So you’d think that writing from the point of view of a 17-year-old male character would be a snap, right, since I grew up with guys? Wow. Do you really think that? I don’t! Writing from the perspective of a female character isn’t always easy either.
I’m especially concerned about dialogue, particularly how much my male characters would say at a given moment. My dad used to tell me that I could talk his ear off. And he once kept my brothers and me waiting in the car for over two hours while he said good-bye to some of his friends from church. So you can imagine how much I talk. But I don’t want my characters to jabber away like magpies if that’s not realistic for guys, even though I’m writing a fantasy book.
So, I’ve done some research. Since I’m writing from the point of view of two male characters (one considerably older than 17), I’ve talked with guys of all ages, listening for the amounts of words used. I even volunteered to pick up a friend’s 15-year-old son and his friend from school for football practice and then took them for drive-thru at McDonald’s. They ate more than they talked—wayyyyy more—until we began a discussion of superhero movies. Then they waxed eloquent.
I’ve gone to malls and listened in on conversations, and unfortunately ran the risk of looking stalkerish. I’ve also asked some guys’ for their feedback on scenes I’ve written. Here is a sample of one such conversation:
Me: I need you to read this dialogue. Does it seem realistic?
Younger brother [holds TV remote]: I’ll look at it later.
Me: Would a guy say this much, or would he say less?
Younger brother: Ooo. The Fairly Oddparents is on.
He’s good at deflection! A trait my nephew shares, as a recent conversation suggests.
Nephew [takes iPod earbuds out of ears]: Did you ever find out what you were looking for on the male point of view?
Me: Uh, I could use yours.
Nephew [grins; sticks earbuds back in ears]
Me [sighs heavily]
Undaunted, I traveled down memory lane—always a danger. As the Doctor from Doctor Who would say, “There’re some cowboys in here.” (By the way, I don’t exactly know what that idiom means. But the statement seems apt.) Thinking back to my older brother’s level of dialogue when he was 17, I would probably have about six lines of dialogue for a 300-page book. And some of that would include grunts and “Are you gonna eat that?”
I know, I know. Dialogue depends on the character—what he’s like—and also the setting and time period. What got me curious about the subject of dialogue in the first place is an article at Scientific American. It mentions the old theory that women talk more than men. A new study shows that men and women average about the same amount of words per day.
With that in mind, I’m calling on any guy reading this post to take the following poll. No obligation though. I’m just curious. I’m not trying to generalize either. As I said, I’m curious.
Thanks for your answers. Even if you don’t take the poll, I’d love some tips from anyone (male or female) on writing across the gender line. How do you go about getting into your character’s head when that character is of the opposite sex?
Cat from LOL Cats. Magpie image from allaboutbirds.org.