Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slangifying Your Story

In the realm of YA writing in particular, slang of any kind is tricky, tricky business.

Slang and common expressions can make a teen voice feel more authentic. As someone who spends every workday listening to teenagers talk, I guarantee they're not pulling exclusively from an official dictionary.

Then again, slang is—by its nature—fleeting. A few bits and pieces work their way into the long-term vernacular, but most are solidly dated. Just think about "groovy," "bodacious," and "fresh." You just had certain decades flash through your mind, right? Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that instant association is what you need.

More often, I'm thinking that's not a good thing.

Let's go back to my students for a minute. There are some who spout a near-constant stream of "totes obvi" and "YOLO." (The one who says YOLO the most keeps doing it out of context. I'm not sure he really gets it. Or he likes to be annoying.) And here's the thing about super of-the-moment phrases. It only takes about two minutes for the kids to sound like they're trying too hard.

And it's even easier for an author to sound the same way.

So how do you deal with it? Stick to the more long-standing forms of teen-talk? Use a strict rule like one super-trendy term per fifty pages? Only let a side character use them, make it their "thing"?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm curious what you've found works, either from a writing or reading perspective.

I tend to work around it by writing science fiction and making up my own slang. Mindy McGinnis thinks I'm good at it. Hopefully others will agree.


Leigh said...

I often worry about this. I think that's why my dialog sometimes has problems being stilted.

Luckily WIP I start tomorrow is set in the future, so I can make up my own!

brighton said...

Even not in the future I think it works to make up your own for some of it. Or appropriate words from things that are of interest to the character at hand. When I was in high school my friends and I had a Winona Ryder movie marathon one summer (took all summer she'd been in a ton of stuff by 2003) and one of the words that worked itself into being used as slang by us and then spread a bit further afield at school was exhaustified, a conglomeration of the words exhausted and horrified used in the movie Little Women.
I would say most of the slang we used in my school was not what was big of the time slang, it was from things we appropriated from our interests.

And another thing that I think goes along with slang, is nicknames, at least in my school were a common, insider and fleeting. In that who called you what at any given time really showed how they knew you what their and your social standing was and generally something about you as an individual. And any one kid could have a whole handful of them at any given time. Which I imagine could get confusing in a book, but could also have a lot of good subtext.