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Monday, November 14, 2011

Teen Voice: Vocabulary

By Julie Daines

"I hate you!"
"This is why I'm moving out when I'm eighteen!"
"I have no control over my life!"

Yes, those are all phrases I have heard from my own teen-age sons. Frequently. I have three.

So, I thought I'd do some posts on capturing that teen voice, starting with vocabulary. Here are a few do's and don'ts.

Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing." 

Slang varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.

The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.

Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.

Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes. (See examples above.)

Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.

3 comments:

Yamile said...

I totally agree! It's so hard for me to do an accurate teen voice! I'll have to borrow one of your teenagers...

Julie Daines said...

Yamile, you're welcome to them ANYTIME!

Scott said...

I think the key is to not try too hard. It's very much like dialect: the harder you try to capture it, the less likely it is that you'll get it right.