In thinking about what I might contribute to this theme, I toyed with the idea of writing about the way journalists, especially broadcast journalists, fracture the English language. Some of the breaks are just funny bloopers, but others are mistakes that are more embarrassing than funny. For example when a commentator during the Olympics said, "He was a whole feet shy." Or another who said, "You've got to perform well to be able to medal."
Like we didn't know that?
I decided to go in a different direction, however, when I started reading a humorous book by Bill McCurry. Bring Us the Head of the Velveteen Rabbit is filled with short, yet funny and insightful essays about all kinds of topics. His letter to the Thanksgiving Turkey is worth the price of the book, but it was the one about communication that made me decide I would write about how interpretations of what people say can vary. He titled this piece, Listen to What I Mean, Not What I Say, and, yes, it does focus on the differences between the way men and women communicate.
For example he makes the point that for him the word "couple" means 2. That's all, just 2. His wife, however, uses "couple" to mean anything from 2 to 5, which really is "a few." So he never knows exactly what she means.
"The challenge that my wife and I face is that when we fell in love the only thing that we had in common communication-wise was that we both spoke English. We often said the same thing and meant completely different things."
Hence the problem with the word "couple".
There are lots of jokes about these differences between men and women, but we writers need to take the issue seriously. When developing characters, we have to recognize and understand that men and women communicate on two different levels most of the time. I became aware of this when I was going through the final draft of a book I recently finished. As I went through scenes and paid careful attention to each line of dialogue, I noticed that I didn't always have these differences distinct. I had some of the men talking in broad, general terms like the women, and I had to go back and rewrite the dialogue to make the men sound more like a guy who would say exactly what he means. "Two is just 2."
What about you? Have you had to go back and rewrite dialogue to make it more masculine or more feminine? Are there times to have a guy sound more feminine, or a woman more masculine, for characterization?
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is Open Season as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.