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Teen Speak vs. Teen Think

The definition of Teen Speak is muddled at best. Too much teen slang and you’re trying too hard. Too little means your characters might not be relatable enough. Too much melodramatic fluff and your characters are insipid. Too many heavy themes and you could run the risk of writing over the reader’s head or worse, boring them.

This past weekend, I was on the phone with my younger sister who is very much in the throes of teenagedom. While talking with her on her home phone, her cell phone rang. Below is the side of the conversation I was able to hear:

*dramatic gasp*
“Oh my God. Are you serious?”
“I can’t believe it.”

There were a few other things said (things that I’m certain were beyond the tiny realm of coolness I occasionally get to visit). I won’t bore you with the rest, but you get the idea. Not exactly the stuff novels are made of. And, really, not all that different from how we adults speak at times. But after she hung up, she told me what the conversation was about and . . . there was the story. Something that could be the plot or subplot in a YA book. Something that would make people want to stay tuned to see the outcome.

Being the older sister, I listened and sympathized while in the back of my mind I wanted to tell her it wasn’t the end of the world. That life would go on and what seemed liked the most horrible thing in the universe at the time, wasn’t. But I didn’t. Bottom line: it mattered to her.

Pop culture, slang, or any other thing writers use to relate to teens will never make a story as relatable as understanding the way they think and feel. It's hard to keep up with the teen speak, and really, it isn't a necessity. A simple journey back to that time in our own lives will help us write something that will resonate with the youth of today.
Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

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  1. Love this post--no one wants an exact replica of a real live teenage conversation. Just the feeling :)
    And that picture is one of the cutest things ever.

  2. Great post! "It mattered to her" - that's the important part. Any problem will fly in a novel if the reader is convinced that it really matters to the characters.

  3. I LOVE this post. As a school counselor, I see my fair share of "little" problems that mean the world to my students. And I treat each of these problems like it is truly significant. I never tell them to get over it, or that it won't be important years from now (which, many times, is true). Instead, I listen and help them come up with solutions. This is why my students love coming to me--which don't make many of my colleagues too happy. Oh well, my job is to be an advocate for the student, not the teacher.

  4. Finding that balance is so hard! Funny how you can tell immediately if a scene has too much drama vs too insipid.

  5. Awesome post!

    Reminds me of the time...

    Crit Partner: Would *this character* say *that word?* I mean, he's fourteen. Fourteen year olds don't talk like that in everyday conversation.
    Me: ....I did.
    Crit: You were never a fourteen year old.


    But once more, love this post. It captures so much of what writing YA is.

  6. Love the post. Trying to capture the way teens speak is hard because it is always changing, but still being in the mindset so that other teens will relate is probably where YA writers should aim to be.

  7. Blue, I've had my crit partner say the same thing...

    Crit partner: Would a teenager really say this?

    Me: I would have when I was sixteen...

    CP: *Rolls eyes* Yeah, well...

    I don't like how the general consensus (not us writers, but you know... 'they') is that teens are stupid. When I was in HS and college (the bulk of my teen years) I was at the top of my game intellectually. School kept me on the ball and I knew plenty more then than a lot of people want to give teens credit for.

  8. great post and great points. i also think it's great not to put too much current "slang" because it can date the book pretty quickly.

  9. To expand on what Kaitlin said, no one wants an exact replica of any type of conversation. I mean, if we wanted reality, we'd sit on the front step and watch the neighbours.

  10. How true about trying to get back to that time in our lives!! I was just writing a post about my own teenage heartbreak and it reminded me so acutely of how stupid and wonderful young love feels.


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Item Reviewed: Teen Speak vs. Teen Think Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah