While we are on the subject of dialogue, let’s take a little bit closer look at how males and females communicate because there are some distinct differences. Before going there, though I need to set two ground rules for this discussion. First, about 80% of people will fit the general patterns as described below. About 20% of males will trend toward the “female” style of communication and about 20% of females will trend toward the “male” style of communication. Second, culture and ethnicity will alter some of these patterns. This pattern tends to be most true for Caucasian Americans. Finally, as always, there will be exceptions to all of this. Clear? Now, let’s get started.
Many of the differences in communication styles have their roots in the biological differences that occur before we are born. Remember that hormone burst that occurs at the tail end of the first trimester during pregnancy? That peak time for morning sickness? While it is responsible for the outward sex characteristics that traditionally define male and female, it also alters the brain structure. This is part of what science is looking at for why women usually multitask better than men and why men can often compartmentalize better than women. These structural differences set up a life long pattern of different communication styles.
After we are born, social pressures teach us to further alter our communication styles. Women, even as young as two and three years old, tend to aim their communication at finding common ground and to relate to each other. Men tend to compare and compete, focus on activities, and work to establish a hierarchy amongst themselves. Women also tend to use much more polite language than men. Things like “I’m sorry” and asking for things are second nature to many women, yet can be frustrating for men. Men do not tend to see the efforts at connection, feelings, and relationships in this language. Men, in turn, tend to avoid feelings and language that makes them appear vulnerable because this tends to be seen as a liability.
Now, there is a catch that women can end up trapped in. That’s when a woman is in a position of authority. If a woman comes across as too direct and firm, she is vilified and called derogatory names. Yet, if she is polite and asks, then she can be seen as weak and an ineffective leader. This pattern does not typically hold true for men. They can be direct and blunt, which is taken to mean the male is an effective leader. Thus, effective female leaders tend to either learn to ignore criticisms of being direct, or find ways to be direct while retaining the polite language typical of most women.
Remember, not everyone will conform to these general patterns. For example, I tend to drift more toward the “male” style of communication, though I still retain some of the “female” aspects. Hopefully, though, they will help you start to pick out how to write dialogue for characters of every gender. Again, the best way to study and practice this is to go out and listen to conversations. Then write some and read them out loud. Do they sound similar? Plus, think about all of the conflict you could create with misunderstandings generated by these differences in the way we talk. As always, let me know how it goes!