Do you recall how you talked as a teenager? Hell, I don’t really remember (unless I listen to one of the God-awful cassette tapes I’d made with friends). However, if you write for a young adult audience, you better slog out those tapes or sit in McDonald’s after school gets out, listening to the teens in the booth behind you yak-it-up. Even though the lingo changes every few years, there are still a few static ground rules for writing YA dialogue.
1. Don’t talk down – Never assume that teenagers lack the capacity for intellectual speak. With all the homework being loaded into their backpacks, they have the most intense verbiage memorized and in daily use. Treat your audience like a bunch of dullards, and you’ll lose them.
2. Don’t go moralistic – Preachers have their place, but not in your typical YA story. Your audience didn’t select your book to read the modern version of Aesop’s Fables or to be inundated with parables about how everything they do is wrong. Tell your tale, be realistic about it, and leave it at that.
3. Use contractions – Really, how many teens do you hear speaking like Shakespeare at Starbucks? You would. It will. Should have. Thou whilst. Uh, no! Use contractions in YA dialogue. You’d. It’ll. Should’ve. That’s how they talk (and you do, too!).
4. Be brief – On occasion, your YA characters will tell it like it is, requiring more than a brief paragraph of dialogue. But for the most part, your lines of dialogue should be short, snappy, and to the point. Who has patience for diarrhea of the mouth, anyway? Not me, and certainly not anyone in a YA audience.
The adolescent world is filled with new choices that weigh heavy on how kids will perform for the rest of their lives. Be a partner for their adventure – tell a good story, and tell it with dialogue they relate to.