Writing Men: Axioms

Obligatory opening summary: Writing Men is a thing. But not enough of a thing. Thus, I’m writing about it. Huzzah! If you haven’t seen them, my introduction to the topic, an analysis of the importance of having objectives. That is a brief summary of everything I’ve written on the topic so far.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about axioms. First of all, I’m talking about the principles that form a foundation for a line of reasoning, not the starliner from Pixar’s WALL-E. One is part of a great animated film. The other is a fundamental part of how men look at life.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

A while back a friend was trying to explain the TV show Defiance to me. I had not and still have not seen this TV show, but I know from what I was told that it features an alien invasion of Earth (and they obviously haven’t read the guide) that results in humanity nuking the invading space fleet and destroying it (or something like that – again, this is hearsay). When I heard this, the following exchange took place:

Me: They nuked them?

Friend: Yeah.

Me: While they were in orbit?

Friend: Uh-huh.

Me: Okay, let’s ignore the radiation poisoning issues that creates for a minute. How is it even possible that you could stop a race technologically advanced enough to cross interstellar space-

Friend: Because Nukes.

Me: (pause) I’ll buy that.

Okay, so maybe I’ve edited that a little, but the point-blank justification “because nukes” and my immediate acceptance of it did happen, and is an example of what I want to talk about: The tendency for men to look at life through a series of simple principles. In this case, nuclear weapons represent the most terrifying destructive weapon mankind has every created. The scale of their destruction is beyond the ability of most people to comprehend, most people believe they exist only because they’ve already been created and used. Of course they’re gong to destroy the alien fleet. Nukes always destroy their targets when they hit. If they didn’t, that would mean there was something even bigger than a nuke out there, and that’s just silly. It’s like saying there’s something bigger than infinity.

The axiom: Nukes always win.

Therefore, when you have nukes vs. aliens the nukes win because they are nukes.

Men are always thinking in axioms, even when they don’t realize they’re thinking in axioms. Take a big special effects blockbuster – for this example, The Avengers. Many people have watched the movie and griped that the Hulk’s sudden willingness to work with the other heroes of the movie rather than against them makes no sense. (These people were not paying close attention to Bruce Banner’s character progression through the course of the movie. Watch it again carefully and pay attention to people’s interactions with Banner – not what they say about him or what he says about himself but what he’s saying and doing the rest of the time – and it adds up a lot better. Banner’s character progression affects the Hulk’s. After all, they are the same person… ish.) Regardless, many of these people are okay with Hulk’s sudden switch because it’s followed by a crowning moment of awesome.

Axiom: Blockbusters exist to be awesome.

Therefore sometimes the awesome can trump the plot. (You heard it here first.)

Note that you’ll almost never hear a woman offer this explanation. It’s axioms taken to the point where they fly in the face of sense. Men are okay with doing that because we live by axioms.

When writing men, axiomatic thinking is a must have. Of course, just like with objectives there’s nothing saying the man you’re writing has to be aware of their axioms, just that they have to exist and be informing their actions. Also, no one has just one axiom they live their life by, no matter what they say. Axioms can range from “Telling the Truth is Better Than Lies” to “Paperwork is a Bane Upon Existence” to “Boxers Are Better Than Briefs, Period”. There’s nothing saying you have to even know all the axioms a man is living by. But it doesn’t hurt to mention one or two when he stops to make a decision of some importance.

When multiple axioms go into a decision a man usually sorts them based on his objectives (yes, an understanding of objectivity is vital here). Thus a man who wants to live to have a million dollars will not want to spend much money, because he can’t get to a million that way, but he will spend money on food, because starving to death also precludes reaching his objective.

As I continue to note when writing these bits, axiomatic thinking is not a strength or a weakness, but rather a double edged sword. I used some very absurd examples at first, in part because they illustrate my point in a fun way but also because a man can work himself into equally absurd (but also painful) quandaries when axioms conflict or point him toward potentially harmful situations. And why doesn’t he ignore the axioms and go with what makes him feel better, you ask?

Because ignoring the axioms makes him feel just as bad! Just one of the burdens of being a man.

At the same time, axiomatic thinking also lets the man put aside feelings like fear or anger and deal with a situation with a clearer head – at least, if he’s doing it right. The axioms help him quickly sort, prioritize and deal in circumstances where stopping for conscious thought could be counterproductive.

In short, just like with objectivity, axioms are an important part of writing male characters. Whether it’s a man in the crux of a moral dilemma or just trying to figure out what kind of shoes to wear that night, look for a chance to show the principles that undergird his thought. It will give you a better rounded, more believable character.

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