He Said, She Said and Other Elements of Effective Dialogue – Part 2

Dialogue Should Fit the Characters:

Consider what your character is like and have what they say be in synch with their nature. You wouldn’t expect a rough and tumble, hard drinkin’ detective to say, “Pardon me, Miss” if he accidentally bumped a young woman in a bar. He probably would just eyeball her and say nothing, which speaks volumes about his character without a word being spoken.

More importantly, men and women just do not communicate in the same way. What one says and the other hears is sometimes totally at odds with the actual language spoken.

Why is that? Deborah Tannen analyzes various reasons for this in her book, You Just Don’t Understand. I highly recommend that you read that book so that you will be able to create realistic dialogue for your characters.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
A memorable quote from the film Cool Hand Luke

What is being said and by whom? What Happens next? The Miscommunication and the Why?

Here are some examples of Male/Female Miscommunication:

She said: Would you like to take a break?
He says: No, I’m fine. Let’s finish this.

Whether by nature or nurture, the fact is that men tend to work alone while women work in teams. A woman wants “the team” to agree on taking a course of action. By asking if he wants to take a break, she is saying “I’m tired. I’d like to take a break and I want you to agree with me.” He is thinking that she is wondering whether he is tired and since he is not, he sees no problem with his response.

He says: “But I am listening.”

She sees that he is not facing her directly. She knows that the next thing he says will be about something totally different than what they are currently discussing.

Bonds between men are based less on talking and more on doing (“Boys night”). Because of this men don’t know the kind of talk women want. Men with other men fight to avoid being at the “bottom” of the group. Being a listener makes some men feel like they are being talked down to. Men also jump around to lots of different topics during a conversation whereas women have a tendency to be more focused.

She says: “I’m having this problem at work. I don’t know what to do. My boss screamed at me like a lunatic.”
Another woman says: “Hmm. That happened to me. I felt bad.”
He says: “Well, tell him not to do that. Or quit if it’s that bad.”

Men do and take action. They worry about being the top dog. They are problem solvers and when asked what to do, understand that a solution is needed for a problem.

Women are team players. They listen. They commiserate. If they sense that the other woman truly does want a solution, they will provide instruction by example because this maintains the dynamic of equality between all the team players.

When writing the dialogue between male and female characters, keep the above forms of miscommunication in mind.  They will serve you well in not only crafting believable dialogue, but in learning how to create dialogue that enhances the conflicts between the characters due to this male/female miscommunication.

©2006 Caridad Piñeiro Scordato