Tony’s Thinking…Watch your language

I once saw a quote that said, “Every age has a language of its own”, and that’s especially true of YA writing. Writing contemporary YA has a peculiar wrinkle to it that I think is unique in any genre: slang.

What about, for instance, the evolution of the word gay.

Happy? Homosexual?

Or by dipping into the wonderful Urban Dictionary, you also come up with “…hilariously immature way of calling something bad.”

So let’s try bad.

Evil? Not good?

How about, “describes someone sexy”

See what I mean?

The words you put into your characters mouths to make them sound contemporary and up to date will do exactly the opposite in a few years time. Are there a lot of YA readers out there who still think something is groovy? Any of them say, Swell, daddy-o?

No. Didn’t think so.

And presumably, you want your story to be around for a while before you retire it to the Great Kindle in the Sky. You don’t want to cause a riot of laughter when your characters are trying to do something serious.

The only exception I can see to this rule seems to be the word cool, which has been around since the 1950s and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Steer clear of the latest celebrities as well. Stay away from saying Someone Bent it like Beckham, or Had a Kardashian. (Being a Star Trek fan, I think you’re talking about are the lizard guys with the spoon rests on their heads – the Cardassians – anyway.)

One of my hobbies is reading Victorian literature – Dickens and Wilkie Collins for instance, and the references they drop in to contemporary characters all need a footnote now.

Think about that for a minute…If you write, ‘Oprah was on the tube’, (that’s a real example, by the way) in a hundred years from now, that’s going to have a little number after it and someone has to explain what you meant at the back of the book. You have to bounce someone out of your story while they figure out what you’re talking about.

And remember your characters voices are always going to be secondary to the story anyway. Show a reader how they act and interact, and their voices are going to be less important. I won’t care if they think something is bad because it’s sexy or gay because it’s bad.

An interesting way of getting round this problem is to invent your own slang and language – even make up your own celebrities. Have a character come up with the profanities as well. This worked so well in the Red Dwarf TV series, they could happily have a character say, ‘Oh Smeg! What the smeggin’ smeg’s he smeggin’ done?!’

Now that’s bad.

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