If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

The Language of Writing


I found the answer to a question that popped up several years ago. The basic argument was this: If male authors outsell women authors, then women authors should mask their sex and write like men. In the virtual world it’s easy to mask sex by choosing an androgynous or male pseudonym (which several female authors have done), posting no pictures or posting a picture of a male. In light of what I’ve discovered, posing as a male may not be useful. There is more than physical factors that define the difference between male and female authors. Men write differently than women. But how does men’s writing vary from women’s writing? What distinguishes it?

Intuitively, I thought of content. Very few men write romance, but then Nicolas Sparks has enjoyed success in that genre. In the mystery genre, Agatha Christie became as much an icon as Sir Arthur Cannon Doyle. My intuition failed me. Content wasn’t necessarily a factor—and yet it was a factor, but in a way I didn’t understand.

At about the same time, I read a blog (I forget which blog and who wrote the blog—my apologies to that blogger.) recommending a book, The Secret Life Of Pronouns, What Our Words Say About Us. Had I time to read the book during this period, I would have put two and two together and realized that the question and the book went hand in hand. I recently read the book and now understand what the author James W. Pennebaker’s research contributed to the argument. 

Dr. Pennebaker, a social psychologist, studies language to find out what our use of words says about us. Through many experimental trials, recording thousands of conversations and analyzing written works, Pennebaker determined that men and women speak differently. Our sentences are composed of nouns, verbs, modifiers, pronouns, articles, prepositions, etc. He categorized some words as Content Words: nouns, regular and action verbs and most modifiers. Everything else he categorized as Function/Style Words. We hear mainly Content Words, and yet when people talk to each other they use more Function/Style Words. How we use Function/Style Words can say a great deal about us from our socio-economic status to our emotional states.

Here are some of his conclusions: (Pennebaker Kindle 792)
·      Women use first-person singular pronouns more than men
·      Men and women use first-person plural words at the same rate
·      Men use articles more than do women
·      There are no differences in the use of positive emotion words
·      Women use more cognitive (understand, know, think or because reason, rationale) words than men (He also points out that Aristotle would be astonished since he thought women were less rational than men.)
·      Women use social words (words referring to society—people, family, they, parents, etc.) at far higher rates than men
·      Men use more “big” words, nouns, prepositions, numbers, more words per sentence and swear words
·      Women use more pronouns, verbs, negative emotion words, negations, certainty words (always, absolutely) and hedge phrases (I think, I believe).

Hedge phrases, Pennebaker points out aren’t necessarily negative. They reveal that women are more aware that their opinion is but one of many, whereas men are less aware of others’ opinions.

Here are some of the more generalized conclusions based on Pennebaker’s findings.

·      Young people speak more like women than men
·      At some point after twenty years of age, men and women’s speech diverges
·      As men and women age, that divergence diminishes. One would think that hormones could account for this diverge and converge, but his tests, which he admits are too narrow to make conclusions from, do not support the hormone theory.

In one chapter of the book, one that fascinated me, Pennebaker compares and analyzes several screenplay writers’ dialogue for male and female characteristics. Prototypical male representing 1 on the scale, and prototypical female as 9. I won’t present his findings, but it is clear that some writers overcompensate in male/female characterization. But, Pennebaker warns, if writers present their characters as too prototypical they may seem like cardboard characters. Pennebaker also analyzes politicians like Abraham Lincoln and John Kerry, discussions that explain election results.

His research also revealed that:

·      Until age twelve people have a positive self-image
·      From 13-20 people experience the lowest self-image in their lives
·      From 20 on, self-image gradually rises, so much so that 65 year olds and 9 year olds enjoy the same positive self-image
·      After 70, self-image declines.

Dr. Pennebaker’s observations and revealing facts were almost too numerous for me to assimilate as I put his information into my writing. I recommend all writers read this book because it is invaluable for characterization. Our dialogue reveals who the speakers are, their traits, emotional states, sex, education, etc. Pennebaker makes clear that how we speak and write is more important that what we say.

Several online gender tests are available online to test your writing. (Here’s one: http://www.hackerfactor.com/GenderGuesser.php) Cut and paste sections from your manuscript into the test area to determine what gender you are writing. Some sections of my writing tested as male, some female, but most of the time, the analysis resulted in mixed results. It couldn’t determine my sex. In the mystery genre, I’m glad for that result. From Pennebaker’s findings, I conclude that I can change my writing so that it is more characteristically male, but as I age this will occur naturally—so perhaps will my chance for greater sales. It’s all up from here.

13 comments:

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I’d be interested in knowing how much is US specific? English language specific? Generic to all cultures and languages?

A bit of me suspects that the changes that occur might be caused by role models. At an early age, almost all teachers are female and children spend more time with mothers than fathers. Role models are primarily women.

Later male children can be influenced by male role models—especially while hormones are changing. That could separate the sexes for a while and then as we experience life we come closer together.

~ Curious Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Jim, his finding are worldwide. They have accumulated tons of data in many languages with the same results.

Role models? I'm betting on hormones even though his data doesn't support that theory now. Our genetic makeup determines so much, and as our scientists research, I think they find evidence of our "programming" from diseases to behavior and everything in between.

But then, those factors are unknown so anyone's theory could be right.

Gloria Alden said...

This is a very interesting topic. I know kids in that vulnerable age of 13 to 20 really suffer. I can understand the lowering of self-image in those over 70, too. It's one of the reasons I keep low lights in my bathroom. I look at least 20 years younger when I look in my bathroom mirror compared to other mirrors or photographs of me. :-)

Ellis Vidler said...

Fascinating! I must try the gender thing. Some things you mentioned jumped at me--"I think" appears way too often in my communications. Excellent post, Elaine.

Polly Iyer said...

Very interesting blog post, Elaine. When my ex-agent was submitting my work, editors were looking for women who write hard crime fiction. I took that to mean write like a man. A few women writers do write darker crime fiction, but that's not common. Women tend to create characters who think more deeply. I always have to go back and eliminate I think and I believe from my text for that reason. I like Jim's deduction that our earliest nurturing is by women, which might account for the results of the age divisions. (By the way, your capture codes are a b!+(#. 4th time coming up.)

E. B. Davis said...

LOL, Gloria. I try to keep moving fast so no one can study my wrinkles! That 13-20 age group gets hit hard, but I'm also finding, as it was for me, that the few years after college from 22-24 aren't easy either. Suddenly your peer group disappears. You know how green you are in the workplace. Your not sure what you really want to do (at least I didn't). Then, I can also understand about those over 70.

E. B. Davis said...

Yes, women writers who use first person as their POV always use "I think" too much. I remember one manuscript that I critiqued in particular that I redlined to the point of bringing down the word count by about 3000 words--all "I thinks."

But his point about women being more aware of others' opinions and that we may not assume that our opinion is best, says a lot about women and, I think :>) it's positive.

E. B. Davis said...

Yes, I wonder how many sales are due to content rather than language, Polly. I've read some very dark crime fiction by women, but those books were paranormal not straight shoot'em "Die Hard" type of fiction.

Wish we could do something about those codes, but I think google or blogger puts them up. I don't think we control that, but I defer to Jim on these matters.

Polly Iyer said...

Elaine, check out Mo Hayder, Karin Slaughter, Tami Hoag, and Patricia Cornwell. All write hard crime fiction with no paranormal elements. Now for the capture code. Grr.

E. B. Davis said...

I've tried Patricia and Tami, but I haven't read the other two. Thanks for the suggestions.

Kara Cerise said...

Very interesting, E.B.! I took the online gender quiz and my writing was rated “weak male”. I plan to write a short story from a military male POV so I will need to up that rating to “strong male”.

E. B. Davis said...

LOL! Weak male--I never got that response. That's hysterical.

Polly Iyer said...

Kara, I got that response too, twice. I really don't know what it means.