Check Yo’self Before You Wreck Yo’Self: Using Slang in Children’s Fiction

Dialogue is hard. It has to advance the plot, not sound didactic and ring true to your character. In young adult literature, this means you’re probably using some slang. Writing realistic slang in dialogue can be difficult, but if done right, it can really add another dimension to your character.

Things to consider when using slang in YA and MG fiction:

Slang can tell you where your character is from. Slang doesn’t just vary from generation to generation, it varies by locality. My friend who grew up in Chicago never gave out “cool points,” but in my area it was common to look at someone and say the phrase “negative points” when they did something lame.

Slang can tell you where in time your character is. Does anybody still end a conversation with “one?” (Yeah late ’90s!) If someone says that something’s “groovy,” don’t we all immediately picture the ’60′s?

Slang is quickly outdated. If your YA is set in the present, using today’s slang could be outdated by the time the book goes to print. Likewise, the slang that we used in high school (“Let’s bounce!”, “One.”, “That’s mad crazy.”) probably sounds more out-dated than I’d care to think about.

One way to escape this hurdle and still have lifelike characters is to build a language around them/their situation. (Plus, I always think it’s fun when you see the etymology of a character’s favorite word…) Maybe there’s a horribly embarrassing incident that can be summed up in one word, which becomes synonmous with “that’s terrible!” Or perhaps the opposite?

What do you think? How do your characters use slang?

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