In a previous post I mentioned the workshop I used to give to published authors and aspiring writers. Designed to help writers create more credible characters of the opposite sex, the workshop presented the fundamental difference in the sexes as they relate to relaying point of view in a story. I’m thinking now the central elements of that workshop just may have merit here. In a blog about starting over? you might be asking. Why not? Life, love and online dating—the triumvirate of “sucks”—allows for broad interpretation. Besides, it’s my blog, so it’s my choice. 🙂
I titled the workshop SMART—an anagram for the character characteristics that most typically differentiate a male from a female.
Those of us old enough to remember the movie “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn, may remember the song sung by Rex Harrison’s Professor Higgins, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” The answer is simple. Because women and men are different. (Duh!) Ergo, we won’t ever see eye to eye. Hell, according to Dr. John Gray, we’re basically from different planets. He wrote a whole book on the subject, calling it a guide to understanding the opposite sex “by acknowledging and explaining the fundamental psychological differences between men’s and women’s needs, desires and behaviors.” Men are From Mars Women Are From Venus. Originally published in 1993, the damn thing has sold over 50 M copies! According to Gray (and countless other relationship experts), all is, however, not lost. Learning about the opposite sex can lead to better understanding and communication, which may lead to less misunderstood and hurt feelings, which ultimately—and ideally—could result in better relationships.
So in the hope of achieving those “better relationships” let’s continue. Let’s begin with S—speech—an essential difference for a female writer to recognize when writing a male character’s dialogue. (And visa versa.) As a rule, how a man talks is decidedly different from how a woman converses. Men use far fewer words, less adjectives, simpler phrasing and more profanity. There are exceptions, of course, based upon circumstance, experience, and education. Take me for example. I have previously referenced my military brat background and its resultant influence upon my speech patterns. Like most with any time in the service, I use f**k as a comma, verb and adjective. Speaking of adjectives . . . if men use them, they use them sparingly and in their simplest forms. Colors tend to stick to the primary ones. Think about it. Don’t most men own a black, red or white car? Want to have a laugh? Ask a man what color “puce” is. When it comes to the male ability to describe, he thinks in broad strokes and paints generalities. If—and that’s a big IF—he notices your floral-print empire-waisted sundress (more on men’s lack of eye for detail later), it will be a “flowered outfit.” (Again, my comments for purposes here are also general. Your man may vary. If he does, lucky you!) But science backs me up. There’s a specific protein in the brain that deals with language. Women’s brains have 30% more of it. As a result, women speak on average 20,000 words a day. The average man speaks only 7,000. Ladies, that’s a difference of 13,000 words!
Physiologically, women are better communicators. Period. And it’s part of our primordial hard-wiring for an evolutionary reason. While Caveman Ken was out there tracking and hunting (not skills that required conversation—in fact, talking would have been detrimental to the task), Cavewoman Barbie was back at the cave-stead with the kids and the other bored Barbies. Ta-dah! Communication is born. Darwinism at its best. Moving forward a few millennium to today, not much has changed.
As a side note: The male memory isn’t any more comprehensive than his vocabulary. In a verbal battle he not only uses less ammunition (i.e. words)—he has less to use! Consequently, when they argue, men don’t start citing chapter and verse specific examples of prior transgressions like women do. Women not only store away sh*t for future use, they keep the freakin’ receipt—and it’s time-stamped!
In a conversation, if a man asks a question, he wants a concise answer. Ergo, he responds the same. Men don’t mitigate a request, suggestion or recommendation with niceties either—which BTW denote weakness among men. “I was thinking . . . I believe it might be beneficial if we maybe try X,Y,Z.” Too nice, too on the fence, too “I don’t want to step on any toes.” Definitely a female’s speech pattern. Believe me, all things being equal, her suggestion is far less likely to be given the consideration the male’s blunt, to the point, unequivocal equivalent would get: “We should try X,Y and Z.” Ladies, men don’t use detail–and furthermore, they don’t want to hear it. (It may be because they simply can’t process it–but more on that in the next post.) I can’t tell you how many times I would start to explain something to my ex, and he’d cut me short with a, “Just give me the executive version.”
Here’s a little dialogue to illustrate:
Wilma Wife joins Henry Husband on the patio. He’s been home from work for 10 minutes. She’s been alone since early morning when the kids left for school. (Remember now, all those words she needs to use . . .)
“Honey, I was thinking . . . I really don’t want to cook tonight. I also didn’t pull anything out of the freezer. I got busy with the laundry and forgot. Now it’s too late. Do you maybe want to try that Mexican restaurant I read about in the paper last week? I told you about it. The critic gave it 4 stars, but sometimes I think he’s overly critical. Last week he gave the pancake house across town 3 stars, and I really love that place! Alice and I took the boys there after the school orientation meeting on Friday. I really do like Donny’s teacher. Anyway, the waitress was sooo nice when Johnny spilled his milk. So what do you think?”
I guarantee you! The guy is going to look at her and go, “HUH?”
Trust me. Henry shut down when she said she wasn’t cooking. Remember the Peanuts cartoons and Lucy? “Woah woah woah” is all he’s heard.
Annoyed he wasn’t listening, Wilma repeats the request, this time more tersely and more loudly, “I said do you want to go out tonight for Mexican?”
Thinking he had the sh*ts from whatever it was he had for lunch, Henry says, “No.”
Wilma now goes from “annoyed” to “pissed” in a nanosecond. Because he didn’t provide detail—as in why he doesn’t want to go, she lets loose with disappointment that comes out as anger. “You know, you never want to go out! I can’t remember the last time we went out. You told me last week you wanted to try that place (BTW, he doesn’t remember) . . . whatever. I don’t care if I eat or not. I’m not even hungry anymore.”
And a fight is on . . . Poor Henry. All he did was answer her basic question: “Do you want to go out?” No, he doesn’t want to go out. He has no idea why she’s pissed. Does any of this ring any bells? (And if it does ring at least one—it’s because it is so so real.)
Here’s that earlier promised example of a man’s lack of an eye for detail. (FYI, unlike my made-up Wilma/Henry exchange above, this one is a true story.) I once went jeans shopping with my ex then husband. While he was trying on a pair, I spied a cute shirt dress. I ducked into a dressing room to try it on. As I was standing outside the changing area, looking at myself in a full-length mirror, Clueless Clive emerges. He glances at me and asks, “Ready to go?” Now here’s the kicker, ladies. I had been wearing a long to the freakin’ floor! black skirt and top when we walked into the store. There I now stood in a short above the knee white dress—with tags and a big-ass anti-theft device hanging, no less—and he asks if I’m ready to go? Seriously?!? Dude, with that attention to detail I’m shocked your gender made it past Cro-Magnon. Yep, just walk right by that steaming pile of woolly mammoth poop . . . oblivious . . . like your ur-ur-ur-great grandson now walks by a steaming wife. Hey! Wait a minute! Why is she unzipping her clothes in the middle of The Gap?
To be continued . . .