We’ve all heard it, that strange language at the back of the bus that includes words like ‘fam’, ‘lit’, ‘goochi’, ‘cray’ and ‘turnt’. It’s also punctuated oddly, with ‘literally’ and ‘actually’ used to give emphasis to something, but ‘like’ doesn’t mean anything at all. Plus, instead of concluding a point sentences often finish with, like, yeah … nothing!
‘Fam’, ‘lit’, ‘goochi’, ‘cray’ and ‘turnt’
So, what I’ve been thinking about lately is how you capture this strange conversational style in writing, without, well without just coming across as annoying and my conclusion is that you can’t! Nobody wants to read a book where the characters talk like this, regardless of how authentic it is, because it’s totally cringe. Readers know the author is an adult, not a teenager, and there’s a strict ‘no adults allowed’ rule which pertains to teenage language usage. You’re also probably not going to use it correctly because the subtilties of the situation are lost on us whilst eavesdropping. Finally, perhaps most importantly as a writer, it dates your work because as soon as adults have caught up with this stuff it’s already out of date!
After deciding that my characters profit from good English, I turned my attention to texts and instant messaging since they’re usage is endemic amongst teenagers. Thinking back to when I was a teenager, I started writing stuff like ‘gr8’, ‘2u’, ‘rly’ and ‘thnx’ in my latest book, but after a chat with some current teenagers I realised that I was waaaaayyyyy off the mark. Today phone contracts usually come with unlimited text messages which has made the traditional ‘txt tlk’ obsolete. Instead, they told me that they tend to use whole words and good grammar but a lot of emoticons, like almost every message. This makes me think that we should also incorporate them into our writing since they covey important additional information. They do still use acronyms like TFW = that feeling when or FR = for real, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that all teenagers use them.
In summary, although using their lingo is a good way to identify with your target audience you need to be careful. Don’t be too stereotypical and treat them like they grew up in the Bronx or back when you were a teenager!