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Author Info & Writing Discussion > Good slang - dumb slang; help the authors

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message 1: by Kaje (last edited Aug 02, 2014 09:14PM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments One of the hardest things about writing YA as a not-so-Y adult is making the characters sound like genuine teenagers. Part of that is mind-set, attitude, actions. Part of it is speech patterns. And while the feeling of being a teenager may be pretty universal, the language changes in the blink of a moment.

Hashtag and cray-cray and...

So I thought maybe the younger group members (or the older ones with in-house teens who don't heave a long-suffering sigh and comment, "Mother, I would use the word incredible. Maybe you've heard it?") could chip in. In the greater good.

Research only gets you so far.

*A guy stays home to do homework and read gaming manuals. In the eyes of a jock friend, he's being a ...

nerd, geek, dweeb, dork... really boring ?

*After watching extreme sports, a high-school guy says, "That was...

killer, awesome, hardcore, rad, sick, sweet... incredible?

*A girl who spends all her time watching K-pop boy bands on YouTube is...

a fangirl, a pop-tart... (Just Kidding - I actually love those bands, including the gender-bending that they manage in an otherwise less than tolerant society.)

*Having to go to summer school instead of having free time is...

whacked, sucky... fill in negative emotions here?



Is there slang that makes you cringe because it's out of date? Is there something all your friends use that you never see in print? Would you prefer that YA books avoided slang, so as not to use words that will outdate or might be wrong? Or use it for a better teen voice. What about swearing? How much is too much?

What was the least realistic thing you've heard a YA character say? Is there an author you think gets the YA voice really well?


Comment below (and if you're willing, make a note of your country or part of the world - asking a classmate to pass you a rubber will have a very different outcome in the US versus the UK.)


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Kaje,

I like your use of the term rubber. I'm British/Irish just living in the US for 8 3/4 yrs now. I love the rubber term as it's an eraser in the US. In the US a rubber is a condom. IN the UK a condom is called the same thing, or a mates, which is a brand name in the UK. Also I like bog in the UK, which in the US is toilet. Also Chin-wag is a couple of people chatting up a storm. Here you call it chatting... Go figure... some cultures have weird words for things. I love mix-matching words from around the world in my stories. Mostly due to basing them either in Europe or America. With the characters basing from the opposite places/


message 3: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments I think it's important that the slang in a book fit the location. It bugs me when a publisher makes an author use more ordinary or Americanized terms for books set in other countries. (Or vice versa, books set in the US where the author didn't get an American to read it.)

I wonder with the Internet how much more universal slang is becoming.

Do words like geek, rad, shizzle, and so on cross the oceans? Clearly calling someone "fit" has a different connotation in the UK... It's all fascinating, and very, very hard to do right for anyone outside your own social group.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes it's hard to get American's to read a story that is based in America with like Australian or British slang with no American slang in book, visa versa with British stories with only American slang in them.

I do know geek, nerd and such do go across the ocean. Just you have various variants of nerd or geek in the UK. You can be a geek of sci-fi shows and no a geek in any other terms. not sure if that works in the US though.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I have a lot of trouble with slang in american books because I don't understand what the words mean and it isn't explained.


message 6: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments It's always a challenge, deciding between being authentic and being easily understood. Not just slang, but objects and brand names. Like in the US "pants" are outerwear slacks, while in the UK they are underwear. (Which can change a scene ;)

Some brand names are so universal they work for everyone (like calling a soft-drink a coke) and others feel like they are, but may not be outside of where the author lives. I recently changed a fast-food place in a story to McDonalds, because more readers will know exactly what that means.

Any suggestions for good country-slang lists? I have The Very Best of British and of course there's The Urban Dictionary for the US but it can be annoying to go off an have to look up terms. At the same time, I love that international flavor, and it does get better the more you read. I'm so fond of British slang now, I have to be careful not to write it in the mouths of my American characters.


message 7: by E (new)

E | 3 comments I really enjoy reading the slang, but 10 years from now it will definitely sound quite outdated and really lame. Or nowadays, within 3 years time it will sound too old. It's almost like the Jonas Brothers' popularity and how they were so 2009.

As for swearing, I think too much would be if I can identify the character by his profanity filled dialogue throughout a book. Other than that, I think it's certainly acceptable to have some, but not too much.


message 8: by Rainbowheart (new)

Rainbowheart | 715 comments My advice is for authors to avoid slang. It dates the book very quickly. And also avoid references to particular technology or current popular celebrities, because that will date your book even in as little as 3-4 years.


message 9: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) I agree with Rainbowheart. I prefer to read books that are written as if the author hopes they'll be read years from now. And when I do read older books, I sometimes get so confused by all the slang I have to stop reading.


message 10: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Fessenden | 28 comments I actually don't mind setting a book in a specific year, and therefore using technology, brand names, and celebrities appropriate to the year. For me, it adds a level of reality to a story. And I have no problem reading Stephen King's "The Shining," despite clear references to popular culture in the 70s.

I'll agree about slang. Certain slang terms have a very limited lifespan, and you can feel it. Will "shizzle" be used much in five years? I doubt it, so I'm not likely to use it. On the other hand, some words like "cool" seem to have endured for generations.


message 11: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) Yeah, pretty soon The Shining is going to be casually thought of as Historical Fiction. j/k


message 12: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments Cheryl in CC NV wrote: "Yeah, pretty soon The Shining is going to be casually thought of as Historical Fiction. j/k"

My 1980's story got tagged historical, so this is totally true, kidding aside.

I also like having the feel of the times in books, so I don't mind slang. I'm reading a gay mystery series set in the early 1980s and enjoying the cultural references and the feel of it. But some things become confusing I suppose; I also wonder if teen readers may be less tolerant of outdating a book.

It's a matter of balance and judgment calls, almost word by word. Like do I use the phrase "epic fail" or is that already wincingly outdated... You don't want characters to sound like thirty-year-olds, but also not like thirty-year-olds trying to sound hip, and failing.


message 13: by Tara (new)

Tara Spears | 85 comments Writing YA in the ever demanding fantasy genre, I can tell you sometimes it is best to use the old standbys, such as; cool, awesome, sick, dork, bogus, that sucks and the like. For one it can keep your book in print longer, and secondly, should your book become a best seller, then down the road the chances of a movie deal are increased. This directly from my agent.

I think in romances though, current slang has it's place since romances have a shorter shelf life in general. Sad but true.


message 14: by Jeff (new)

Jeff (jeffgarvin) What a great chain. I'm so glad I joined this group!
Slang can date a book but that's not always a bad thing...personally, I like characters who invent their own slang. Kills two birds with one stone.


message 15: by K (new)

K (k-polipetl) | 4090 comments I am sure all authors hope that their books will be read for years to come after publication, but I am going to look at this question in a slightly different way - if a book is set in a particular historical period then it needs to have slang that is of that time.

I recently read a book (well started to) that was clearly stated to be set in 1925, yet the slang words the characters (16 year old school boys) used dated from much later in the 20th century. So much so that it was jarring.

There are a number of resources, online and in paper, to help with accuracy in this sort of historical setting so really to me it just seemed a bit lazy of the writer not to check.


message 16: by Kaje (last edited Aug 18, 2014 10:06AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments Yes, I agree that I like a certain amount of slang to fit the period. After all, so will everything else. If your character is hunting for a payphone instead of pulling out his cell (mobile to the UK folks ;) then no amount of neutral language will make it sound current. I guess the thing to avoid is slang that is really arcane or in a small niche, or will quickly sound incomprehensible. One that I have used, but debated over, is "sick" which means "cool" in some current teen circles. When that goes out, it will become confusing. So I only used it when some older character was confused, and the teen had to explain that it meant something good, not bad.

Inventing slang is good, if it's clear enough. I did a SciFi near future where I initially used the word "frack" as a swearword (figuring twenty-five years down the road, fracking may be more obscene than fucking) but beta readers hated it. I also used "crud" in place of "shit" and some readers didn't like that either. So when you stray from the familiar it clearly takes a careful touch to get it right.


message 17: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Fessenden | 28 comments Well, "frack" also has a strong association with Battlestar Galactica. It sounded silly in the original series, but I think it actually worked very well in the new, darker series.

One of the things I'm doing in my new YA novel, which takes place in the near future on Mars, is to have the young people using a hodge-podge of words from all the different languages their parents speak. The parents find it annoying, because they tend to preserve their native languages when they're alone with their families, but the teenagers have grown up without any strong ties to Earth nationalities.


message 18: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16521 comments That's a cool idea. Projecting language into the future is one more interesting element of sci fi.


message 19: by Cheryl (last edited Aug 19, 2014 08:40PM) (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) Jamie, for that reason alone, I'm looking forward to your book.

I didn't mean to come across as 'slang=bad' -- it's just that too much of it interferes with understanding the story. Usually it's only a problem when the author doesn't realize how much s/he is using, or how specific it is to a particular culture. I think of some of the children's books by E. Nesbit and the frustration I feel while trying to read them.


message 20: by Genta (new)

Genta Sebastian (gentasebastian) | 20 comments I think slang is tricky. I just finished reading a sci-fi novel where fire is forbidden, so the derogatory slang terms revolved around that. Ashsoul, caught my eye and within the realm of the book, felt natural.

But I agree, modern times novels need to use slang sparsely, and only as required to define the character/s.


message 21: by blackbearry (last edited Sep 01, 2014 08:50PM) (new)

blackbearry (heystjude) | 7 comments Just adding in:
I think a one-off use of a slang word tends to be fairly passable, but repetitive usage does have a tendency to get annoying, no matter the word or time period. Something else to consider might be how intuitive the slang is: "Fangirl" is at least decipherable, even if you don't get the pop culture connotation, but "ship"? Not so much. And it obviously doesn't quite work to have a character or narrator explaining the slang to you.

Bottom line: It's diction. It's necessary, especially in setting the scene or a character's voice, but like any other word choice, it should be used after consideration, and with intention.


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