In Which I Advise You on Teen Voice

This is a post in response to an article that I stumbled across written by another Australian teen, author Steph Bowe, which can be read at her blog and here, where she wrote about the do's and don't's of crafting teen voice.

I, like Steph, am a teen and it wouldn't be presumptuous to assume that I know a thing or two about teen voice. Once you get two or three years behind or beyond my age, however, things should and will get a bit off. For example, I have a younger brother whose circle has begun to howl with cries of "Yeaaaaaaah boys!" in response to anything good happening - something I've never said, personally. He's two years younger than me.

Now, very rarely do adults, writing YA, get the teen voice correct - sometimes, the odd parent with teenage kids will be able to pick up on the likes and the vocalised LOLs, but very rarely does this happen. They either pick something very outdated, or a couple years out of date - such as dope *facepalm*, or they just stick a bunch of huffs, and "whatevers" and "likes".

Listening to teen speak is a good place to start. Go sit in the food court and listen. Do not go hang around outside a school. I'll give you an example. Now, the way teens address each other varies considerably, but I'll tell you about me and my peers. Sixteen. We call each other boys, guys, babe, etc. Never girls. Never "my friends". I have a friend called Gemma and a friend with Bird as a last name. Gemma I call Gemima, Gem, Gemmyboy, Gemdogs, G. Bird, I call Bird, Birdman, Birdy, B-man. My friend Connie, I both call and write down as Ron or Ronnie. TV and movies usually dim this down because I reckon it'd get pretty damn annoying to listen to it for hours.

Now, if you've listened to real teenagers speak, go out and read some YA books and watch some movies and TV shows geared toward teenagers. You'll pick up which voices are outdated, and you'll know which characters have real teenagers behind their dialogue. Try not to make references to current bands (i.e. Katy Perry, the Bieber Beaver, and whoever else is plaguing the radio) because you will, as Steph said, date your novel really quickly. If you want to do this, however, I'd opt for the Beatles or the Stones or something - but only if your character is the type to listen to this sort of music. I, for one, am one of those kids and have 12+ friends who are the same.

If this option is available to you, run your dialogue past a teen that you know. A cousin, a niece or a neighbour. Hell, if they seem a bit hesitant, offer to pay them for their services. $10 to comb through the dialogue of the entire novel, for every draft or whatever. As a teen, I would definitely take that money.

Of course, adding ums and a helluva lot of pauses and nuances with the characters' movements will make your dialogue unpleasant to read. The same goes for too much slang, unless it's used as characterisation - I have a character who you can barely understand. But that reflects on her background and her maturity.

If you can, try and make each teenage character a little different in their dialogue. If you looked at my circle of ten closest, our speech varies greatly. I have a friend whose worst curse is "shit" and who has a very maternal approach to addressing her peers. I have another who curses at any opportunity, but it adds emotion to her words - depending on how bad her language gets, you can really tell how worked up she is. I have another friend who always has to get a reaction, so there's a "right?" or a "yeah?" or a "get what I mean?" on the end of every spiel. I have another friend who speaks very little, mostly because she churns out whatever she wants to say in as few a words as possible, which makes her very blunt - she also tells the truth without fail. If you slotted these people into a novel, their dialogue would be different, no?

Any further comments? Add 'em on the end.

Oh, and photo credit to monstermagnet on


The Red Angel at: December 14, 2010 at 2:46 AM said...

Hi! Thanks for the comment on my blog and for following. :) I see that you're a rather new blogger? Welcome to the blogosphere. :D


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