Hello, Saturday Musers!
Did you have a great week? Any plans for the weekend? Hope some of those plans include reading.
As a parent of a fourteen year old, I'm forever getting my word usage mixed up. This had me wondering how MG/YA/New YA writers get their characters' lingo correct. Instead of writing anymore let's just move to our authors:
This is a hard thing to do and you probably need to have a lot of experience with the specific age group of your character. When writing YA it’s important to get the discussion right. There are various ways to do this. I have had a lot of experience listening to kids when I was teaching. Also, my own kids growing up gave me a lot of help with my character. But the best is actually watching people of that age group. Listen to them anywhere you can. And also it’s good to watch kid TV programs. I watched a few just to see how they talked to each other. It must have turned out okay, because the one comment I get from most reviewers is how they feel like they are eavesdropping on my character’s conversations they sound so real. Yes, I do have issues, because the slang is difficult to get right. Sometimes I get comments that I’m not using the right words for things. However, when I ask kids what they would use it’s usually the one I chose.
In After, I used conversations that were almost directly from my own children’s mouths. Lauren says things that my children said all the time. The little jokes and funny things were theirs too. Writing a character means that you get very close to them. I have gotten very close to both of my main characters and it’s like they were part of me and my family. I wonder if all authors feel that way about their characters? Now that I am finished with the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, I feel like I know Jennifer much better, since she was whispering in my ear the whole time I was writing. Jennifer speaks much differently than Carolyn and she is a completely different character. Their conversations are fun, because each of them is a completely different person and shows it in their speaking. It’s in their speech patterns and the kinds of words they use. If you are interested in seeing how Jennifer speaks you will learn more when this WIP is published. Still polishing it a little. But look for Who Is Jennifer Taylor?
TERRI BERTHA, Mainstream NEW author
Observing and listening (eavesdropping?) to adult/kid conversations at the mall, movies, restaurants are ways to enhance character’s dialogue. My interactions from teaching and raising my own children also contributed to writing dialogue for a 12 year old. Using past experiences, observations and ‘my 12 year old brain’, I think about how I would feel and react in my character’s situations. In the Spooky Twisties Series, keeping dialogue as normal as possible to mimic conversation is important. Using vocabulary and voice that are age appropriate makes the story move forward with character’s actions mixed throughout.
I rarely use slang as I think it can make a manuscript dated, as the same slang words may not be in vogue next year. Using slang can also confuse or distract the reader, so I choose it carefully, as not to make the manuscript too trendy.
I don’t worry about slang. George is a dog. He thinks like a dog. He uses words he hears from his Peeps and makes up his own.
No way would I know what 8 year olds use as slang. Even after hanging out at McDonalds.
I've been thinking about this as I write my Work in Progress, set in my home town of Dublin... and I think it might be best to avoid it altogether, or at least keep it to a minimum...
As a secondary school teacher I am around teens all the time - just not Irish teens (I live in Spain and used to teach in Boston). I was home on holiday for a weekend and on the bus into town I listened to a guy of around twenty on the phone. He talked loud enough that I could take lots of notes, but by god he sounded like a prat! Perhaps because some of his phrases were not local ones, but borrowed from television. But I knew that most of the teens around sound like that.
Yet, I know from teaching so long that slang and lingo can change faster than the posters on a teenager's bedroom wall, so I've decided that it's best to keep it to a minimum and to use the phraseology that has lasted a long time - the phrases my friends and I used as teens that I still hear my nieces and nephews using - slang that has stood the test of time - rather than date the book with time specific slang; even though it's set in a particular year in Irish life. I've also decided that the main characters are less inclined to the kind of affectation that I heard my young compatriot spurt out, and among themselves at least, speak more or less "normal!"
When I started writing DAFFODIL AND THE THIN PLACE, I was working in a senior school surrounded by teenagers, and so I was familiar with the way they spoke to adults and to each other. I think this helped me with voicing twenty-first century Daffodil's thoughts. But it didn't help with the way Daffodil's Victorian friends speak. In order to find out, I read several books which were written in the Victorian times and took particular interest in the dialogue, hoping to immerse myself in the formal way that Victorians conversed. I was aware that most of the Victorian characters in my story came from humble, rural backgrounds and that much of the dialogue in the nineteenth century novels which I researched involved upper class adults, so I had to use my imagination to try to make their conversations as realistic and believable as I could.
Recently, I've been writing about garden gnomes. I'm not really sure what sort of language garden gnomes use, so I've had to use a lot of imagination to write their dialogue!
I write historical fiction. Depending on a character's position in society and their education, I do not use contractions for the upper classes, and I do use them for the less well off and less educated. This means it is unnecessary for me to explain even the most minor character's background. When dialect is appropriate I use it sparingly. As for slang, Eric Partridges Dictionary of Slang and Unusual Language is invaluable.
That was an easy one for Olivia. I have her talk like I did at that age, although she probably swears less. For most of the characters I don’t worry about age specific slang. The area where I have researched is for the Furious Misfortune companion books. I have regularly consult with three men I work with that were in the military. I have one resource that was navy, one that was army, and one that was marines. Their help has been invaluable.
The problem here is that adolescents, the main group I write for, have an ever-evolving language. Each YEAR, I hear new terms that teenagers understand. The thing is, is that the words vanish as quickly as they appear. Today's slangy text message is tomorrow's Dead Sea Scroll. Trying to peg cross-cultural terms is even more difficult; so much so, that I won't even try.
Of course, there are the oldies but goodies that everyone "remembers" from their own adolescence -- "the f word" has been around since 1670. If you use that one (which I CANNOT, for whatever reason, bring myself to write), you should be safe. The others that we typically include in our "four-letter-word" category are probably safe as well, after all, the kids learn them from us.
However, any writer who uses "ttfn" will instantly lose the attention of any adolescent reader because NO ONE in that age group uses it any more. Also, if you have your teens using Facebook to communicate with each other, forget it. It's better to invent imaginary terms (I did this in my SF novel, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES) like "kpod" and rLife than to risk dating your book too quickly. Few of my students use FB any more except to insult each other and start stuff. They snapchat and text (no, please do NOT have your adolescent characters call it "sexting". I have never heard a student use the term -- though by definition, I have dealt with at least four situations that are defined as (what us old folks call) "sexting" in the past six months alone).
Last of all, ignore all of the above. Adolescents in different states...er...cities...I mean schools...use language that has evolved from their own everyday use. If you stick with the REALLY oldies, you're more likely to come off as sounding "real".
Keep reading and dreaming. If there’s anything you’re curious about just drop me a note: MuseChrisChat@gmail.com