Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | teens

License Plate 007

Writing Road Trip: License Plate 007

When I was a kid, my career ambi­tions wavered between detec­tive, mad sci­en­tist, shoe sales­per­son, teacher, and spy. For­tu­itous­ly, most of them have become crit­i­cal facets of my grown-up job as a writer.

My prac­tice as a spy came in handy just recent­ly when I need­ed to cre­ate authen­tic-sound­ing dia­logue for char­ac­ters who are young teenagers. In oth­er words, I eaves­dropped like crazy on my teenage nephews and their friends— vol­un­teer­ing to dri­ve car­pool for a few out­ings proved to be a goldmine—but I also lurked via social media and posi­tioned myself strate­gi­cal­ly near ran­dom teenagers in pub­lic. It may be that their Adult Detec­tion Sys­tems alert­ed them to my inter­est, and there­fore skewed my results. But seri­ous­ly, dude, I doubt it: I’m like, 1 gr8 spy.

Eaves­drop­ping was a great reminder of the way that all of us, not just teenagers, real­ly talk: there are dif­fer­ent rhythms to dif­fer­ent people’s speech, we use cur­rent slang and off-col­or terms, we pre­fer con­trac­tions and oth­er short­cuts. I was remind­ed all over again how much less for­mal spo­ken lan­guage is. Real con­ver­sa­tions are com­posed more of inter­rup­tions, frag­ment­ed speech, rep­e­ti­tions for empha­sis, grunts of acknowl­edg­ment, body lan­guage, and silences than they are of for­mal­ly struc­tured sen­tences.

You can rarely, on the oth­er hand, just recre­ate an actu­al word-for-word chat in a sto­ry: your writ­ing would too quick­ly be weighed down by the out­right jib­ber-jab­ber and the sheer num­ber of con­ver­sa­tion­al “dudes” (or what­ev­er term is cur­rent­ly in vogue in mid­dle schools near you). Mak­ing your char­ac­ters sound authen­tic is impor­tant, but the way I explain it to my adult writ­ing stu­dents is, if you’re try­ing to estab­lish that a char­ac­ter has a Scot­tish brogue, you get only one “Nay, Lassie,” per 25,000 words.

And remem­ber that dia­logue is also charged with the large task of help­ing to tell the sto­ry: it reveals char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, advances the plot, and pro­vides action. That’s a lot for those lassies and dudes to have to carry—no won­der it’s a strug­gle for young writ­ers to write good dia­logue!

Remind­ing your stu­dents to ration out their slang and elim­i­nate excess is crit­i­cal, but more impor­tant, I’ve found, is to remem­ber to give them per­mis­sion to make their dia­logue infor­mal. If you don’t, they too often end up writ­ing stilt­ed con­ver­sa­tions where every­one sounds like a nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry British but­ler or a walk­ing research paper.

Effec­tive dia­logue lands some­where in the mid­dle between the way peo­ple real­ly talk and the way we’ve all been taught to write prose. Effec­tive dia­logue is less redun­dant and more expres­sive than real speech; it’s less for­mal and more frag­ment­ed than the rest of the sto­ry text sur­round­ing it.

A page of well-writ­ten dia­logue isn’t exact­ly what you might hear from the back of the van while you’re carpooling—but it’s close enough that any good spy could decode it.

Read more...
bk_secretsshakespearesgrave.jpg

Gifted: Up All Night

My moth­er had the knack of giv­ing me a book every Christ­mas that kept me up all night … after I had opened it on Christ­mas Eve. I par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­ber the “oh-boy-it’s-dark-outside” year that I received The Lord of the Rings and accom­pa­nied the hob­bits into Woody End where they first meet the Nazgul, the […]

Read more...