See also my Guide to Guy Speak 2:
Negotiating Intimacy and Control

about how men and women negotiate through dialogue.

Virginia's Guide to Guy-Speak

Critics have argued that the romance genre portrays men not as they are but as women wish they would be. When it comes to physical descriptions, this is often true. But I love men. Guys. I love the way they walk and stand and laugh and smell. I'm lucky because my husband is a guy (the evolved model guy, but very guy-like) and I have two sons - we'll call them Georgetown Boy and He Whose Body Is a Temple - who pound on each other and laugh like Beavis and Butthead and communicate in ways that are still sometimes a mystery to me.

To illustrate how gender impacts characterization, point of view, action, and dialogue - okay, pretty much everything - I offer this guide to guy-speak.

The scene is from Guilty Secrets,
Silhouette Intimate Moments, April 2004, pp.51-54. Now available in e-book!
With commentary in CAPS.

But thinking about Nell, undressing Nell, only made him more frustrated in a different way. Physically frustrated. Sexually frustrated. GUYS THINK ABOUT SEX.

He reached again for his cigarettes. Hell. GUYS SWEAR. Crushing the empty box in his hand, he lofted it across the living room toward the wastebasket. GUYS DO THIS. I DON'T KNOW WHY.

He missed. Loser.

In his front hall, the doorbell rasped like the final buzzer at a Bulls game. GUYS THINK IN SPORTS ANALOGIES.

Joe hobbled across the bare hardwood floor to the door and peered through the security glass at the side. Two men, one in uniform, occupied his front stoop.

Joe yanked open the door. "What the hell are you doing here?" GUYS ARE NOT TOUCHY FEELY.

His middle brother Will walked in without asking. "Ma was worried when you bailed on dinner." NOT "I" WAS WORRIED. GUYS DON'T WORRY. AND IF THEY DO, THEY DON'T ADMIT IT.

Mike followed, thrusting a round Tupperware container into Joe's hands. "She sent us with leftovers. Got any beer?" GUYS ARE DIRECT.

His family. He loved them, admired them, let them down... And right now, he wanted them to go away.


No alcohol. It was something else he was learning to deny himself.

Mike snorted. "God, now I'm worried about you, too. WHICH HE CAN ONLY SAY BECAUSE IT'S A SLAM. What about coffee?"

"Instant. And you'll have to make it yourself."

"Okay. In the pantry, right?" Without waiting for an answer, Mike snatched back the covered dish and carried it through to the kitchen. A cupboard door banged. A drawer slammed. GUYS CHOOSE ACTION OVER DISCUSSION. AND THEY MAKE NOISE.

With a curse, Joe limped after him.

"You're not walking too good," Will observed behind him. GUYS DO NOT ALWAYS SPEAK IN GRAMATICALLY PERFECT CONSTRUCTIONS. "You hurt your ankle again?"

Joe gritted his teeth. He supposed it was too much to hope Will wouldn't notice. "Nope. Just overdid it the past couple days."

"Is that why you blew off dinner?"

"No. I told Ma. I have a deadline."

"You still have to eat," Will said.

Joe regarded his brother with loathing. "You sound exactly like Ma, you know that?"

Will grinned at him, five feet ten inches of compact, confident Chicago firefighter. "Say that when you're on both feet, paperboy, and I'll take you down." GUYS SHOW AFFECTION BY CALLING EACH OTHER INSULTING NAMES AND THREATENING VIOLENCE. AGAIN, I DON'T KNOW WHY.

It was the kind of threat he used to make before the accident. Even with his brother's qualifier--when you're on both feet--the taunt improved Joe's mood. OTHER GUYS UNDERSTAND THIS.

The microwave pinged from the kitchen.


The scent of Mary Reilly's lamb and onions permeated the hall. The house was small, with one bedroom on the ground floor and a couple of others upstairs that Joe had barely seen. Eight months ago, when he bought the place, the layout had been the house's key selling point. He still couldn't negotiate the stairs easily.

Stumping into the kitchen, Joe dug a spoon from the drawer. Will filled a kettle for water. Mike rescued the plastic container of stew from the microwave and slid it across the table. GUYS DO NOT SET THE TABLE UNLESS SOMEONE MAKES THEM DO IT.

Joe lowered himself cautiously onto a chair, cupping the Tupperware in one hand. The smell reminded him of decades of Sunday dinners eaten off his mother's lace tablecloth in his parents' dining room. The solid weight of the container in his hand was warm and comforting.

"Thanks," he said gruffly.

Will lifted one shoulder in a shrug. No big deal. IT'S THAT TOUCHY FEELY STUFF AGAIN.

"Mom made us come," said Mike. "She and Pop are worried you're not getting out enough."

"Oh, like you do," Joe retorted. "You still live in their basement."

"I like saving money."

"You like Ma doing your laundry," Joe said.

"Yeah, well, a year ago she was emptying your bedpan and bringing your meals on a tray," Mike said. "So I don't want to hear it." GUYS ARE COMPETITIVE/ CONSCIOUS OF RANK. THEY USE CONVERSATION TO ESTABLISH STATUS, NOT TO CREATE EMPATHY.

An awkward silence fell.

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