Friday, February 13, 2009

Characterizing Gender Differences

Men and women are different. I see your mouths gaping, like tell me something new, but when you are writing a novel, it's important to keep that in mind. They think differently and speak differently. Relationships of a man and woman are found in romance but relationships also permeate other genres. Therefore understanding how
men and women display differences in their actions, emotions, and conversation is an important part of creating a realistic novel with believable characters.

While women are sometimes tomboys, most women grow up to understand the feminine role of a woman. Women tend to be shorter and less muscular then men, so they cannot pick up heavy loads or do anything comparable to men in terms of strength. Men have been raised to be rugged and dominant. They tend to veer away from anything too feminine, and while women love to talk about colors of fabrics and furniture, most men would rather be left out of the plans. Men usually don't know cotton from rayon and have no knowledge of colors other than the primary shades. To a man, red is red while a woman calls it crimson or magenta or strawberry.

A man's fun is bowling, golfing, playing tennis, or sitting on the sofa watching sports, while women prefer to interact and do things, like shop or visit with friends. Men are often more one-tracked than women so reading the newspaper is a man's focus and he doesn't want to talk while reading. Because of raising children, running a household and often holding a job, women are multi-tasked. They can cook a meal, help a child with his homework, and talk on the phone.

As you write your novels, think about the roles men and women play. Use these differences to create conflict, which is the engine of a novel. Conflict is what keeps the readers intrigued, wondering how the characters' problems will be solved.

Notice how I've used the male/female differences in my novel, In His Dreams, Marsha is falling in love with her deceased husband's brother. Their past relationship has caused her concern, but she's allowed herself to depend on Jeff while in her summer home on Beaver Island. When Jeff announces a friend is coming to visit, Marsha makes a suggestion:

We'll have to plan something special when he's here." We'll. She cringed being so blatant.

"Al's ever been to Beaver Island so it should be fun. He's bringing his clubs so we'll probably golf."

Golf" Disappointment poked her. "You can leave the girls here."

"We'll probably take them in the cart. They should enjoy that."

"They might. I've never golfed. I suppose it's fun."

"You should take lessons. I know there are lots of women's leagues. Nice company for you."

Nice company in a women's league. What about nice company with Jeff? Loneliness made its unpleasant way into her thoughts. If Jeff had a friend on the island, she needed to keep herself busy doing something. Barb had seemed to loosen up. Maybe she and Barb could... Desperation seemed very inappropriate, but that's what she was feeling, and she couldn't let that happen.

In this excerpt we see a man doing a man's thing and missing Marsha's point. She wants to be included and the feeling of being left out is overwhelming to her. Notice how this adds a new conflict to their relationship.

In a man's eyes, romance consists of buying a pizza and watching a war movie. A woman prefers a nice restaurant with candlelight. Men buy women gifts like a coffeemaker or a bread-maker while most women would prefer jewelry, flowers, or a surprise romantic weekend away from home.

While boys are taught that men don't cry, women can't imagine not crying. When emotions overwhelm a man, they tend to become silent, walk away, make a joke or change the subject. When a woman cries, men are often taken aback and confused.

"Why are you crying?" Bill asked.
"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you."

This is a typical response. Most men don't understand women's emotional needs and don't want to, but women want to discuss the problem or the emotion. They expect the man to understand why they are upset and want sympathy, and if they don't get it they're upset. Men only shake their heads and reiterate they don't understand women. Be sure to give the male and female differences in your mind when you write dialogue.

Men and women tend to speak differently and about different things. Men tend to talk about sports, politics and business. Women talk about feelings, relationships, bargains and their kids.
Dialogue should reflect the way people really talk, but needs to be controlled so that it's realistic yet purposeful. As you write, avoid stereotyping characters. Some men don't follow the typical male persona, so create interesting characters by making them diverse yet still within the context of male/female. Some men have a gentler side than others.

Men don't use as many words as women. They don't go into detail or talk about feelings. Woman love details. They want the man to look in their eyes and show interest. Study the following example and note the techniques used.

"How was your day?" Sue asked.

"Typical," Bill said, gazing at the newspaper.

"You were busy as usual."


"You were busy."

Bill looked up. "When?"

"Today at work. Can we have a conversation without your reading the newspaper?"

"Newspaper? Sure." He peeled off a section. "Sorry."

"No, I didn't want to read—"


She grasped the paper and dropped it on the table. "Thanks. It'll make great conversation."

"Anything to make you happy, honey."

Please realize this is an example and not good dialogue for a novel, but it gets the point across. The man talks in shorter phrases. It is often in short sentences. Dialogue is usually broken up by interruptions of another character or by action and introspection. In this sample, he's focused on one thing, reading the newspaper while she's focused on him. Dialogue is often delivered in half-sentences and is often interrupted. Responses sometimes only repeat what the other character has said. Questions are avoided by talking around them or responding with another question. This keeps the dialogue sounding real while creating conflict and interest. It also gives the page white space which is reader friendly.

To create interesting dialogue, listen to the world around you. As you watch TV or movies, notice the difference between a man and woman's word choice and ways of expressing themselves. When writing Christian romance, remember that men and woman are different in many ways. To make your hero and heroine real provide them with appropriate traits, behaviors, and dialogue to enhance conflict and to add to the reader's reality.


Teri D. Smith said...

Thanks, Gail, this is helpful. I thought the tip about males speaking in shorter sentences especially for dialogue.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Terri - Thanks for letting me know you find the blog helpful. I've heard a couple of great workshops on genders and it does come in handy.

Wishing you good writing.

Brandie said...

These are great tips! Things like shorter sentences for men--very helpful. Funny how even though we live with that, we don't notice it enough to put it into dialogue. Though hopefully I will now! Thank you!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Brandie - Glad you're finding the blog helpful. Thanks for letting me know.


Anonymous said...

While this may be true for some people, I think stereotypes are used to much in Tv and writing. I would actually find those kinds of characters sometimes unbelieveable.


Gail Gaymer Martin said...

I certainly agree. My husband is very different from the typical male, but he still has many of these traits. He doesn't watch sports or sit in front of the TV all day. But he does flip channels like many men when watching TV. These attributes are a general suggestion of the differences based on psychological studies and personal observation as well as listening to men talk about men at writing conferences. If we trap all men in these attributes, yet, it would be sterotyping but the purpose is to give a general idea of ways in which men and women often differ.