How do you portray your male characters?


How do I create my male characters? I am often asked how I manage to portray my male characters so realistically? Is it difficult to switch from gender to gender and be equally convincing, giving them the same depth?

Well, after all, both female and male characters are people, and this is where the skill lies – in writing about people and their intertwined relationships honestly, skillfully and in-depth.

The majority of my novels are written in the first person perspective and in the body of one novel I write in both genders. When I start the story writing as a woman the reader enters into the world of certain sensibility. I am not talking of stereotyping and typical ‘female sensibility,’ as my women are often very strong-headed with very distinguished characteristics and strength of character and psyche, but still, regardless of their strong personalities they are female characters.

Being a woman, it is easy for me to sympathise with any of my female characters regardless of their age, nationality or any kind of background. I can portray with equal zest and plasticity the girl of a tender age or a woman whose rich and long life is nearing its end, as I do in my books.

Branka Cubrilo
Branka Cubrilo

I am not going to repeat myself explaining here how my characters appear to me and communicate with me as I did that in the previous post (“How should we describe the characters in our novels”), but will remind readers that characters mostly choose their narrator. I can say that convincingly having experienced that a number of times with my characters: they come, I start the story and they take over!

I am not going to claim that I get my male characters perfect as they are very demanding, capricious, strong-headed and tend to hide their feelings. I have to dig deep to discover their real feelings, and the depth of them, but the more reluctant they are to uncover their feelings the more determined I am to dig them out and expose them to the light of day. I love exploring human feelings, the reasons why we do what we do, why we act the way we act, what lies deep down that governs our behavior and leads us to chose a certain path.

When I was growing up I read classic literature.

There were only two female writers that were assigned as compulsory literature in high school: Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen; the rest were male writers, therefore I read many great writers whose characters were predominantly male characters. I was fascinated by the majority of them, by their secret inner world, their psyche, the way they thought, acted, by their view of women et cetera.

My male characters are so far from my psyche that it seems like an almost impossible task to ‘get them right’. The only thing I had in common with the character of Vito Del Bianco (“Fiume – the Lost River”) was – we were both writers. He is a womanizer, a bon vivant, heavy drinker, cynic, and a cunning man. He loved and lived on the wild side taking advantage of people and situations.

Just like Nicholas O’B (“The Mosaic of the Broken Soul”), a selfish, self-destructive wannabe writer, a gambler, liar, cheat and a skilled master of manipulation and deceit.

Otto Visconti is a misfit (“The Lonely Poet and Other Stories”). A poet who interprets the world in a very unique way: he is suspicious, overwhelmingly pessimistic showing poor and degenerate demeanor and lifestyle due to the lack of self-confidence and inner strength. He blames his parents for his misfortunes and lack of stamina, mainly his mother, which makes him create an unreal view of women, unreal expectations and ridiculous, unsuccessful attempts to charm any woman or win any friend.

How do I fit there? Under the skin of such a character or in his milieu? I let them be. I let them express themselves; I listen to them.

I evoke and explore old memories, the place where I store all the characters I’ve ever met; I study people thoroughly all the time and ask myself constantly, ‘How does he feel right now?’, ‘Why did he say that and how can I see on his face, in his gestures that he really meant it?’, ‘What is his body language saying about him, his feelings and hidden motives?’

I endlessly analyse my characters. I sympathise and empathise with them trying to get out of me all those feelings that they might feel or might hide.

While I write about them I live their lives, I get into their heads and I converse with them asking them to reveal their deepest thoughts, secrets and dreams: pleasant, unpleasant, ordinary, wild, cruel or unselfish, the whole range of emotions. For me it matters more what they feel than how they comb their hair or what type of shirt they are wearing.

When I bring out all of their emotions I know that it is going to be convincing … surely for some of my readers; as I can’t claim that my male characters are perfect, I know, at least, that they are – colourful.


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