By Darvell Hunt
My daughter recently started playing girls’ basketball for a local city league. She plays ball with eight and nine year old girls, but no boys. Strangely, though, her coach was calling for each girl to “get your man” during defensive plays.
I thought telling an 8-year-olds girl to “get your man” seemed a little premature. I mean, they won’t even be dating for another 8 years. I snickered when I heard the opposing team’s coach yelling out the same phrase.
On the way home from the game, I asked my daughter why her coach told her to “get your man.” I reminded her that all the members of her team were girls. She quickly responded with, “Because it sounds funny to say ‘Get your woman!’”
Indeed, it would; she was right about that. But why? What makes certain combinations of words acceptable, while others aren’t?
When I’m writing dialogue, I try to capture this idea. I attempt to put unique word usages into each character’s mouth so they sound real. I think to myself, “How does this person’s speech differ from the other characters? Can I tell which person is speaking if I don’t use dialogue attribution tags?”
If I can get their word usages unique enough to recognize, the characters might seem more realistic to the reader. That’s what I'm shooting for, anyway—a story about real people, not a story about two-dimensional, flat characters who all speak the same way and use the same words.
On the way home from the game, I commented to my wife that I found it amusing that “man on man” sounded appropriate, but “woman on woman” didn’t. Or, since my daughter is only eight, it seemed we should be saying “girl on girl.”
Oh, wait. I don’t even want to go there. See what I mean?