When it comes to writing for teenagers, the general rule regarding language is this:
Don’t use slang in your YA novel.
I abide by this rule, yet it’s come to my attention that I may be using slang accidentally! WTF?
Let’s back up for a second and state why putting slang in your YA novel is not a smart move. First of all, it’s highly likely that you the author are not a teenager, so your slang will either not be current or be current but used incorrectly. For example, if you tell your kids you’re going to “watch Netflix and chill” tonight and they give you a disgusted look, that’s a hint that you don’t actually know what that expression means to young adults. However, if you’re confident your slang is up-to-date and used accurately, beware of this second reason: all slang dates your book. By the time you publish, teen terminology will have changed drastically. Hell, current slang will probably be obsolete before you finish your 1st draft! So unless you’re writing a period piece or historical YA, or making up your own teen terminology (like in THE MAZE RUNNER), save yourself the trouble and just don’t use slang.
Okay, no problem! I won’t. Except then I read this article and kind of freaked out:
Eek! There are words in there that are such a natural part of my vocabulary that I don’t even consider them slang! For those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s the rundown of words that apparently out me as an old person (though I’m not old enough to be Generation X, I’m apparently too old to be a Millennial. Also, whatever happened to Generation Y? Online sources say Y and Millennial is the same thing… but a birth date span of early 80s to early 2000s is, like, way too big. So I consider myself part of the Lost Y generation.)
Okay, back to those words that teens allegedly don’t use. Here’s the list:
Confession: I still use all those words. Okay, not “bummer” but I never liked that one. And “downer” and “bonus” I can see are kind of slang-y. But the others? Are you kidding me?! The rest have been around for decades! Especially “cool”. And now… teenagers don’t say cool anymore?!
Maybe I should calm down. It’s just one source. The smart thing for me to do would be go talk to some teenagers. Since I don’t have any of my own, I’ll do the next logical thing: ask Facebook. Oh, and I’ll ask some real live teenagers too. Here’s what I found out…
This article doesn’t reflect the millennials I know. They told me they still say “cool” and “awesome”. Teacher friends also confirmed they hear their students say these words all the time. Even “totally” and “sweet” and “right” get some love.
Now if I was a good reporter I’d have gotten some sound bites and testimonials from verified millennials to back up my research, but I started coaching gymnastics this weekend and I was way too busy managing chaos to be organized enough to get proof! So you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or ask the millennials in your life.
The conclusion from a writer’s perspective? Even though some slang endures for decades, keep it to a minimum in your writing. A general rule is not to overuse any word, let alone colloquialisms.
But… some may worry if their teenage characters don’t use slang words, they won’t sound like teenagers and teenagers will hate the book! To that I say – hogwash! And read YA. You can convey a teenage voice without slang. Plus, though teenagers (and adults for that matter) tend to repeat certain words a lot (eg.: “like” and “you know” and their favourite positive exclamation – mine admittedly is “awesome”), they rarely know they’re doing it and often find reading a character who speaks in such a way annoying.
Whew! I don’t know about you guys, but I feel a lot better about slipping the occasional “Cool!” into my manuscript. What about you? Do you worry about slang or the lack thereof in your writing?