Talking the Teen Language

I just watched the movie “Juno” (I love this movie, I’ve seen it 5 times now). It makes me smile, cry and laugh every time. And I’m in awe of the screenwriters ability to create dialogue that in it’s ridiculous verbosity, is so witty and relevant. But it got me to thinking about the challenges of an adult who is writing from the perspective of a teen. As a YA fiction writer, I am fully aware of these challenges and have spent many a late night rewriting dialogue, and then rewriting the rewrites.

I remember religiously watching Dawson’s Creek those many years ago, and not caring so much that the characters on that show spoke in a verbiage way beyond their years, or that I had to have my dictionary handy to even understand some of the words they were spewing out. I thought it was great!  And you can’t tell me that the demographic for that show was for the 30 somethings and up. It was on the CW channel for crying out loud.

I am no wordsmith, and my vocabulary is far from highbrow, so I don’t really have to worry about being verbose in my writing. But sometimes I do wonder if  being so far removed from my teen years, if I am still able to capture the essence of that time in my life, without layering in too much of the experience and perspective I’ve gained since then. I like to provide my young characters with a depth and understanding that I didn’t have, or at least I don’t remember having at that age. And in doing that do I stray too much from the perspective a teen?

Then I realize that no one really wants to read about a girl whose only thoughts are about what she looks like, what that one guy in school thinks she looks like, or what everyone else in school thinks she looks like.  Not saying that the majority of thoughts in a teenage mind are trivial or useless. On the contrary, they are complex and moreover extremely important. Because it’s how they deal with those thoughts that develop the qualities and characteristics they will grow into. BUT, I think it is fair to say that, because of lack of real-life experience, a teen is often ill-equipped to always deal with those thoughts in the most rational way. And I think it’s best to use that irrationality in developing the plot or the character rather than as the plot itself. Because in my humble opinion, a story– no matter how fantastical or surreal, whether it’s a love epic or a tale of horror– needs to be rational in the end.

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