Writing and Reading Lessons

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series.

“Nobody needs me to sing MacDonald’s praises, but that yard of books did more for me than provide excellent entertainment. For some reason the McGee books spoke to me like textbooks. I felt I could see what MacDonald was doing, and why, and how, as if I could see beneath the skin.” ~ Lee Child

“Dickens didn’t write what people wanted. Dickens wanted what people wanted.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” ~ Stephen Pressfield

I’ve gone back to working on my sequel novel to The Space Between Time, and because of that and the political climate, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about my characters Jenna and Morgan and their relationships with their husbands. I’ve known for quite some time that Morgan becomes a Suffragist, and Jenna has a tangle with the conservative right who want to keep women in their place. But when I first started working on that manuscript in 2014 I felt a little bit stuck. Things were going along pretty smoothly at the time but events have turned to give me more fodder for my imagination. Because of that I’ve been thinking about how Jack and Seth will react to their wives becoming activists. I want to get into their heads to see what interesting things their struggles will bring to the story. This book may turn out to be more about how men and women relate to each other than Jenna and Morgan’s involvement in the women’s movements of their respective time periods.

As I’ve no doubt written before, my mind is rarely quiet. I’m always storing away bits of information I pick up from the books I read, current events, the movies and TV shows I watch, and conversations with friends and family.

Every once in a while all the disparate things I’ve been thinking or observing come to a conjunction and I get a big AHA. I’ve recently had one of those ahas when I read an article about “The Awesome Omega Male.” I don’t want to go into detail about how my thinking came together, however, I will say that I’ve come to some interesting conclusions about the different kinds of male characters in movies and books.

My husband and I had been watching many action movies lately. After reading the above mentioned article, I realized that male oriented action movies come in two basic categories. There are the alpha male movies with the characters who are egotistical and on a rampage of revenge. It could be as trivial a reason as somebody messed with their stuff, or crossed them in some way. I don’t like those kind. They don’t seem to have a point.

In the other category there are characters who are alienated from society, but they have more omega male qualities. These characters are introverted and like it. They don’t go seeking trouble but if it comes, they have the skills to take out the bad guys. They can be empathetic and kind, but for the most part they like working on their own. They don’t have much of an ego because they know their own strengths and weaknesses and how use both to accomplish their goals. In this last category of movies, the men use violence only when necessary to protect those who really need it.

One thing I loved about the article on omega men was it defined the type of men I grew up knowing. I knew that I could go to my father with a problem and he’d listen without judgment. I could rely on him to protect me if I needed it, but he also encouraged me to stand up for myself. So that’s the kind of male characters I created for The Space Between Time. When my writer friend told me that she thought my male characters were too soft, I told her I wrote the kind of men I knew, yet I did consider making them tougher. However I just couldn’t do it. I liked the men I’d created, and I didn’t want to change them. The article on omega men gave me the justification for the type of male characters I had written.

As Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series says, “Character is king.” He’s right. We remember characters over plot, but the plot is what the characters swim in to learn their lessons, to grow and change, and to accomplish their goals. That means that we must create lots of challenges for our characters to deal with, which in turn helps us show who our characters are.

Child also said in the introduction to the first Jack Reacher book, that he likes characters who are winners but alienated in some way. He likes characters who are confident and who can defeat their enemies. We have traditionally thought that the winners are the alpha males, the strongest, loudest, most domineering egotistical men. But the world is changing and so are men. We need winners who fight for all of us, not just to make themselves look good.

As I’ve been thinking about the omega male model, I’ve been comparing it to the female psychological models. According to an article I read by Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., and Janet L. Surrey, Ph.D., women’s primary motivating drive is toward connection with others. Alpha males think that’s a weakness but we’re discovering it’s a huge strength. That’s the one omega man trait that the above movie characters struggle with. Many of them have had a significant close relationship, or they would like to have a connection with someone but for now, they’re loners.

Since reading, as the Lee Child quote above says, is like taking a writing seminar, I’m reading some Jack Reacher and other books with strong male characters. I want to get a different perspective on men so I can use this information to flesh out Jack and Seth and the other male characters in my book. I want them to be distinct from each other and believable, but most of them will continue to be omega males.

I’m discovering that reading really is a fantastic way to become a better writer.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

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Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

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