Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slow Sunday and Talking Teen Slang

Today is Sunday and I'm not at church because both my little Beasties are sick. Cough, cough, sniffle, sniffle, snort, snort. Yep, that's been my life for the past three days. Neither of them is feeling bad, just snotty, so lots of movie-watching and video games.

Oh, wait. That's how it's been all summer, since it's either pouring rain or dastardly hot outside all the time :P.

Anyway, I've taken a blogging break because I just needed some time to veg. My manuscript was sent out to about a half-dozen beta-readers, and I've been kinda too nervous to concentrate on anything anyway.

So far, I've gotten two replies from betas. One included a "Wooooooow!" And the other included a "What a ride!" That has helped to calm my nerves a bit!

Slang from my era :P.
No, I did not talk  like that!
One comment made by a beta-reader really made me feel awesome, too. She said I did a great job with the teen slang in Seeking Unseen. I have, in so many reviews, slammed YA writers for their awful use of teen slang, so it's nice to know I didn't do so in vain ;). Anyway, since I got the official thumbs-up, I figured I'd share some of my views on the topic of slang use in fiction.

I have found that there are certain things that make slang not work: 

Overuse. If, like, every other freaking word is, like, slang, it freaking starts to, like, get on your freaking nerves.

Misplaced slang. There is a pattern to slang and placement to words. You can't just stick them in any-ole-where. Honestly, I don't have an example of this. I just know it when I see it. I'm reading along and, wham, I'm shoved out of the story because the slang word feels crammed in where it doesn't belong.

Trendiness. Slang words come and go. To me, adding trendy slang dates the story, so kids in, say, ten years are going to roll their eyes at half the slang. You also have to be careful about certain words and phrases, as they change meaning over time. When I was a teen, "hooking up" just meant meeting someone someplace. "We hooked up at the mall." But today, "hooking up" has a whole different meaning., folks. Use it.

The other thing trendiness can do is make the author look foolish. Even if you spend a lot of time with teens, even have them in your own home, you, as an author, are not likely a teen yourself. And if you are, well, let's face it, you've got to have a certain level of nerdiness to be a writer in the first place. My point is, if they're words you don't feel comfortable using because they're not really part of your vocabulary, then it will likely come across that way on the page.

That said, if you do have a character that would use a lot of contemporary slang, make sure you find someone like that character to look at your writing.

I know, no one wants to be stereotyped, but this brings up another point: There are distinct subcultures among teens. Populars are not going to use the same slang as Goths or whatever. Don't generalize.

Speaking of thing that seems to be a trend in teen fiction, especially in sci-fi, is made-up slang. One of the pioneers of this is Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies series and several other teen sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk series. He does it right, btw. The problem is there are too many authors trying to do this too, and it falls flat. Some examples of books that drove me nuts are Maze Runner and Glitch.

In those books I just mentioned, the made-up slang has another issue. It's not really a slang system--just cussing replacements. Like in Glitch, "crack" is the replacement for the f-word. As in, oh, man, were cracked, or that's so cracking messed up. (Just made those up because I didn't want to look up actual examples from the book, but that is how it's used.)

This kind of thing *can* work, but one thing I've noticed is that the words need to be sufficiently different from the original cuss word. In both Glitch and Maze Runner, I found the substitutions to be close enough to the real words to make if feel childish. Like, hehe, if I say shitake I've said the s-word but mommy can't get mad! That's where Westerfeld really shines. His words function as more than just cussing, and the words aren't just twists of existing words.

Just an FYI--the WORST book I've read so far when it comes to slang is Dark Companion by Marta Acosta. I cringed through that book. Well, as much as I was able to bear reading. It was horrid. The MC was supposed to be from a rough neighborhood and really street-smart, but she's speaks so cleanly except for the occasional use of "ax" instead of "ask." O.o And the slang that gets used most is that of the rich chickies at her new school, who give nicknames to EVERY freaking person and place they encounter and use the word "coitus" as a sub for the f-bomb. I normally don't go out of my way to bash books (other than Twilight) but this one is right up there! And it was published by TOR. Really???? I am devastated by that.


Hope this little list is helpful.

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