“Your hero…he sounds kinda like a girl.”
“No. No, really?”
This wasn’t something I could just let go, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it either. Toss the MS to my husband and beg him to “Y” up my dialogue in exchange for a case of Guinness? Add liberal doses of profanity, talk of oil changes, football, jackhammers? Chuck the whole thing and decide I really am a damned good nonfiction writer and who needs this crap anyway?
Then I remembered, I can’t quit. What would the WU readers think of me? What would my critique buddies do to me? Kick my butt all the way to Kansas, that’s what. And, with all respect to Dorothy, I don’t want to live in Kansas.
A vague memory floated into my skull. A program. Wasn’t there a program somewhere out there that could determine if the author was male or female? Maybe I could use it to my advantage.
After a little digging in my research file, I rediscovered The Gender Genie at bookblog.net. The Genie is a pretty cool research-based program that accurately predicts the gender of an author via excerpt about 90% of the time. Pretty impressive stats. But how does it work?
There are writing strategies specific to each gender, according to the researcher whose work spawned the Genie. So when the Genie analyzes a chunk of text, it searches for key words before predicting whether the author is male or female.
It made sense to me that, even though I’m female, isolating male dialogue should get the genie to predict “male.” SHOULD is the operative word here. Here’s what happened.
I took a chunk of my hero’s dialogue and stuck it in the Genie.
GIRL, it said. Your hero is a damned girl.
Fine. I went through the fairly painful process of IDing ALL of my hero’s dialogue and putting THAT in the Genie.
GIRL, it said. Your hero is still a damned girl. Just more of one.
Alrighty then. I took a very close look at just what made my hero X-bent instead of Y-bent like I wanted him to be. Here’s what it came down to, and I’m swiping this nice summary from a New York Times article on this program:
…what the gender-identifying algorithm picks up on is that women are apparently far more likely than men to use personal pronouns — ”I,” ”you” and ”she” especially. Men, on the other hand, prefer so-called determiners — ”a,” ”the,” ”that,” ”these” — along with numbers and quantifiers like ”more” and ”some.” What this suggests, according to Moshe Koppel, an author of the Israeli project, is that women are more comfortable talking or thinking about people and relationships, while men prefer to contemplate things.
Even though this program was intended to ID the gender of an author and not meant for dialogue, why the heck shouldn’t it work? My guy needed to sound like a guy. Why not strip him of his girlish pronoun habit (which really was profound), and give him more quantifiers and determiners in each graph? It was a place to start, at any rate.
I honed in on the GUY and GIRL words Genie uses when analyzing text and wrote them out on two lists: words to use, and words to avoid unless Noel, my hero, was going to be turned into Noelle.
Here, the short list of guy-friendly words:
And here, the short list of words to avoid:
So I’ve been pouring over dialogue. Taking out girlish words, adding manly ones.
But that’s not all I’ve been doing to makeover my guy. I’m trying harder to stay true to the Martian rules. Though there’ll always be exceptions, psych experts say that most men:
* prefer to offer solutions instead of sympathy
* talk, not because they like to, but to exchange information
* ask questions when they hit upon a problem
* don’t like to talk about their feelings, especially with emotional language
I worked and worked until I was pretty happy with the new ‘tude coming out of my guy. When I read his sentences aloud, he sounded like he wore pants. But I wasn’t going to trust MY judgment.
I gathered the text, stuck it in the Genie, and held my breath.
Finally, it said, you have a boy. Congratulations.
No chocolate cigars yet, though. We’ll see what my critique buddies have to say.
Write on, all!