There are two characters in the following dialogue. One of them (Yuki) is a tomboy. She has short hair, dresses like a man, and likes girls. I want to make her sound more masculine (but not exactly like a man).

Yuki waved to the waitress and asked for another vodka. Then she turned back to Eri and said, "Hey. Forgot to tell you. I finally got my visa."

"Really? That’s great! So, when did you say you're going? Next year?"

"Next month."

"Oh." Eri laughed. "Sorry, I'm not sure what's with my memory tonight." She inspected Yuki's face. "What's wrong?"

"To tell you the truth, I'm not longer sure whether to go or not."

"Come on. You're just afraid. That's normal. After all, it's your first time abroad."

"Well, the thing is that, at first, the whole idea seemed very exciting to me. Damn, it'd been the only thing in my mind for the last few months. But I don't know, I'm starting to wonder whether this really makes sense. Like, why am I so crazy about the US anyway? It's not like my life's going to suddenly change because of studying in the most imperialist country on Earth."

"You'll never find out if you don't try." Eri took a sip of her drink. "The idea is to experience something first, and decide if it makes sense later."

“Yeah,” Yuki said, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. “I guess you're right.”

The waitress came back with Yuki's order, placed it on the table, and walked away. She did all this mechanically, as if on autopilot.

"How about you?" Yuki asked. "You never thought of leaving the country?"

"Not really," Eri said, resting her fist under her chin. "And it's not that I’m against traveling or studying abroad. It's just that I'm not against staying where I am either.”

"Don't you feel like talking a break from your life?"

"Well, I think you ought to build your life in such a way that you don't feel like taking a break from it."

"You think I'm escaping from something?"

Eri shook her head. "I didn't mean that. On the contrary, I think you're pretty good at solving problems. Not only yours, but also other people's."

"Glad you think that,” Yuki said, smiling slightly. “But sure you can handle yours after I'm gone?"

"I'll be OK. It'll be boring without you, though."

"I guess you'll have more time to spend with Takashi."

"Yeah." Eri bit her lower lip, looking to the side. "Now that you mention it, we haven't spent much time together, recently."

"That's how relationships are—everything is exciting and magical at the beginning. But after a few years, you can't even stand seeing each other's faces anymore, not even put in a cute, little photo frame."

Eri laughed. "Nothing like that. It's just that work is keeping him busy this time around. That's all."

"I see. Just don't let things go too far. As that U2 song says, 'it leaves you baby, if you don't care for it.'"

"OK, I'll keep it in mind."

Any suggestions?

  • 4
    I'd say it's difficult to put such a concept across through dialogue (though I'll glady be corrected) Instead I'd say focus on putting it across in the small actions she makes while talking; the way she sits (slouched, relaxed, legs spread, arms up on chair back), the way she drinks (glugging or gulping or swigging rather than sipping) and even the way she gestures while she talks.
    – CLockeWork
    Aug 19, 2013 at 15:27
  • Can you say more about what you mean by "sound more boyish/masculine"? Like, why does that matter to the scene? I personally assume all dialog I write for female characters sounds like a guy is saying it, because I'm a guy. In general, its hard to write characters of the opposite gender authentically. Some might say impossible. I've read very few authors who do it well. Jack Vance is one. Charles Stross is another. That's all I can think of, out of at least 50 I read, both male and female.
    – STSagas
    Aug 19, 2013 at 22:42
  • Sorry, I meant to write, "I find it hard in general to write dialogue for characters of the opposite gender authentically."
    – STSagas
    Aug 19, 2013 at 22:50
  • 1
    What does it mean to "sound masculine"? Why do you want that effect? Do you mean How do I make this character more like a cliched stereotype?
    – Fortiter
    Aug 20, 2013 at 7:01
  • 2
    There are things that are stereotypically feminine to discuss. As a tomboy myself, I'd suggest avoiding those things, but don't go over the top introducing stereotypically masculine topics either. Nonverbal behaviors will really help that. Strong and confident posturing is perceived as very masculine, as CLockeWork suggests. In my mind, I was surreptitiously checking out the waitress's butt as she left the table.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 20, 2013 at 11:44

4 Answers 4


Another question to consider is whether your character self-consciously tries to act more masculine (that is, puts on a bit of an act, perhaps through insecurity), or whether she's just naturally less feminine than most women.

If she's deliberately taking on the mannerisms of a male, she might overdo it (mock other people's emotions, boast about her own prowess in "masculine" tasks, use only short, incomplete sentences, speak with an overly harsh/low pitched voice, treat the wait staff aggressively, burp, slouch exaggeratedly, etc.).

If instead you are simply trying to signal "tomboyish" behavior, she might appear less attuned to /aware of the emotional connotations of the conversation, less inclined to plan ahead with the detail/fussiness of a woman (I know, that's a stereotype, but women love details), readier to "rough it" on her trip, etc. She might dress very plainly rather than fuss about clothes (her companion could notice or comment on how Yuki always seems to wear the same outfit, and Yuki could defend it in a way that signals her attitude toward clothing-- "I hate shopping," "This is comfortable," "I want to be able to run if I feel like it," etc.). She could also feel more free to stretch/scratch/rumple her hair, etc., than most women do in public. Tomboys in books are usually either very athletic or very clumsy, so she could be either.

Presumably you don't need to establish all of this in one, dialogue filled scene, but if you do, a little bit of conflict between the characters could help-- either one could comment on what they see as the overly feminine/masculine behavior of the other (whether in relation to clothes, trip planning, manners, or something else).


It's not just the topics that are stereotypically masculine or feminine. It is also the way they are discussed.

Women tend to discuss more about relationships and feelings and men tend to talk about accomplishments and personal worth. (I'm searching for a citation for this; I know I've read an article about it.)

For instance, a woman might talk to her friend about how she went shopping with her sister so they could pick out a wedding dress together. The focus of the conversation would be on her relationship with her sister and how important it was to her that her sister valued her input and how the experience made her feel closer to her sister. The story would be a vehicle to describe the woman's emotional connection to her sister, and the listener would be expected to reflect and validate those feelings.

A man might describe a similar situation to his friend about how he went shopping with his brother to buy a tux, but the focus would be completely different. He would be more likely to focus on the facts of the trip, how the task was accomplished, and the satisfaction that he derived from helping his brother. He would be more likely to tell the story in order to increase his status or increase the listener's respect for him.

So what strikes me most as feminine in your dialogue is that Yuki breaks from a practical examination of her trip to discuss her friend's personal relationship. She initiates the relationship discussion and her view is almost romantic—exciting and magical has girl written all over it—and although she is admittedly jaded, her view still seems very feminine to me.

The rest of the conversation is suitably tomboyish, though I think.

  • 5
    Yes, this is a classic. I recall when I was in marriage counseling my wife once complained that "He always minimizes my problems." When I asked what she meant she said that any time she told me about a problem, I always gave suggestions on how to solve it. I replied, well, yeah, why are you telling me about a problem unless you want me to help you solve it? But it developed that what she wanted was for me to sympathize with her about how serious the problem was. If I told a buddy about a problem I have with my car I'd hope he'd say something like, "That sounds like it might be a ...
    – Jay
    Aug 21, 2013 at 13:21
  • 4
    plugged gas line. Have you tried replace the fuel filter?" or something of that sort. If he said, "Yeah, those Chevies sure are tricky", I'd walk away disappointed that he wasn't able to help. But apparently when a woman tells a friend about a problem, what she most wants is for the other woman to say, "Yes, that sure is a big problem alright. You must be really unhappy about this." Etc. :-)
    – Jay
    Aug 21, 2013 at 13:22

The principle surely isn't difficult: have her talk about traditionally masculine subjects like mechanics and sports rather than traditionally feminine subjects like fashion and housekeeping. Especially in asides, like metaphors and analogies that she uses.

Somewhere along the line I came across a web site that claims to be able to tell whether a piece of writing was written by a man or a woman by a mechanical analysis. I ran about half a dozen paragraph by known authors through it and it got every one right. Their technique was to look for certain key words that they say tend to be preferred by one sex or the other. Like they say women use personal pronouns, especially "you", more often; while men use numbers more often. (They had a much longer list, those are just the couple I remember.)

The trick, I think, is how far to push it. Too little and the reader may miss it; too much and it becomes blatant and over the top.

(I suppose that's true of any attempt at characterization. I recall seeing a movie once where the writer apparently wanted to give the idea that two people were very religious. So as the one is leaving the other says, "The Lord be with you." If he'd stopped there it would have been plausible and given the message. But then the second character says something like "God bless you while I'm away", and then the first makes some similar religious-theme parting statement, and then the second makes another, for like four exchanges. And I could only think, what, did the writer put every religious-sounding word or phrase he could think of into this one scene?)

  • Can you post the link to the website you mentioned?
    – Mussri
    Aug 20, 2013 at 19:18
  • bookblog.net/gender/genie.php Just for fun I ran it on the posts on this question. It thinks I am male, which is correct; that Anna is female, which from the name I'm guessing is correct; and that Kit is female but the score on that one is close.
    – Jay
    Aug 21, 2013 at 13:12

Tip: Find a guy you know that either is like the character you want -or- can at least act like it, then hold this conversation.

Writing characters of the opposite gender is hard, but writing characters of the same gender with just enough mannerisms to show their bending towards the opposite's traits may be harder. This especially comes into play when this tomboyish-ness is relevant to the plot, but it wouldn't make sense to substitute, well, an actual boy.

If all else fails, make the character more confident and headstrong, and a little less sensitive and empathetic and you have a midway point between male and female conversation.

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