Writing Teen Voice

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A guest post I did for author Randy Russell's blog back in February.
Writing an authentic teen voice comes naturally to me. I am, after all, a teenager. I have teenage friends. I watch movies and TV, read books and magazines, and visit websites all geared towards teenagers. I write in the same way I think. Realistic dialogue is easy, since I hear so many teenagers having conversations on a regular basis.

But what if you’re an adult? What if your dialogue or the thoughts of your main character are too ‘old’?

Do you just insert a bunch of ‘whatever’s and ‘like’s into your novel, and SHAZAM we have realistic teenage characters?

Well, yes and no. Here are some tips.

  • Listen to teenagers speak. You should already be good at eavesdropping, if you’re a good writer. Listen to your children, nieces or nephews, friends’ kids, relatives, neighbours, people sitting in a restaurant. Write down teenage conversation. Notice words they use, where conversation pauses, the dynamics among a group of friends. You’ll gradually develop an idea of the way teenagers speak.
  • Read and watch things meant for teenagers. Read great YA novels, and think about what makes the teenagers in it authentic. Watch movies and TV shows geared towards teenagers (Of course it will vary based on genre, but look for things that are popular among teenagers). Read teen girl magazines, as they are an invaluable resource when it comes to what’s popular (but adding references to popular singers, movies, etc. will probably date your novel. So just look at these things for research purposes).
  • Read it out loud. Ask yourself, would this be a realistic way for these characters to speak? Would they use these words? Consider reading dialogues aloud with someone else, like practicing lines for a play. Ask another person – a reader, a writer, a teenager – whether they think the dialogue lacks believability.
  • Don't make your dialogue too realistic. While we want the dialogues our characters to be realistic enough that they could occur in real life, we need to get to the point. Teenagers swear a lot more than is necessary in a novel, and there are a lot more ums and ahs than would make satisfying fictitious dialogue. Find that point between realism and a satisfying book.
  • Don’t use slang, unless relevant. Using slang usually comes across as false and forced.
  • Don’t try to get it perfect on the first try. Writing is rewriting, dialogue and voice included
  • Addendum: Don't think of teenagers as a foreign species. They do speak like human beings. They are smart. They are unique. They don't speak all that differently to adults.
Your advice for writing teen voice would be appreciated!
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