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So my philosophy is "if you can't do it, don't bother", and I couldn't write realistic female dialogues so I decided to not bother at all with gender differences and make them sound the same. This leads to the broader question: is it okay if they sound the same? Same intelligence, same dialect, same level of speech, etc. The only thing that differs is their personalities, but the male and female characters don't have any stereotypical traits from their gender.

Is that bad? I am thinking most people wouldn't really notice it, and if there are no particular peculiarities, then it's a minor issue if it's an issue at all.

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    I really wonder what you mean by "realistic female dialogues". Any examples?
    – Divizna
    Jan 9 at 23:56
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    Do your male and female characters sound like two distinct characters of their own, disregarding their gender difference?
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 10 at 14:13
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    FWIW as a reader, I definitely have authors I read where every character has the exact same vocabulary and vocal mannerisms. It doesn't stop me reading them, but its quite noticeable.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 10 at 19:59
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    So my philosophy is "if you can't do it, don't bother". You could learn how to do it.
    – RonJohn
    Jan 10 at 22:14
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    I recently grew very sick of a book series where everyone sounded the same ... Jan 11 at 18:39

7 Answers 7

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In your real world experience, is there a consistent difference between how men and women speak?

I haven't noticed much of it. And I don't really put any gender traits in my characters' speech either.

However... This depends on the culture of your setting. If the culture has wildly different expectations from the two genders and assigns them strict social roles, then realistically the "correct" style of speech for their role, which most people will speak, will reflect that, and may differ significantly.

The more gender-equal society, the more gender-equal style of speech.

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    Jane Austen famously never included in her novels any conversations between men without women present, because she knew or suspected that the men of her day talked in a different way in all-male company. Jan 10 at 13:11
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    I don't know about speech, but there are statistical differences between male and female writers - not enough to say reliably for any individual, but a simple algorithm that counts word frequencies can distinguish with something like 80% accuracy according to this paper (compared to 50% if you flipped a coin). An online implementation of something similar is available here.
    – kaya3
    Jan 10 at 13:19
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    The more "gender-equal" etc. You have data on that? Gender roles in the Nordic countries are alive and well, for example.
    – Boba Fit
    Jan 10 at 19:16
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    @user21820 But a story about real people set in the "real world" should reflect behaviors real people display, no matter how they arose. The question wasn't "should gender differences in speech be eliminated?" Jan 11 at 18:36
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    Hey, people. This has turned into a chat. Let's get over there, shall we? Not sure if I'm going to have spoons to participate a lot, though.
    – Divizna
    Jan 11 at 20:10
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None of your characters should sound the same. If all of your characters have the "same intelligence, same dialect, same level of speech," your dialogue is likely to become monotonous.

The only thing you point out as differing between your characters is personality, but people's patterns of speech are affected by formal education level, locations they've lived, the speech patterns of people around them, their occupations... A truck driver will have a different way of talking about driving than a doctor. Someone from a cold region will speak differently about the weather than someone who lives on a tropical island. Cultural background and foreign language proficiency affect how people speak, far beyond an accent. And, yes, gender can affect speech as well.

None of these factors will affect all speech all the time. If you have two characters who are identical apart from their genders, they're probably going to sound similar in a lot of situations. But they might talk differently about their jobs or about their families, for example. As other answers have pointed out, setting has a very strong effect on gender differences; a woman and a man at a tea party in Victorian England are going to sound very different than a woman and a man lecturing at a university in modern-day New York.

"If you can't do it, don't bother" is a very limiting philosophy for a writer. It sounds like you aren't planning to write purely from your own perspective, only about things you have personally experienced, so you should already be giving some thought to how to write things outside of your experience. Do research like you would for writing anything else you're unfamiliar with. Do you notice differences in how men and women talk normally, in your day-to-day life? What are the differences? Ask men and women about how they speak in different situations. Read books with male and female characters (from a variety of authors) and try to understand how and why they sound different.

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Yes, female and male sound different in general. There is no gender discrimination in thinking that.

Yes, it is a flaw to make your characters sound the same (regardless of gender). But the writer is the most one who will notice the difference and the details and worries inside her/his head are much more than the reader.

I had the same problem, writing from a female voice. The solution was to put a specific real life person on your mind, add your character motives, then start to imagine that character how she sounds in real life situation like that.

Another method to help you understand your characters is to use "Emotional Intelligence" and try to understand yourself and people around you. Do not stop at your opinion in people and try to fully understand their feelings and motives from their perspectives.

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    "Yes, female and male sound different in general. There is no gender discrimination in thinking that." Can you give any examples? Some specifics might help OP with portraying those differences.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 10 at 10:27
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    In "The great Gatsby", you can find that "Daisy" sound different when she talks about giving birth to her baby and how "Beautiful and stupid" should a girl be to survive in life. When her husband "Tom" speaks about his sports trophies and "play ball". So, many other examples there. If you on-purpose want to portray characters that gender does not play a part in their personality, then it is your choice for every book separately.
    – Bassem
    Jan 10 at 11:10
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    @BassemAkl, Daisy and Tom are stereotypes. There are women who play sports. There are men who affect meekness in order to "survive" certain social situations (e.g., employee/employer relationships.) IMO, men on average are more inclined to be competitive, more inclined to hide thoughts and feelings; while women on average are more inclined to be cooperative and open. But, outliers from either gender can be anywhere on the spectrum of personality types. What matters in fiction (as others have said here) is for important characters to have significant differences from each other. Jan 11 at 0:39
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    @SolomonSlow, Is the question here "Does gender add another layer to a multi-layered character? Or it does not add anything?". The problem is we are confused between what the world should be from our ethics perspective (trying hard to create a utopia) and neutral observation of the world as it is. I think a writer should not mistake his opinions as facts. Searching for gender equality means we are not there yet.
    – Bassem
    Jan 11 at 9:40
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This is going to be a difficult topic. I hope everybody will note the careful use of "on average" and "tend" that are in the following.

Men and women are different. The differences are average differences. Individuals can show a huge variety of characteristics over a huge range. But on average, there is a difference.

Weinsberg and DeYoung in 2011 studied the big 5 traits and in particular Gender Differences in Personality across the Ten Aspects of the Big Five. They concluded that women tend to score higher on Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism than men.

The difference is about one standard deviation. What does it mean? It means that if you guessed that, between a randomly selected man and woman, the woman would be more agreeable, on average you would be right about 60 percent of the time. Where it begins to matter is the extremes. If you found somebody at the extreme of disagreeable, it would be much more likely to be a man.

Does it mean you have to make women "like that?" OF COURSE NOT! The range individuals display in these characteristics is much larger than the difference between the average of men and women. Notice the word "tend." You can certainly play with these characteristics. And a character with a feature "from the other column" can be quite interesting. But, you should do it with awareness.

Just one example: conversations among women are more likely (note that, not "are always") to be about sharing and validation, where men are more likely to be transmitting information and problem solving. This is the common even cliché thing of conversational difficulty between a man and a woman. She shares her problems. He offers possible solutions. She is upset that he "wants to fix her" when what she wants is to share. He is upset that she does not want solutions. They are both upset. This conversation template gets filled in very frequently.

There are many "trope" features of conversations between men and women. From men being more likely to want to compete (the "that's nothing" trope), to men never understanding why women care about the toilet seat. (It's because they go to the bathroom without turning on the light.) Such tropes can be shortcuts to establish things. But they can also be incredibly stale and cliché.

What you absolutely should not do is make all your characters sound the same. (Unless it's a science fiction story about clones or some such.) You should find ways to make your characters stand out in your reader's minds. You want to make them like the characters you want them to like, and dislike the ones you want them to dislike. You want them to have characteristics that drive the story in the direction you want it to go. Otherwise you get a lot of walk-ons that nobody remembers or cares about.

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I have never tried to make females sound any different than males, but I will also say that my female characters do not have a "male" attitude toward life.

Especially in past cultures but even in the modern-day first world countries, women are heavily discriminated against. There is a great deal of both hard misogyny, and "soft" misogyny with the opinions and leadership of women disdained or ignored, where exactly the same stuff coming from a man would be considered and respected.

This is especially true in "male" disciplines, like the military, police force, and many leadership roles in for-profit corporations, charities, law enforcement and politics.

Just because their speech sounds identical, does not mean their experiences should seem identical.

And if you think putting yourself into woman's mindset is too hard to do, so you won't bother, that can kill your writing career.

Because like it or not, a super-majority of agents are women, and there are female gate-keepers throughout the publishing industry. Because, statistically speaking, women are better at the language arts than men are, and the publishing industry has welcomed their judgmental skill more so than other industries.

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  • (Well said, and by "well" I mean you gave higher credit to women so your answer could pass their judgment). That was only an example for the OP so he can find a different sound for males. I will think of another example using a female sound and write a comment with it.
    – Bassem
    Jan 10 at 11:42
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    It's way more likely to kill a writing career because it means you won't write well.
    – amara
    Jan 10 at 14:18
  • @amara Are you agreeing with me, or disagreeing with me? I'm saying if one writes all their women as if they have a male POV, the females in the industry are likely to notice before publication. One doesn't have to be perfect at this, but a writer has to at least recognize reality. Perhaps not for some deep future fantasy, or alien fantasy, where equality or matriarchy might prevail. But if the story is put up as an Earth medieval fantasy, some awareness should at least be attempted.
    – Amadeus
    Jan 10 at 14:44
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    @Amadeus That's also dependent on how the author is seem. As someone that helps out in a collab publishing works under a feminine pen-name: the perceived gender of the author alone changes a lot how your work is received. A book published under John Doe with a certain female character will have several comments pointing out how unrealistic she is. Same book published by Jane Doe will be received in a completely different manner. Reverse that for characters for male characters. In truth, people judge the author a way lot more than they would like to admit.
    – T. Sar
    Jan 10 at 19:56
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    Some people need to realize that women are people, but I think you may need to realize that men are people too. They can be perfectly well aware of anything women can be aware of. And for the people referenced in the first clause, vice versa.
    – amara
    Jan 11 at 16:44
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There are certain dialects that have a noticeable distinction between genders or only get used by "one gender" in English fictions. For example, the traditional "surfer dude" accent is the male equivalent of the "Valley Girl" and are noticeably distinct from each other despite being the the former being the male equivilent of the later and vice versa (Both are a Southern California accent. The only noticiable commonality between them is the unusual habit of preceding the name for Numbered Highways with the word "the" (In American English, most people would say "Take 405 to the first exit to Downtown" but Southern Californians will say "Take the 405 to the first exit to downtown" Both are referring to Interstate 405 (I-405), a major highway in the L.A. area.). Beyond that there's little common verbiage shared between the two accents and the sterotypes are different (Surfer Dudes are perpetually friendly and laid back and their words may or may not be wise sage advice. Valley Girls are vain, conceited gossips and fashionistas and are much more vitriolic to people on an onset.)

Meanwhile, the Tidewater Accent (a southern accent native to Baltimore and by extension Washington D.C. and surrounding areas) rarely has a male media portrayaly and is seemingly the official accent of middle age diner waitresses anywhere in the nation (typically by virtue of the fact that the most noticable feature of the accent is to address people as "hon" (short for honey) in a platonic manner).

The Brooklyn accent from New York City also has it's own differences between male and female speakers, but they tend to imply the same thing about the speaker regardless of gender. Males tend to be a bit deep and thuggish while female speakers tend to have very nasaly voices, but either way the sterotype of a hot headed and prone to dropping enough F-bombs to make a sailor blush.

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There is a real-world difference in how men and women tend to speak, and one that grows all the more obvious when you see groups of people together.

As for whether or not it's okay if they sound the same, that's really up to you and your personal preferences... or target audience. If you are writing in a genre with a traditionally low female readership demo, then this will likely never matter. You could also choose to ignore the differences if your world is one where you think they wouldn't exist. The only real rule here is to make sure your characters all have their unique voices.

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