Monday, 8 July 2013

Who said what now? Gender Dialogue

Character Dialogue

How to create distinctive three dimensional characters PART 2
Remember the time I was reading and had to wonder why the heroine had a penis, but it turned out POV had changed? Well we've talked about using body language to define your character now it's time for dialogue.
Unless your characters are identical twins who finish each other's sentences and speak in unison, your characters should have their own distinct way of speaking.

The key to finding your characters voice is knowing who they are. Really knowing... Like where are they from, are they formal or informal, educated or uneducated, trendy or old fashioned, guarded and reserved or open, are they someone who speaks every incessant thought that comes into their head, or do they keep their cards close?

Let's start with gender because that's where this whole topic started for me. If you're writing romance it's even more important to get this right because genders (particularly for the hero) are much more clearly defined.

Ladies tend to use more descriptive and emotional language. I don't need to go further than my own living room to find examples. My husband being the very stereotype of overt masculinity provides them in abundance.  
Example; someone asks how our meal is, and we are both enjoying it.
  • Hubby: "It's fine, thanks." If it's ABSOLUTLY THE BEST THING HE HAS EVER EATEN maybe, "It's good, thanks."
  • Me: "It's fantastic/delicious/wonderful, thank you."

If fact I am quite sure my husband has never spoken any of the words I just used.

So think about connotations of word choices. Words that are emotional and descriptive might be used for the heroine and not the hero. Where the heroine might say, gorgeous, ecstatic, or devastated, the hero might use words like nice, pleased, or pissed.

Men are more likely to be direct in what they say and get to the point. For example a hero would be more likely to answer a question with a simple yes or no, while the heroine might say something like "I'd prefer not to" or "I'm not sure about that".
  • Females are more likely to phrase things as questions and males as statements.
  • Females use more adjectives. Males have shorter sentences.

Tip: If you want to get a real feel for male and female speech patterns this exercise takes only a few minutes and gives great insight—it's also pretty funny.

Record five minutes of a male talk program such as The Footy Show, or Top Gear. Play the recording and write down all the dialogue as it is spoken. Then do the same for a female driven show like The View. Now compare the two. How different is dialogue? I bet you'd never confuse the gender of the speakers.

There are a million ways you can reveal your character with dialogue. Here are just a few things to think about.
Revealing a background
  • You'll notice a difference in the way people speak just from the area they live in, even if there is not a distinctive accent. People from some states or countries tend to frequently use certain words. Think about where your character is from to form their language choices.
  • Formal/educated/professional characters will tend to have better grammar, use more formal language, possibly use less contractions.
  • Less formal characters may have poorer grammar, use more slang and colloquialisms. 
  • Is your character an expert on a certain topic? Clues might be woven into dialogue or even internal narrative.

Revealing a personality
  • Does your character have their own saying or phrase? It can make your character distinct, but be sure not to over use it. 
  • Does your character use humor in their speech? 
  • Is the character cool/trendy? If so they would be all over pop-culture phrases (but careful these date). 
  • Is your character mysterious? Then they might be more elusive and less upfront in their answers. 


  1. Excellent tips. There is nothing worse than having characters all sound the same.

    1. Thanks so much Shelley. Thanks for visiting my blog :)