It is a widely accepted notion that men and women speak two different languages.
In the book The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine, the author refers to studies finding that women use about 20,000 words per day whereas men use about 7,000.
Simply not true, says sciencemag.org that published the findings of another study in 2007 on how many words the average human speaks daily. The abstract states: "Women are generally assumed to be more talkative than men. Data were analyzed from 396 participants who wore a voice recorder that sampled ambient sounds for several days. Participants' daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day."
Even if we accept the notion that men and women speak the same number of words each day, John Gray's bestselling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus points out that men and women differ in their approach to communication. He says that men speak to communicate needs and data while women speak to communicate feelings and emotions, that men process their thoughts before speaking and women process their thoughts while speaking.
If Gray's assertions are true, I must admit that I speak more like a man. I may write like a woman, at times quite verbose, but conversation wise, I probably lean towards the masculine side of things.
In my household, my husband and I literally do speak two different languages - his native tongue being Italian and mine English. We go through many days speaking some form of Itanglish - mixing the two languages mid-conversation, sometimes even mid-sentence. Throw in a couple of preschoolers and our house is a linguistic hodgepodge! Somehow we find a way through the differences and generally find a meeting of the minds along the way.
So, how does all of this relate to writing? - you may ask. Here's the deal - when you create a character in a book, you want their voice to sound as authentic as possible. Study the nuances of male and female conversation and how they relate to one another - how men speak with other men, how women speak with other women and how men and women speak to one another. There are very distinct styles and you want the characters in your book to reflect that.
writing exercise: Write a short dialogue between each of the following characters, given the circumstances:
- two men - want to get together to watch sports and have a drink
- two women - want to pick a restaurant
- one man / one woman - looking through "for rent" ads (can be couple or roommates)
(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)writercizer response:
1 - Two men - sports / drink
"Hey, what's up?"
"Nothin' much - just hangin'. You?
"Bout the same. The Lakers are playing the Knicks tonight - want to head down to Paddy's and catch the game? Knock a couple back?"
"You know it. 6:30?"
2 - Two women - restaurant
strolling along a boutique-lined street
"Mmm ... I'm feeling a little hungry and that cafe' smelled so good. Do you want to grab something to eat? We could relax and chat a while. Get off our feet."
"Sure, I have a couple hours to spare. What do you feel like?"
"I'm not sure. I was out for Indian a couple days ago at this place about a block away. It was really good, but I don't know if I feel like Indian again. What do you feel like? Thai? Japanese? Burgers? I heard there's a really good bistro down the street - cute interior, lots of artwork up on the walls, famously handsome waiters. Or maybe we should just get some Tapas and sangria... what do you think?"
"That all sounds so good. I don't really mind one way or the other. Actually, I did see this program on Oprah about fish after natural disasters, and I'm not so sure about the pollution in the ocean these days, what with the earthquakes and tsunamis and floating fish - so maybe Japanese is out for today. What about that crepe place?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that one! That's cute - they always have nice flowers and good wine. But it can be a little loud for conversation and there's usually a line. I don't know if I feel like waiting."
"Good point - maybe we should just keep walking and stop wherever our noses follow us. Or there's always the brewery."
"Yeah, that's a good menu. I always see something I like. But I'm sort of thinking of something a little more quaint. You know what I mean?"
"Totally - ok, let's head down the block. I'm sure we'll see something that looks cute and smells good, and we'll just stop in there. Sound good?"
"Perfect, let's walk."
3 - man/woman - "for rent"
W: "Oooh - look at this one! It says it's a cute home with a garden and fireplace. Let's check it out."
M: "Cute means small. How much?"
W: "Umm, it's about $75 over our budget, but if we cut back a little on entertainment we could make it work. It looks like it has potential!"
M: "Small and expensive? Let's keep looking. I don't want to cut back on the TV package. You know me - I need my movies and sports. Oh, here's one - 3 bed / 3 bath, a couple hundred under budget, says big."
M: "Just off of 52nd and Lovett St."
W: "Over there. No way! I don't want a neighborhood I can't walk around in. You have to use a car to get anywhere."
M: "Now we're in a walking neighborhood and you never walk. What's the difference?"
W: "The difference is I could walk and choose not to; if we were there I wouldn't have the choice. I just wouldn't feel like I was at home living there. Ok?"
M: "Yeah, but we could save for a house or vacation living there. And it's really big! Isn't that worth it?"
W: "Nope. We're better here. Maybe we should just stay - it's a little small but we can make it work."
M: "You were the one who wanted to look for a new place! I'm looking for you. I don't care where we are."
W: "Well, if that's all that's out there, I think I changed my mind, ok?"M: "Alright. Well, just keep your eyes open - if we see something we both like we'll check it out. Now, where should we go for lunch?"