My husband is a pretty typical outdoors man – he loves camo, hiking, four-wheeling, and dirt. He prefers to keep a full beard and someday hopes to let his hair grow long again (though I’d be okay if he passed on the man-bun hysteria). Like many men, he’s not overly chatty, unless you ask him the right question. Start talking lawn care, construction, or Legos and he’ll talk your ear off. Aside from that, however, I wouldn’t consider him particularly communicative. He’s my inspiration when writing most of my male characters’ dialogue because I want it to sound authentic.
Unfortunately there seems to be a number of authors who are less concerned with how men actually talk and more concerned with how they would like men to talk. Nothing screams “author intrusion!” like a lumberjack waxing poetic about the flaxen hair of his soulmate. Yes, you may find a rough and ready, hands-on man who has a softer poetic side, but let’s be honest – most men will use two words when they should probably use ten.
Don’t fall into the trap of creating flowery dialogue for a male character just because you think it sounds romantic (when I asked my husband to tell me something romantic, he told me, “If we had a garage, I’d let you park your car it in.”). Here are some tips for creating more realistic dialogue for your male characters.
- What’s his education? Lawyers, doctors, and college professors will not use the same words and sentence structure as policemen, contractors, and carpenters. A kindergarten teacher is not going to sound like an anthropologist. Understand your man’s education level and have him speak accordingly.
- What are his passions? My husband will pretend to talk about football, but he couldn’t care less (I don’t think he actually watched a game until we got married). But, like I said earlier, he’ll talk for hours about Legos. It’s okay to have your man be chatty at times, but make sure it’s about those things he cares about.
- What’s his birth order? Oldest, middle, youngest – they do have their universal characteristics. If your man is the youngest of eight kids, he’s probably not going to be the bossy one in the family. Make sure his speech reflects that.
- Where’s he from? Regional dialects and slang matter. Know whether he’s going to order a Coke, soda, or pop.
- Listen. Shuffle on down to your local coffee shop and sit next to a table of men. Listen to what they say and how they say it. Then go to the bar and do the same thing. Start paying attention to how men answer questions, address people, and start conversations. Use what you hear.
- Watch. Go to the mall, park, basketball game, and construction work site. While you listen in, watch how the men there interact. Are they facing each other or facing forward? Do they lean in to each other or watch the world around them? Take notes.
All of these rules also apply to female characters, but for women writing men it’s imperative that you take these characteristics seriously and apply them to each male character. Don’t turn your men into women, and don’t make your men talking heads for the author. Let them be different. Confident. Manly.