Let’s face it, women and men are different. If you’re a woman writer – you write like a woman. If you’re a male author – you write like a man. Hmmm, no big surprise there. Why is that important, you might ask?
I’m sure you have male as well as female characters in your book. Don’t you think it would help to understand how the other thinks, acts, even speaks when writing? Creating characters of the opposite sex can be tricky. Remember we want to be believable. One mistake and the reader just might close the book for good.
Have you considered the impact of your own gender on your writing? It’s time to start. By learning how men and women differ, you’ll be able to better understand your audience. This could expand your writing appeal. It will have an impact on how your handle language, story and style—no matter what you’re writing, or who you’re writing it for.
It’s back to the cliché, ‘walk the walk and talk the talk.’ When writing you have to consider your audience. If you’re writing an Indian romance there’s a good chance your audience is primarily female. If you’re working on the history of gun slingers of the old West, you’ll have mostly male readers.
While writing, we’re not thinking about what will grab a reader who finds the topic interesting. We haven’t considered how something as simple as choosing our words can attract or turn off prospective readers.
Gender-specific terms aren’t always immediately obvious; there are plenty of ordinary words and phrases that are used by either sex. A woman is three times more likely to use the word “gorgeous,” for example. And when a man does use it, it’s typically only to describe a woman—not a child, a jacket, or a centerpiece.
Consider this; if your intended audience is female, make sure to include plenty of personal pronouns—“I,” “you” and “we”—and descriptive terms. If your intended audience is male, exchange pronouns for articles—such as “a,” “the” and “that”—choose active verbs, limit adjectives and include concrete figures, like numbers.
Observe the stylistic differences between these two statements: “I’m sorry we’re late; we had to stop and let Suzzie potty on the way here,” and, “From now on we are taking a port-a-potty along when we travel.” Chances are you can tell right away which sex is talking in each one.
What should you do when you want to appeal to a mixed audience? Start by reviewing your writing with an eye for language that reflects your gender. Locate them and revise to include both genders.
It’s no secret that men prefer to see something done —a fight won, a horse broken, a murder solved. Women tend to focus on the relationships and emotions behind the story—who is affected by the fight, how is the man changed when he breaks the horse for a child, does solving the murder bond the couple? Sociologists suggest that the female focus on nurturing relationships and the male compulsion to get the job done not only affect what we’re interested in, but the way we use language—and, naturally, the style that appeals to us on a page.
So this is where style differences come to play. Style differences are especially important to understand if you’re writing dialogue. One of the most difficult tasks we face as writers is making sure our characters say the right words. Distinguishing differences in the way the genders communicate can help you develop more convincing, appealing characters that believable to your readers.
Studies prove women are more likely to express likings rather than demand them (“I would like a single rose.”). Start a sentence with a question (“What do you think about … ?”). Use apologetic dialog even when being decisive (“I’m so sorry, but I’m not going to have lunch with you.”).
The opposite (of course) is true with Men. They use direct and actually aggressive language (“Grab me a bag of chips.”). They fill the day with conversation with dialog less cooperative or helpful; sarcasm, put-downs or ‘guy’ references some of us refer to as crude. Studies suggest that men don’t divulge personal information in everyday conversation, while women frequently do.
If you’re writing for a single gender—whether you’re penning an instructional piece or working on your novel-in-progress—don’t shy away from integrating these style differences into your work. They may seem subtle, but you’ll be surprised at how much careful attention to these preferences can boost your writing’s appeal to your audience.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men. When you are writing male or female dialog, consider gender traits when typing dialog. When you do, remember these words, from Edward Abbey: “It is the difference between men and women, not the sameness, that creates the tension and the delight.”
A great book dealing with this subject is the Writer’s Guide to Character Traits By Dr. Linda Edelstein
From serial killers and drug addicts to career professionals, blue-collar workers, and the rich and famous, this book, written by a practicing psychologist, profiles the mental, emotional, and physical characteristics of different personality types. New to this edition: Over 400 easy-to-reference character listings that detail typical behaviors, thought processes, and common reactions to a variety of situations. Sidebars and statistics on personality types not included in the previous edition. Mix and match traits and quirks for a mix of flaws and strengths to make your characters unique and lively. Psychopaths, cult members, drug addicts, career professionals and philanthropists are all represented. Put your imagination and this instruction together and create characters your readers will never forget!