Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gender Differences in Writing Dialogue

According to a article by Thomas Rogers, there is linguistic proof that men and women do speak differently, or at least that is the claim present in Duels and Duets by linguistics professor John L. Locke. So next time you sweep through that manuscript to fine-tune your dialogue, you  may want to keep these proven traits of male/female communication styles in mind in order to create more authentic dialogue...

Female Characters:
  • “Women are likely to look for common ground when they are talking with other women and tend to produce overlapping remarks in conversations.” Have your female characters help each other tell a story, and feel free to have them cut each other off mid-sentence for authenticity.
  • “The connective tissue in women’s groups is the divulging of personal and sometimes intimate information about the life and the relationships of the speaker and other people.” If you want two female characters to bond, have them divulge personal information. Can also be used to show that one is ready to bond when another isn’t, or as a way to show a disconnect between a female attempting to bond and a male character not realizing it.
  • “One study of gossip showed that gossipers were concerned about women who are bad housekeepers, and women who are bad mothers, and women who are promiscuous. Those things are all threats to each woman in a community; therefore they have every good reason to want to talk about those things.” In YA, the policing of sexual promiscuity is rampant with gossip. Are the others listed here relevant? Perhaps personal appearance takes the place of domestication? Either way, examining the motivation of gossip as a means of creating and policing community may enrich the gossip dialogue you write.
  • “If a woman has done something to cause another woman anger or hurt, she’ll scream or yell at them stridently. It’s a targeted form of opposition that’s designed to cause that individual to back off or to change their behavior in some ways.” Female anger scenes may involve yelling, but yelling should most likely derive from someone overstepping bounds that the victim feels the need to protect.

Male Characters:

  • “Both men and women need to know if men are dominant or subordinate. Men need to know because they are very hierarchical in their organization. Women also need to know that, too, because dominant men, or high-status men, have unusually good access to everything women want.” So if female characters have the overarching motivation of communicating in order to bond, then male characters may generally be communicating in order to establish a hierarchy, and dialogue should generally reflect these tendencies.
  • “It’s symbolic, playful, stylized. In its purest form, it looks quite a lot like a performance. But the disposition to duel sort of seeps into everyday speech too — like if two guys, for example, come up to each other, and one of them says, “Hey, you old son of a bitch. How the hell are ya?” and maybe insults him a little bit about his bulging midriff, or his thinning hair, or some weird shirt that he is wearing.” When writing male dialogue, one way to show the need for hierarchy might be through clever insults.
  • “By using unusual words or rare words or words in a creative way, men can give everyone, including women, the impression they’re intelligent…Words used in a clever way are almost like the colorful feathers of a peacock — a display of what biologists would call fitness information that relates to their ability to reproduce.” Even if a character is not the brightest, a mastery of colloquial language might count for showcasing “street smarts.”