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There was a recent question that caused quite a stir around here, not so much for the question itself, but more the purpose of the question. That aside, there was a valid question being asked, and it was one that a number of writers may need help with from time to time.

Let's say I am writing a young adult novel, and I want the dialogue between my characters to be more "realistic" and in tune with the current times. How can I know if that dialogue would be in touch with younger readers? Are there any sources that can be recommended to help compare dialogues, whether it be a web site or another book?

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related:writers.stackexchange.com/questions/15914/… – eliyahu-g Jan 17 '15 at 19:16
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I'm 18- so although I feel qualified to give an answer; thats a very broad question, and it can be a daunting task for any writer. Even though sometimes I reflect on a conversation I've had with my friends, and stand back and realise how it would be total nonsense to one of my parents- there are countless niches of slang for teens, all over the English speaking world.

Where do your teenagers live? What kind of things are they into? Who do they associate with? Who would they never associate with? What irritates them? What do they find cool?

The less ambitious and concerned you are with trying to make them sound like "teens" the better I'd say, it could come off as laughable. If you have/know any kids- just think about how they would respond to the situations in your writing, what would they say?

Watch some MTV (that may sound ridiculous but it all depends on what kind of teens you hope to depict, would they watch 'My Super Sweet 16' or some teenaged pregnancy trash? I find my generations use of language to be massively influenced by whatever's on TV).

Remember that where/when they come from is hugely significant. One of my favourite depictions of teens and their dialogue is Bret Easton Ellis' Less than Zero (but even thats quite a niche- 80's Californian late-teens/young adults, shades of valspeak etc)

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One of the things that first came to mind on this is to address it the same as any research you would do for any other novel. If you write a book about a French character, you may have to look up certain phrases in French. If you want to feature a younger character, do some research to get a sense of how they speak, as well as their mannerisms.

One way to do this might be to go to Amazon and look through their Kindle bestsellers in the Young Adult category. Pick a book that appears to be doing well and buy it. You can then compare the dialogue and mannerisms of that book's characters to compare to your own.

Another possible source for research would be to find someone to interview. If you have teens at home (as I do), or if you have nieces or nephews, you can start there. Another option would be to volunteer at a church Sunday school class for teens. This would give you an opportunity to hear them carry on conversations and observe them in a social setting.

The main point is to do your research. I'm sure others can chime in with additional sources for conducting such research, but this should offer a couple of options to get you started.

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Since not everyone attends church, I might alternatively suggest Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Police Athletic League, and local high school sports games. – Lauren Ipsum Nov 7 '11 at 20:25

I would be careful about being too specific with slang for teenagers. There are huge regional variations, and what may sound natural to teen readers in one region (or even part of town!) could sound unnatural and jarring to readers from not that far away.

You also have to make sure you aren't 'dating' your story, as slang changes fairly quickly over time.

This isn't to say that you should have your teen characters speaking like college professors, but just that discretion is valuable. Use 'teen speak' for seasoning, but not for the whole meal!

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Go to the geographic area of your novel. Listen to young adults. Tape young adults. Make sure they are unaware of your research.

Compare their conversations with those you write/wrote. I'll be so bold as o suggest that if you got the language exact you might not attract enough readers. It is a tightrope. And the language can quickly date a work.

BTW, if your characters,plot, premise, and message aren't interesting a publisher won't care whether you got the "speak" right.

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Just be careful not to get arrested - many people are uncomfortable with the idea of adults following teenagers around to listen to their conversations, for obvious reasons. – Yamikuronue Nov 11 '11 at 15:38

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