Tears With A Frown

Star Trek Into Darkness crying characters

Image courtesy DeviantArt

Male lachrymal leakage. It doesn’t work. I’ve been thinking about crying lately, particularly the crying in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Several bloggers have noted the excess of man tears, including Robin Zlotnick at The Blemish, who, like myself, found “a certain point where I momentarily lost track of the story and instead thought about how I wished I had started counting the man tear incidences there had been, because they were really racking up.” In short, everybody cries: Kirk, Spock, the bad guy, another good guy, and so on. I wish I’d bought stock in Kleenex, because I’d be a richer man now.

As a writer, all this caterwauling on the part of male characters made me wonder whether crying works dramatically. Does letting a character cry tell the reader something about him? (I’m only going to discuss male characters, not female.) I can’t recall a time in literature or film with memorable male crying scenes that didn’t force me to vomit. It may be that I don’t read enough romance novels, literary novels, or watch chick flicks; so I don’t see men bawling. But in the great, enduring stories, very few men seem to cry, at least convincingly. And that’s the issue; a man turning on the waterworks basically loses all believeability as a character.

A better approach lets the inner tension rise without breaking it. The approach is similar to maintaining the sexual tension between a man and a woman who respect each other, even love each other. My favorite example is Mulder and Scully in The X-Files; when they finally did the nasty (apparently, that is. The series is never quite clear, as was typical in that world), the entire relationship lost all its drama, in my view.

It’s far more effective to let the emotions build in a character and even let the tears well up. But don’t let them spill over, like water over a dam. Keep them at the edge of climax. The original Captain Kirk was an emotional man (when he wasn’t behaving like a child), and you knew when he cared deeply about something, but he didn’t cry a river whenever the emotions got to him. The best example is “The Naked Time,” wherein Spock cries but Kirk doesn’t. That made him much more credible as a character over the course of a series. So stow the handkerchief, and tell your men to buck up.

What do you think? Are male cryers credible?

Character Sketches from Bet

Here are some character sketches from my novel for young adults, Bet: Stowaway Daughter.

Bet: Stowaway Daughter coverLisbet “Bet” Lindstrom – As the daughter of an experienced sea captain, 13-year-old Bet is familiar with life at sea, but only through the stories her father and his friends have told when they visit her home in Seattle. She’s not really prepared for life aboard the three-masted schooner J.M. Carson, but she adjusts rapidly. Back on land, she likes to hang out with her friend Millie Hall, who both attend Isaac Stevens Junior High School, and her cat, Biscuits and Gravy, Biscuits for short. Bet’s mother left the family when Bet was very young. All Bet knows about her mother is a picture of her holding Bet as a baby. Bet describes herself as “tall, big girl for my age, which is 13, and I have a square face. I don’t think of myself as pretty, but I’m not ugly either. Average maybe. I’m not fat, but I’m pretty strong.” She has no brothers or sisters or other close family in Seattle. Her father’s brother, Jacob, lives in San Francisco. Her favorite movie is Tarzan: The Ape Man, and her favorite singer is Jeanette McDonald, whom Bet thinks is very pretty with an angelic voice.

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Captain Karl Lindstrom – Karl Lindstrom is one of the most respected master mariners in Seattle until he is accused of stealing from the fishermen who worked for him on the three-masted schooner J.M. Carson. At the time, he was working for Peterson Fisheries, which owns the Carson. His wife left him under mysterious circumstances, something he won’t talk about with anyone, not even Bet. Lindstrom is a conservative man, loyal to his employer, and honest to a fault. Everyone was shocked when he was convicted of stealing from these working men.

Millie Hall – Mildred “Millie” Hall is Bet’s best friend. They both live in the same neighborhood of Seattle and attend Isaac Stevens Junior High School. They’ve known each other since they were babies, and it’s impossible for Bet to keep secrets from her. Millie has long blond hair that always needs brushing. She is in love with a singer named Bing Crosby, whom she listens to religiously on the family radio in the living room of her house. Millie’s father works at a lumber mill; her mother stays home with Millie and her older brother, Ted.

Captain Tom Haugen – Captain Thorsten “Tom” Haugen is master of the three-masted fishing schooner J.M. Carson, which sails every spring to the Bering Sea to fish for cod. Haugen emigrated from Trondheim, Norway as a young man to the United States to make a better life for himself. He first went to sea as a teenager, and gradually gained the skills to become a professional mariner. He eventually came to Seattle and fell in love with Puget Sound, because it reminded him of the fjords near his home in Norway. He worked for Bet’s father, Karl Lindstrom, before Karl was arrested and sent to prison. In Seattle, Haugen found a community of other Norwegians, as well as Swedes, Danes, and Finns who make their livings on Puget Sound. Haugen is a quiet, competent, fair man who knows his business but also knows when to listen when he might be wrong.

Horatio Caldwell – As first mate on the J.M. Carson, Horatio Caldwell is second in command of the fishing schooner. Caldwell is feared as a “bucko” mate, a cruel, abusive man not above insulting, even striking crew members who cross him. But he’s a master seaman, and Haugen respects his abilities. Caldwell has a hideous scar that runs across his face and left eye; the eye itself is milky white. During the trial of Bet’s father, Caldwell sat in the back of the courtroom, watching the proceedings, and Bet believes he knows what really happened that led to what Bet believes is the false accusation against her father. When Bet stows away, he’s very angry and tries to get her thrown off the ship. But later in the voyage, Caldwell shows that he’s protective of Bet, warning a menacing fisherman away from her. In the end, Caldwell becomes an ally of Bet, even a friend, though Caldwell remains something of a mystery.

Ben Shanahan – “Irish” Ben Shanahan is the oldest fisherman aboard the J.M. Carson, old enough to be Bet’s grandfather, although Ben himself is unsure exactly how old he is. An immigrant from Claddagh, County Galway, Ireland, Ben went to see very young after his parents died. Bet befriends Ben, who shows her how to build the rigs that the fishermen use to catch cod. Ben’s wife died many years ago by committing suicide. He has two adult daughters, but he hasn’t heard from either in a long time. Bet and Ben become close friends, and when Ben is injured in an accident, Bet helps nurse him back to health.

Whiskey – Whiskey is the third mate aboard the J.M. Carson, meaning he is fourth in command, after the captain, the first mate, and the second mate. Whiskey is in his mid-twenties, with blond hair, hazel eyes, and a dark shadow for a beard. He’s often the highliner on a fishing trip, that is, the man who catches the most fish. Bet rescues Whiskey during a raging storm, and he expresses his gratitude by declaring that he would be proud to call her his kid sister.

Bobcat

I finally had a chance to work on chapter three, and I introduced a new character named “Bobcat.” He appears to be a hermit, but he’s much more than that. I don’t want to give too much away. However, I based him on an individual I met while I was working as a reporter in Ashland, Ore. The fellow went by the name Bobcat and I never learned (or don’t remember) his real name. As I write in my chapter, he was a wiry man with a knee-length beard matted into a single dreadlock. He was an environmental activist, and I assume Bobcat was his nom de guerre. What’s your favorite nom de guerre?

The Antagonist: Janine Viruet

Carbon Dioxide MoleculteWouldn’t you know it, as soon as I start writing the blog, I’m hit with a double whammy: flu and a screwed up back. I’ve been flat on my back and haven’t written a word. (Slight fib: I did manage to tinker with chapter one a bit.) I promise to do better as Carbon Run progresses.

The antagonist in my book is Deputy Inspector Janine Viruet, who works for an agency called the Bureau of Environmental Security. BES is charged with enforcing the Carbon Laws, a legal framework put in place to combat global warming by putting severe restrictions on carbon emissions in the wake of the general failure of humanity to voluntarily cut back on carbon usage. If you were emperor, what restrictions/bans would you place on carbon emissions? How far would they go?