Monday, February 1

Subtle Differences in Language: Men

Since I started this new story, I've been thinking a lot more about what makes a character different from other characters. I'm not necessarily talking about what makes them memorable-- though that is important too! No, I'm talking more about what makes them simply unique within the story. It's no good having a hero and a heroine who act the exact same or sound the exact same. Not only is it boring to read, but it's also difficult to discern who is having that thought or who is talking. As we all know, confusing your readers is a huge no-no and will earn you a slap on the hand.

However, through my numerous years of devouring books, I've noticed that this is still a widespread issue. Due to this, I've decided to do a series of posts, each one geared towards helping your characters stand out. This is by no means an official guide. It's just my thoughts on the subject.

For today's post I will be focusing on how you can make your character actually sound like their gender. Specifically, I will be focusing on how to make your male characters sound like men.

First, the most important thing to remember is that men do not talk like women. This is one of the biggest issues I come across while reading. More often than not, male characters sound too feminine to be realistic. It drives me insane.

Here are a number of ways you could fix this:

  1. Listen very carefully to how men talk. This is easy, since you can do this absolutely anywhere-- it doesn't need to be someone you actually know. Some things to make note of: Do they drop certain words from their sentences to make them shorter? What sort of words do they use to describe things? Do they curse differently than women? Do they curse more often? Keep these sorts of questions in your mind while listening in. Coming up with a list of things you want to know will also help you.

  2. Have a man read your story and ask them if they would ever, EVER say that. More often than not they'll be blunt and tell you the truth.

  3. Have a man read the story out loud. Simply sit back and listen to how he phrases things. If it sounds natural to him, you're good to go. If there is a lot of stumbling or awkward pauses, chances are it's too feminine.

  4. If a specific word is too feminine but you can't think of how a man would say it, than ask a guy for synonyms to that word. I guarantee you that the first couple of words he comes up with will be 10 times better than the original, since it's coming straight from the mind of an actual man, LOL. This technique works quite well for me. At times I get stuck with what I want my hero Rochester to say, and what he would actually say. This is where my dad comes in quite handy. Most of the time he doesn't even realize he's helped me, (thanks dad!)

  5. Men think differently than women, so you have to think in a different way. I know this is difficult for us girls, who often have a billion and ten things running through out minds, but for the most part men think very simply-- not being mean here. Men will not have long-winded debates with themselves, or their friends. Yes they will have debates, but more often than not their debates can be answered with a simple yes or no, while ours cannot be. This is not always the rule, but it's handy to keep in mind.

  6. If you're still having troubles getting your male characters to sound like men, pick up any of J.R. Ward's books. She has some of the best male voices out there today.

  7. Another option is to watch a movie with very manly guys in it.
Other things to keep in mind:
  1. Men are blunt. Even the nice, charming ones are generally blunt beneath all that shiny veneer. Remember, with internal dialogue, he's likely to be even more blunt.

  2. Men speak in little catch phrases, often for descriptive purposes. Find something that you think works for your character, and then test it out how we discussed above.

  3. Have your male character refer to manly things. By this, I mean have them talk about electronics, or cars, or action movies. If it's a book set in a different time period, think of what those guys may talk about back then: horse races, wars, machinery, etc... This will help make your character sound more like an actual guy.

  4. When a guy is talking to his friends, their diction seems to drop to about 20 words. In other words, they do not spend a lot of time rambling on and on, but say what they need to in under five words. They also tend to be more vulgar. I'm not saying you have to throw that in to make it realistic, since I know a lot of you are writing YA. I'm just saying they do tend to be more crude.
So there you have it. My thoughts on how to make your men sound like men.
I hope I gave you some ideas!


  1. This, is like so totally cute of you to do. Thanksies.

  2. Okay, so that really is how I talk, but as you know, I'm not your usual guy.

    I think reading authors like John Green helps. Also, read this guy's blog:

  3. This was brilliant! I never thought about it, however when I am writing a male character, I write him as more loveable than the average guy is!!!

    Excellent points! These will be used for sure!

  4. Very helpful considering I'm writing from a male POV. Thanks Natalie!

  5. This was helpful. Since my MC is a male. Every man is different but I think you summed it up pretty good.

  6. Jonathon- You crack me up =)

    Jen- Aw thanks! I'm glad I could help!!

    Karen- Yay! You're welcome =)

    Victoria- Thanks! Glad to help out!

  7. What a great post! This has me thinking about how the same character might speak differently in given situations -- like the way I talk in a different tone to my mom than I do when chatting with my friends, or the voice I use on the phone at work... or how I sound when nagging my husband. All very different, yet I am the same person!

    I can't wait to read the rest of your posts in this series.

  8. Good post. Making characters real is one of the best ways to engage readers so this kind of thing is important.

  9. Thanks for the great observations about voice. Have you ever read Deborah Tannen's studies on gender linguistics? Fascinating stuff.

    One key thing I remember her studying was how women look to connect in conversation and seek commonality, while men compete and tend to jockey for the upper hand in conversation, especially with other men.

  10. Great points, Nat! I'll keep them in mind when I'm writing.

    I think Marjorie Liu has knack for writing men and not making them all sound the same.

  11. Amber- Yep! Exactly. And I don't think people take that into consideration a lot of the time. Someone can be talkative to their family and shy to others. Giving your characters these subtle differences adds so much depth. Yay, I'm excited =) I'm not doing them in a row, but I will do at least one a week!

    Cindy- Hello! Thanks =) Exactly. The more real you make them, the better they are.

    Laurel- Hello! You're welcome! And no, I haven't. Linguistics and I don't get along at the moment (I have to drop the class). However, the book does sound interesting. That is a very good point and so true.

    Jennifer- Thanks hun! I had just finished a book where the hero sounded girlier than me. It drove me insane. So I did what any writer would do; I blogged about it. LOL!


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