Friday, January 21, 2011

Character Study: The Perfect Man

One of the common themes of my posts has been the inherent flaws in a person that make a fictional character appear real to the reader. Let me give you a character study to use as a resource when creating a character for you next writing project.

A common theme in romance novels is the man that always puts the woman first in a relationship. He sacrifices everything he could ever want, going out with the fellas only after he's made sure that his lady-love has everything she could possibly want or need. He's not spineless, he doesn't beg her for permission, he simply puts her needs first in a loving and selfless manner.

Of course this man also works to provide for his love. He gives up his weekends to take care of the children. When her mother turns ill, he springs for the most expensive retirement community money can afford (because their physical passions could NEVER be satisfied with her mother living with them... and that's her decision... he WANTS the mother-in-law to live with family). This man can sew, repair every item in the house that could possibly break. He's a humanitarian who donates generously to charity. And, of course, he's handsome. Gorgeous.

He's attracted to her personality, not her looks. He insists that the stretch marks from her pregnancy turn him on. No other woman matches the beauty he sees inside of her, and his eyes never wander while they're out to eat, watching a movie, or passing billboards on the highway.

Sound boring, right? Well I'm here to tell you that there are men who have SOME of those traits. For example (and I'm not bragging), I try to put my wife's needs before my own as often as possible. When she's sick, has a headache, or when she has a bad day, I do whatever I can to make her feel better. When I had my wisdom teeth pulled, she got a migraine. Since the medicine the dentist gave me worked wonderfully, I felt find and started to insist on taking care of my ill wife. She snapped at me, made me sit back down, and then got something for her own headache. But still, I felt great and I wanted to take care of her.

Now what's the difference between me and the romance novel guy? Well, there are plenty. For one, I'm not a successful businessman, I can't repair much of anything, and I don't have a model's face or body (nor do I want one). There are times when my loving attention actually annoys my wife, like I'm suffocating her. I'm learning how to discern those times, but it's still not a fairytale when the positive attention you're receiving is only an annoyance. In the novels, the woman wants her man to know instinctively when he needs to be nearby to coddle her and when he should just leave her alone. I don't always know that, and sometimes it drives my wife nuts.

Let's see... oh yes. Like every man in the world, I fart. I burp. I have to blow my nose (especially when I get sick), I tell stupid jokes, and I play video games for hours at a time. Do those actions mean that I love my wife less? Of course not. When Emily needs me, I'm there. If my gaming looks like it's going to get in the way of our relationship, I turn off the system.

I cook for her, too. Most of the time. After all, she works long hours and I don't want to force her to cook for me when I usually get home from work an hour before she does. I get her flowers on occasion, a bottle of wine, I let her watch TV shows that are COMPLETELY boring (but not as often as I should... I'm trying to work on that with myself).

Anyway, do you see my point? The man in the story might be great fluff, but it's not real. The "Perfect Man" doesn't exist, and therefor he's not convincing in print. The man who tries to love his woman selflessly still fails in his attempt often enough for it to be noticed. But that doesn't mean he doesn't exist. It just means he's human, he makes mistakes, and he's going to keep trying to love her better.

I plan on writing more character studies in the future. But for now, enjoy your weekend, I'll see you on Monday.


  1. Good points, all. Characters need to seem human, therefore being "perfect" is utterly impossible and shouldn't even be attempted.

    What's funny is that many a character's flaws (or a person's, for that matter) come from how they treat people, or mistreat people as the case may be. Communication and interaction are the cornerstones of personality, since a man on a mountaintop does not make for very compelling conflict.

    And, since the "Perfect Man" wouldn't live in a Perfect World, you can guarantee that the people he knows aren't as Perfect as he allegedly is. By viewing this "man" through the eyes of his contemporaries, we could see that he's an egotistical jerk, or that he's really a wolf in sheep's clothing, or that he has secret addictions, or any number of truths that would make him imperfect, flawed, and human.

    The Perfect Man is a good place to start with a character; a blank-slate-template with nothing wrong. Then you chip away the edges, allow a few cracks to form, and really give him some distinct definition that sets him apart from all the other men in existence.

    Great post.

  2. Ugh. That was always why I hated romance novels. The "perfect" man is pretty much my worst nightmare.

  3. Haven't read many romances myself... but I get what you're saying.

    Writing the 'human' parts of a character can be more fun and rewarding than writing the perfect parts. It really does make the story so much better.

    That said, sometimes it can be hard to remember to do it, or procrastinate doing it. At least for me.