Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WRITING TEEN VOICE - STEPH BOWE

The incredible Steph Bowe is a 16-year-old Australian YA author.

Her as yet untitled debut novel – a story about love, loss and garden gnomes – is being published in America by Egmont USA in Summer 2011, and in Australia by Text Publishing in September 2010.

You're invited to visit her blog:
Hey! Teenager of the Year. (Click on it.)

    Writing Teen Voice
            By Steph Bowe

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.

Do’s:

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 (try Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries on TV, watch movies like Mean Girls, etc. 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’ts:

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.

8 comments:

GhostFolk.com said...

Steph, I like that you mention slang. I think this topic alone deserves more attention and I may post on it soon.

But mostly I like it because Steph and I e-met each other while discussing whether "dracking" (Australian slang) and "pantsing" (American slag) were the same thing. Yup, btw.

Alissa said...

Steph and her novel sound awesome, but the, I'm a sucker for garden gnomes.

gae polisner said...

Steph makes some great points (and does it so amazingly eloquently and concisely for 16, wow!).

I know at some point my editor made a similar comment about using "likes" and "um's" -- that even if that's how teens speak, using it too much actually dumbs the ms down. If you get the voice right, you don't need such tics to make the voice authentic and the story hum.

thanks for the great info Steph. Great stuff to keep in mind.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Nice post Steph!! I like these facts and they are very true for teen writing. Listening to actual teens would be my main advice for adult writers...some other popular resources aren't ALWAYS correct either. :)

-Lauren

Sandy Fussell said...

Excellent post Steph. I'm nowhere near a teenager and certainly couldn't write with a teen voice - but I know when it's not working and the characters in the book just grate inside my head. Those are the books I put aside unfinished.

Terry said...

Good advice. Adults also swear much more often than would work in a novel.

Tracy Walshaw said...

Very informative post! I also use the um's, and the ... for trailing thoughts, especially when the speaker is a boy and unsure of his words while speaking to a girl.

THANK you for this, Steph. You made really great points. Good luck with your book! :)

Martina said...

I Love reading her blogs. Steph makes it interesting, seeing it from a 16 year old points.