Sunday, January 23, 2011
Slang and the fine line between sounding like a Tard or a Teenager
If you're writing YA, one of the most important things is to master the language. Teenagers can smell forced dialogue from a mile away, and it's a huge turn off. (Of course, it's a turn off for any novel.) Unless you master the balence between slang and realistic dialogue, you've not only decreased your chances of being published, but your chances of connecting with your readers.
Being eighteen, I think I have an understanding of teenage slang. At the moment, I'm in the middle of reading the Unidentified by Rae Mariz. It has a very interesting premise, and while I'm enjoying it, there have been a few things that have put me off, including some of the slang. Mariz does use replacements for swears and changes slang to fit in with her world. (The replacement I can remember off the top of my head was "Fawk off." )
I'm quite enjoying the book. Until I came to a passage in which the narrator, Kid, writes: "I lol'd."
Yeah. I lol'd.
.... Wait for it.
Okay. I'm aware that 'lol' has pretty much become a word all on its own. Teenagers and adults alike use it, and it's become a staple for online and text conversations. I know what Mariz was going with this, and for a lot of people it wouldn't even faze them. But I think there's a fine line between where slang should be used and where it should just be left aside in YA fiction.
For one, slang is always changing. What works one year won't necessarily work a couple of years later, when your book comes out. Not to mention what kids in Vancouver use isn't going to be the same as what kids in New Orleans use.
1) You need to make sure that if you choose to use slang, make SURE it is 100% transferable. Using bad slang messes with your dialogue and can pull a reader completely out of your story. There were times when reading the Unidentified when I had to stop and figure out what she meant. Sometimes I didn't even realize she was trying to use slang.
Mariz's use of lol doesn't break this rule, because as I've said before, it is extremely well known. But that wasn't the problem I had with her use of it. The problem I had was that she used it in her narrative. Even though this was in first person, I felt it was a real cop out on her end. First of all, I have never heard a teenager use "lol" in real conversation unless they were trying to be ironic. Not to mention the people that do use it to be ironic say it around their friends, not to themselves.
So where's the line with slang? What's okay to use in narratives (first person or otherwise) and what isn't? I think it comes down to two different kinds of slang.
--> Internet slang. Things like lol, rofl, emoticons, shortcuts like 'u' or 'w8.' Using this slang is very effective if your characters are texting, writing emails to one another or otherwise. It can be used in dialogue if your characters are trying to be funny. Nobody says "lol" out loud with their friends in place of laughing out loud. But if a friend makes a bad joke that nobody laughs at, a character that says "lol" in response could be seen as a jokster or sarcastic. I believe that internet slang should not be used in naratives. It's very rare that it can be pulled off, even in first person.
--> General slang. This is the most effective type of slang, and in my opinion, far more fun. Epic fail, boss, lame, gay, fag, ect. These casual words are effective in dialogue, texts, and narratives. This is also great for making up your own slang. (For example, in the Unidentified, the kids would say "Oh Google" instead of "Oh God" which I found was really awesome.) Of course, for making up your own slang to be effective, you have to really make it obvious that it is slang in this universe. You don't want it to pull your readers out of the story so they can figure out what the hell you're trying to say.
General slang can be used anywhere, and I highly suggest that if you intend to use slang. Internet slang should be reserved for texts, emails and so on. Kids don't use internet slang when they talk to one another. They don't think in internet slang. Think of IS as living in the fingers, whereas GS lives in the brain. A kid might think to themselves, "That show was so lame, dudes." Not, "lol it wuz so lame, dudez :D"
2) If you're going to use slang, make sure you know what you're saying. When a character has scored high on their favorite game, you don't want to have someone say, "Dude, that was fagalicious!" when you mean "Dude, that was epic!" (Not that I think anyone would mistake the two, but, you never know.)
3) And finally, less is more. Seriously. You don't need to overload on slang. Most teenagers talk like normal human beings. Slang is like swearing: peppered here and there can make it awesome, but too much and you've spoiled your whole manuscript.
The last thing you want to do is pull your readers out of the story. If readers understand what you're trying to convey and it doesn't faze them, consider it a success.