what a girl wants in a fictional hero

I’ve come up with a preliminary set of characteristics that my list of seven male characters share, to some degree.

self-possessed These guys are at ease in their skins, confident of their own strengths, and unapologetic about them. The flip side of that is that too much self-possession can sometimes come across as conceit and general bloody-mindedness. Darcy, of course, takes the snobbery prize, but he does better himself by the end of the novel, for love of Elizabeth Bennett. Of the others, Phin Tucker verges on the high handed (Sophie loves movies, which he barely tolerates; he reads). Niccolo is extremely self-possessed and becomes dangerously more so as time goes on, but he manages to hide whatever conceit he has, out of necessity. Very rarely do you get a flash of it. For all these men, a dash of humility is needed to balance out this strength, and that lack is sometimes the character’s biggest flaw.

highly intelligent I’ve got a wide range on this list, from a hunter/trapper to an aerospace scientist, but they are all extremely intelligent men, able to problem solve and to think conceptually.

quiet competence All of My Seven are really good at what they do. Each of them steps in and gets things done, as needed, but all of them are modest or even retiring when it comes to taking credit. All of them rise to a challenge; all of them are natural born leaders, although some of them prefer solitude. This could turn into an inability or unwillingness to ask for help (or directions), and sometimes, impatience.

physically dominant This struck me as interesting: all but two of these men are trained to fight, as soldiers, and do well for themselves on the battlefield. Of the two who are not (Darcy and Phin Tucker), I can easily imagine them in such roles. I suppose the simple answer here is that they are all alpha males, but there’s something else going on I haven’t figured out yet.

playfulness Playfulness, as has been noted elsewhere in this blog, is what feeds attraction. My Seven can be deadly serious in confrontational situations, but they all know how to be playful, or at least, there’s the intimation that they do. We see this least from Darcy, though we get hints, through Bingley, that’s he’s capable of lightheartedness. The other six have all demonstrated excellence in this particular area. The lack of playfulness is what keeps many hard-boiled detective types off my list. I haven’t included (although I did think about) Bob Lee or Earl Swagger (Stephen Hunter’s characters); Joe Kurtz (Dan Simmon’s character) or Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s character).

Finally, they all like dogs. Don’t ask me how I know this in some cases, but I do. Every one of them really, really likes dogs, and is kind to old people and understands how to talk to kids.

reading and writing male characters

Someone asked in a comment how reading science fiction and crime novels contributes (if at all) to my own writing. It’s a good question, but I think the answer is fairly simple.

It seems that people who write well are people who read a lot. I don’t know anybody who writes for a living who doesn’t need to read constantly. It’s like… gassing up the car, you gotta have fuel to tell stories. Now this might seem like I’m saying that you take stories from elsewhere, but that’s not what I mean at all.

It has more to do with the fact that storytelling is a community endeavor, something that can’t exist in solitude. If you tell stories you have to listen to them too, or your ear for the rhythms starts to deteriorate.

So I read widely, all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. Pretty much across genres. There are those corners of the storytelling universe where I don’t go often (I’m not a big fan of traditional whodunnits, for example). But I love the needle sharp prose of quality crime fiction, the tight plotting, the strong characterizations (when it’s well done, of course). I read Dennis Lehane, John Sandford, Stephen Hunter (he’s got a new _Earl Swagger_ novel coming out, be still my heart), Lee Child, Andrew Vachss and half a dozen more writers in this genre with great enthusiasm.

Dan Simmon‘s Hardcase and its sequel, Hard Freeze, typify why I like this kind of story: the opening chapter is hair raising, and I defy any reader to put down the book once Joe Kurtz has made his first move. _Here’s a hint:_ it involves, first, a garbage disposal and second, a third story window.

As a writer, I often find it hard to just read for enjoyment. I’m too busy observing how the author did one thing or another, thinking about process and alternates and word choices. If a book draws me in to the point where I forget to pay attention to those details, then the story really works for me. Then I read it a first time for story and a second time in order to observe process. This is especially true when I’m reading crime fiction, because the characterization of the kind of man who populates these stories (hard, hardened, cynical, often sad, almost always with a big simmering lake of anger right at the surface) is a challenge for me in my own work. I think, huh, that’s interesting, how Joe or John or Reacher reacts to this; I wouldn’t have gone there first thing.

So reading outside my genre, reading widely, is an important part of my process. Science fiction feeds into my work in a different way; I’ll try to talk about that sometime soon.

Today I did do some writing of my own. There’s a new male character who shows up for the first time in Thunder at Twilight (I’m fully aware that you haven’t read it yet, I won’t give much away here, don’t worry). He’s a career soldier in the British army, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars in Spain, with some twists that are just being revealed to me as he has jumped feet first into the beginning of Queen of Swords. Uninvited, I might add. There he was, wanting to tell the opening scene from his point of view, so now I’m following him around while he observes, and talks to himself, and tries to convince himself that he’s not neck deep in something that’s threatening to drown him.