1. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    realistic teen dialogue

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tumblingdice, May 25, 2016.

    In my fanfic, most of the characters are 15-16, except for a couple of seniors.

    I think I got the teen characteristics right, you know, the angst, insecurities, impulsiveness, etc. But when they talk they sound like little adults.

    Any advice on how to make the dialogue more realistic?

    Aditional info: The story takes place in 2001-2002, so obviously the slang is different. Given that I'm not American, I'm going to need help on that too (I'm getting old so I don't even remember how MTV teens talked back in the day, lol).
     
  2. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Well, for starters, don't rely too much on slang. I don't know why, but adults have this weird habit of assuming teens speak almost entirely in slang.
    Trying to remember my Junior year of high school....
    I really don't remember any standout slang terms. It was before the internet really became the unstoppable force of nature it is now, so trends didn't spread across the world as fast as they do now. Social media didn't really exist, almost no one had a cellphone, no one knew what a meme was.
    Honestly, I think my friends and I used more swear words than slang.
     
  3. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    Noted. So far I've only used words like "sweet!" and "peeps" and I'm not even sure if they're accurate.

    I know, right? The good old days...

    Great, because I have my characters swear often. I'm hesitant to have the nerds swearing too, though.
     
  4. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    As a nerd, I can tell you, we did.
    Granted, we were nerds in black clothes and boots who smoked in the girls room...
     
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  5. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    Hahaha :D that's a funny mental picture. My nerds are geeks from the Chess Club, I know, total cliché. I might change that bit and make those characters more into Pokemon/LOTR, since that's how I remember nerds at my school.
     
  6. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Yep, that was us. in the National Art Honor Society, on the Academic Bowl team, working yearbook, in Future Problem Solvers, doing debate, choir, and drama, trying to start an anime club--and scaring the hell out of people.
     
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  7. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    I still say sweet...

    Okay, so here's how you deal with this, don't blanket the whole group with the 'standard issue slang; 2001 edition'
    Instead remember your days, weren't there always just a few kids, either really cool or trying way too hard to be, that used slang?

    With that in mind, make one character, probably the kind of annoying one, respond 'sweet' to anything positive.
     
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  8. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    What do you mean?

    *tries really hard to remember*
    I guess the kids that wanted to be 'cool' used slang, but not as much as the actual cool kids. I myself didn't use any, I actually refused for 4+ years to talk like a regular teenager (see why I need help in this topic? :supergrin:)

    That's the jock character :D. He's actually a sympathetic jock, he's the leader and all so he's always up to date with the newest cool words/phrases.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  9. theoriginalmonsterman
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    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    We barely speak in slang at all. It's a really bad stereotype people follow when writing dialogue for teens. Just have them talk normal. :bigtongue:
     
  10. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Well, aside from slang, remember that teens are rarely able articulate deep issues or the big emotions they feel. Even the most confident Cool Kid struggles with doubts and insecurities, but buries them deep. A lot of that swagger and bravado is social camouflage, hiding anything which might threaten their status.
    Basically, there are a lot of things which go unsaid.
     
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  11. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    That's one of the challenges I'm facing when writing this fanfic. A lot of disturbing things happen to/around these teens, and I'm always reminding myself that they can't possibly react the way a person my age would. Also, since my writing style is dialogue-driven, I find it difficult to create powerful, plot-driven dialogue when the characters aren't very articulate or wordy.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's one way it works. However, when teens are with their best friends whom they probably trust more than parents and/or siblings, I think they're quite likely to open up with doubts, insecurities and desires. If you look at the posts from young people on this forum, I think you'll recognise quite a lot of emotional openness. I imagine for them, like most of us, the key issue is trust. Whom do they trust? If they're in a large peer group of people who are all scrambling for top dog status, they'll probably not make themselves vulnerable. But then again, do any of us voluntarily display all our faults and insecurities in that situation?

    I think teens are as varied as adults, and probably should be treated as individuals when you write about them. These are individuals with a short lifetime of experience behind them, and who are still testing their own capabilities. They may come from backgrounds where they have been exposed to all sorts of dire things, or have lived several different kinds of lifestyles, or may come from sheltered backgrounds where nothing much has changed since they were young children. However, they probably haven't experienced things like getting married, landing an adult job, going through higher education, having and raising children, etc. Most of them probably haven't found their significant other yet (although they might think their latest boyfriend/girlfriend is that person.) Many of them won't actually have a career path mapped out. Some will have a career plan mapped out that might not be what they really want to do. Some others will know exactly what they want to do, but they might or might not have the skills or attitude to achieve these goals. However, most of their goals will still lie in the future.

    The danger in writing slang, especially if you don't use it yourself, is that you can look really stupid. I certainly remember the sad attempts older people used to make back in the 60's, trying to be 'cool' and use teenager slang when they didn't have a clue. Not only will you look pretty silly and will never convince a teenager that you know your stuff, but it will instantly date your writing. Today's slang is tomorrow's laughable oddity.

    I'd say soft-pedal the slang and concentrate on your characters. If you get into their skins, you'll get their voices right. Don't strive for generic teen-speak. Strive to make each character believable and real. If you can temporarily inhabit the mind of a 14-year-old boy who is just starting at an American high school, you don't need to worry about slang. It'll be fine if you just use ordinary language. Nobody is going to look at a piece of writing and say 'hey, where's the slang?' They will notice if you get the slang wrong, though. Even a teensy little bit wrong.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  13. ToBeInspired
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    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    Bromance, douchebag, gaydar, going postal, helps, LOL, meh, mile, muffin top, whale tail, wigger, Foshizzle, fosheezy my neezy, home, kick it, tight, dis (disrespect -- dissing), dabomb, whack, sweet

    Lot more of course.
     
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  14. RobT
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    RobT Active Member

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    Mine grunt quite a lot, or at least that's what it sounds like to me :) They also quote "popular" phrases from TV shows, or movies in conversation e.g. from Breaking Bad - "It's the bomb" when something's good. Might be worth googling up movies, shows, music etc . . . that was new, or popular for those years.
     
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  15. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I can honestly not think of a single time my friends and classmates called something The Bomb when they weren't being sarcastic or ironic.
     
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  16. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm 23 and I only use the most common slang words, but some of my closest friends use words that even I don't know. So I think it really depends on the type of person you are (I'm not extremely popular, but I'm not among "nerds", I'm average I would say).

    Also I think that with 16 year old kids slang is sometimes forced in order to make them look cool. When you get older and you "find yourself", the way you speak is more and more natural I think, even if there's a lot of slang words it sounds natural. By 16 year olds that is not always the case, especially not with drag queens and jocks etc.

    My opinion. :)
     
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  17. RobT
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    RobT Active Member

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    Which makes it realistic dialogue taken from tv shows / movies which is where I was coming from.
     
  18. Sifunkle
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    Lots of good ideas in this thread already, but I'll share my two cents. Bear in mind of course that each teen is different and their status as individual characters should hold greater sway than the following generalisations:

    Slang: I agree with those that recommend avoiding the widespread cliched ones. I think they were perpetuated by writers like us far more than actual teens (although that probably enters paradox territory...). Most of the slang-type terms I remember were idiomatic ones that arose from in-jokes or shared experiences amongst the social group; outsiders wouldn't have understood them at all, and probably would have been derided by the 'less tolerant' teens for trying to use them (occasionally these idioms may be deliberately used to test newcomers). Similarly, I think the teens that did try to use the cliches were generally viewed as try-hards. The main exception would be funny pop-cultural references.

    Pop-cultural references: more common. I think pop culture is (for better or worse) a large factor in how kids/teens learn about the world, and they generally have more time for it than adults.

    Swearing: more common, I suspect because it seems tough and they're entering a period of life where a) authority figures hold much less sway than previously, and b) social hierarchy is starting to become as important as it will be in adult life, but there's far less enforcement of social propriety, etc. You'll have smarter teens that recognise this though, and they may roll their eyes.

    Political incorrectness/stating things directly: lack of experience --> lack of social awareness. Also the aforementioned low influence of authority figures. Also more prone to risk-taking behaviour, so won't be as concerned about the chance of offending others.

    Innuendo/overt sexual references +/- homophobia: developing sexuality and sexual identity, which is likely to enter dialogue, although some will still be shy about it.

    Overt insults/compliments (including those in jest): another part of trying to figure out the social hierarchy.

    Nicknames: IMO teens are generally closer to those around them and gain familiarity quicker, so give each other heaps of nicknames (not all of which stick). Can also be part of social hierarchy, both in the meaning of the name given, and in the kudos for coming up with a popular nickname (although the origin is quickly forgotten).

    Tendency to overuse (and misuse) new words: teens are also less experienced with language, so more likely to find novel words and experiment with them. Perhaps moreso for studious teens. Although if anyone is recognised as using an obscure word that arose from a shared class, expect them to be derided for it.

    Just to reiterate: these are generalisations and only in my opinion. Many adults continue with traits like these, but I think they're overall less common in that demographic.

    Good luck!
     
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  19. Necronox
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    Necronox Active Member

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    While I agree about the pop-cultural influence teens. I think it should generally be broadened to what those teens in particular do. If they are prone to using computer games, i reckon they would be inclined to use computer related slang or jokes such as: id10t error, noob, feeding (giving people points easily), lol/lmao/rofl or saying WTF? as in the actual letters as opposed to saying the entire thing. however, if their from the Australian country they probably use a lot of the slang words - in my experience those that come from more remote area tend to use a lot more slang.

    Swearing. i don't really agree, at least from my experience i disagree. most swearing was done in given situations such as 'bagging' out an adult.

    Nicknames, i agreed definitely.

    And as a whole, I would say that their language is simpler and more direct with lack of adjectives or otherwise unnecessary words. They would say "this sucks" as opposed to "This green XX sucks".

    Also, a lot of what would be considered inappropriate attitudes would be given/used. Overt sexual references, wearing pants too low, drawing or pointing things that are phallic, inappropriate touching, etc...

    But as a whole, I'd say the largest altering factor of their speech would be themselves, are their well educated? rich/poor? foreign or native speakers? etc...
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If all else fails, write what you think is good 'teen speak' or slang, then run it past a few real teenagers and see what they think. They'll probably be quite happy to help.
     
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  21. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    Thanks everyone for your responses! Really insightful.

    I'll try to reply to as much people as I can and leave some for later.

    I looked it up. Degrassi, 24, Scrubs, Smallville, The Sopranos were some of the popular shows back then. Seeing as my characters are male, I'll probably have them quoting 24 and The Sopranos. I'm screwed, though, because I don't remember much of 24 and I never watched The Sopranos. In 2001 I watched Ally McBeal mostly :p

    That makes sense. Oh God, I'm going to have to do A LOT of research now. *overwhelmed*

    This was really helpful, thanks. I wonder though, there's an OC that appears later in the story who's prone to long rants. How should I make that work without sounding like adult speech?

    They're all rich, from a boarding school in America. The MC is British, though.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2016
  22. Nidhogg
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    I'm going to go ahead and repeat a phrase that has already been said: "do not rely on slang." Authors that do this come across to teenagers as trying too hard to sound authentic and relatable, whilst in reality all they end up doing is embodying this:



    To give an example of slang used badly, I'd recommend reading No Place by Tod Strausser. As the author of The Wave, I had expected to find this story enjoyable, but after reading some of it myself and having Strausser himself read an extract from the novel at my secondary school, I found it almost unbearable to read. I was about the same age as the protagonist was at the time of reading/hearing it, and found the constant usage of slang and stereotypical teen speak to be unrealistic- I had never met anyone who spoke like that, and it really put me off wanting to read books from the perspective of mid-teen characters for a while.

    The issue with writing in teen-speak is that in some instances, teen-speak is really uncomfortable to read, even if it sounds reasonable in the real world. The usage of references, the word 'like' a lot and the quoting of popular fiction works find in our world, but reading it on a page can be kind of annoying, both for teens and non teens. The best advice I can give in all honesty is to just try and find as many recordings as you can of teenagers from the early 2000s talking to one another- be it from tv interviews at schools, tv shows, movies, whatever- and see how they're talking to one another.

    When I've read teenage characters and liked how they speak, it's mainly because their language is direct and pragmatic, with the occasional usage of abbreviations and slang that makes sense for their interests and background. If anything, I'd also rather read a teenage character that sounds like an adult than like an adult trying to write a teenager, as the latter either ends up sounding awkward or like the teenager is acting like a 12 year old.

    I'm not sure if any of that helped or not, but I hope it added something of use to the conversation!
     
  23. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    To add to that? Make sure those TV shows and movies are NOT Disney channel series. I can remember cringing at the way they had kids talk, act, and even dress in those shows.
     
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  24. Pixelated Porn
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    Pixelated Porn Member

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    use "like" at least once in every sentence
     
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  25. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Like this?
     
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