Stay current with teen talk: “before” and “after” examples


My intro as published earlier… I try to post each Wednesday.

The bad news is that my latest manuscript has been gathering rejections. The good news is that the rejections have come with consistent feedback. That’s rare and highly useful, and therefore something to appreciate as I, by necessity, must now transition from writing to revision mode.

According to those who dared to reject me (hey, it does feel like a stomach punch the first week!), I have three weaknesses in this not-yet-up-to-snuff young-adult novel:

1.     My protagonist is a little on the “morose” side, and I need to jolly him up, give him a more upbeat and distinctive “voice.” In other words, lighten up!
2.     Some of my teen dialogue and expressions are “outdated.” (Now there’s a tricky accusation, given how fast expressions change, and how slang can be regional, even cultural.) In other words, stay current with teen talk.
3.     My first-person narrator sometimes uses over-sophisticated words, or doesn’t talk like a normal teen. This is a sin I committed not during dialogue (I know better) but during description/narration paragraphs, when it feels okay to slip into my own way of speaking. Yet having opted for a first-person teen point of view (POV), all narration (not just dialogue) has to be in his voice, which means his vocabulary level and type of expressions. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, and needed to be told, so I hope it helps others reading this. In other words, keep POV consistent in dialogue and narration.
4.     In places, there is too much telling, not enough showing. What?! After 17 published books, I can still have that one leveled at me? Evidently so!

Now that I’m nearly completed my revisions, I’ve decided to spend a blog each on these four lessons. Today’s is No. 2. For each, I share “before” and “after” passages, so you can see the differences I’ve made during weeks of back-breaking revisions. Call it Fiction Writing 201, but it’s useful perspective if it helps save you from the “ouch” of rejections.

Staying current with teen talk

Staying current with teen talk doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hang out with your teen kids’ friends (like they’d let you, anyway), volunteer with a youth group, or start using lots of four-letter words in your manuscript. Though all of these are possibilities.
            It does mean adding more humor (see last week’s blog on “lightening up”), hanging out on teen websites, watching teen movies or TV programs, eavesdropping on teens when riding buses or sitting in a café, and perhaps having a teen editor.
My blog on having a teen editor is here:
Also, read young-adult books. See the Printz award winners: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklistsawards/bookawards/printzaward/previouswinners/winners
I did lots of mouth-zipped eavesdropping on my son and his friends when they were teens, while driving them to activities. In fact, I was very generous about driving them to their activities, and kept a notebook on hand! (Once, as they exited the car to do a mountain-bike run down a mountain, they said, “Let’s make like eggs and scramble.” I promptly wrote it down in the notebook I keep in the car, and I think I used it in a novel soon afterwards.)
Note that many young-adult writers also make up their own teen expressions. As in, one of my favorite authors had a clique of characters use the word “vegetable” as a code word for “gay.” And another introduced the term “surftard” (bullies on the surfing beach). Such authors then proceed to use these newly introduced terms so much that their readers absolutely “get” them.  (And maybe these new terms even became bonafide her slang words in the wider world.)
When I’m stuck for a word, I sometimes use one of the following sources:
            Let me know if you’ve found better ones. There are many possibilities when you google “teen slang.”
The Children’s Writers Word Book actually tells you what grade level understands the word you’re looking up, and suggests alternatives for younger readers. But it’s more like a thesaurus than a source of teen slang.
            Unfortunately, none of the above sources are silver bullets. In the end, I think it’s best to build your own glossary by carrying around a notebook and jotting down expressions you hear, see, read or think of. When copying down something from another author, I note the author, so that instead of copying it, I merely use it for inspiration and brainstorming.
In my most recent manuscript revision, here are some changes I made.
BEFORE: I was so smitten I would have done anything for her.
AFTER: I was so sprung on her I would have done anything for her.

 *

BEFORE: Is it me being oversensitive or is pink-haired Elspeth just a bit of a nutcase?

AFTER: Elsbeth, I decide, is crazier than bat shit. One pink hair short of wigged out. Get me outta here.
*
BEFORE: Way to go. Except you’re going to be in a heap of trouble.
AFTER: Way to go. Except you’re going to be in a shitload of trouble.
*
BEFORE: I want to see what other cockeyed things she’s going to say.
AFTER: I want to see what other crazy shit she’s going to serve up.
*
BEFORE: He knows it pains me…
He knows it rips me up…
*
BEFORE: The incessant croaking of frogs finally forces me to raise one eyelid.
AFTER: The nonstop croaking of freakin’ frogs finally forces me to raise one eyelid.
*
BEFORE: I confirm it’s Dad’s.
AFTER: I confirm by 150-percent that it’s Dad’s boot: his and no one else’s.
*
BEFORE: I’d rather mimic a tightrope performance than walk in rising, waist-deep current.
AFTER: I’d rather make like a tightrope walker than half-swim in rising, waist-deep current.
*
BEFORE: Not far into the woods, I sense something is wrong.
AFTER: Not far into the woods, my superior spidey senses tell me again that something’s not right.
*
BEFORE: Huh?
AFTER: Seriously?