Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dialogue in YA Fiction

One of the first things you learn as a beginner author is that while dialogue should give the reader the impression that it's the way people talk, it shouldn't be exactly how people talk.

That is, you shouldn't include the ums and pauses and repetition. You generally shouldn't include the boring inane small talk we all use to break the ice with each other or to get warmed up. You should get to the point, have your characters express themselves in as few words as possible, and expressing even more than the words actually say with subtext. Dialogue is closer to how we wished we spoke, or how we think we speak, rather than how we really speak.

But I feel like some YA authors forget this or think it doesn't apply to them. And editors let them get away with it.

To the point where I wonder if they think the rule doesn't apply to YA. I even started to wonder if teen readers want to read dialogue that's closer to how they actually speak.

But I, for one, don't think so. It's one reason why I haven't enjoyed a lot of contemporary YA I've read. Not all. Just some.

It's like when you hear a teen, like, speaking and like, they're saying like, like a lot, and it's like, that's okay, she's a teen and, like, that's how she talks, so like it makes sense that like the author wrote, like, all the dialogue with a lot of likes. But I think like it gets, like, you know, like kind of repetitious and annoying and, like, I start to feel like, if I were an actual, like, teen, I'd feel like the author was, like, mocking me, or like, talking down to me, not like, trying to sound like me or relate to me.

I'm reading a critically acclaimed YA novel right now. And it's from about 10 years ago. And it's not contemporary, it's sci-fi. And it's clever. It's a cool concept. I wish I'd written it. The author really commits to the world and the language these teens use, and for the most part it really works but, like, I wish the author had, like, used the word like less often.

The other YA book I read this year with really quirky language was Blood Red Road, but that one really worked for me. The language was different, it took a while to get into the flow of it, but it wasn't annoying. For this new one I'm reading, the language is getting in the way of the story for me.

Does that ever happen to you? If the language is annoying, can you enjoy a story?



10 comments:

Kristin Noel Fischer said...

Hi Maureen,

I like agree! Sometimes language, dialect in particular, can really irritate me, but if it’s a good story, I can skim over it.

You said that dialogue is how we wish we spoke, and that is so true. I find the further along I get on this writing journey, the harder it is to have a normal conversation because I’m constantly wanting to edit what I said. Sometimes while talking to someone new, I can see the curser going delete, delete, delete.

You know what else in fiction is closer to fantasy than reality? Children. I love how fictional kids are so smart and clever without being annoying.

Molly O'Keefe said...

oh I like that - it's how we want to talk. I remember being so frustrated with Dawson's Creek - watching it thinking what teenager talks like this. And then i watched it with a teenager and said that to her and she shot me such a look of scorn and told me "we all do."

Wishful thinking, I'm sure - but still, I think they were onto something. And yes - Kristin - I totally agree about kids. As someone who puts a lot of kids in her books - it's fun to write them without the annoying stuff.

Kwana said...

I hear you Maureen. Something like that can take me right out of the story and start to turn it into a parody.

Eileen said...

It's not just YA. All those books that take place in Scotland? Eesh. When it's done well, it's awesome. When it's not, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot. Inconsistency with it also bugs me. If a character talks all dialect-y in one place, he or she kind of has to keep doing it unless there's a damn good reason for them to change.

Sinead M said...

Eilleen, hilarious about the Scotland books, some have so frustrated me with the dialect I couldn't read them. And Maureen, so right about Blood Red Road, it took about a chapter, but then the dialect became about voice and the world building and I completely bought into it.

Sinead M said...

Eilleen, hilarious about the Scotland books, some have so frustrated me with the dialect I couldn't read them. And Maureen, so right about Blood Red Road, it took about a chapter, but then the dialect became about voice and the world building and I completely bought into it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kristin, Ha! I think I do that too. Try to edit myself mid-sentence when I'm speaking. LOL

Maureen McGowan said...

Molly, I think that's why Dawson's Creek was so popular. Those kids talked like teens *think* they talk.

Same with The Vampire Diaries. Those teens talk smart. The show doesn't pander because the characters are teens.

Cyndi Tefft said...

I agree. It isn't always "like" overuse, though. Too much slang (Dude! That's wack!) can kill it for me as well. Slang is fine if it's sprinkled in like seasoning, but it overpowers the whole thing if it's dumped in.

Maureen McGowan said...

Very true, Cyndi.

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