Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dialogue: Is yours believable?

While researching for my first novel, REDWOOD BLOOD, I studied the way tweens and teens talk. I listened to them in Starbucks. I sat next to them at parks. I even asked a group of skaters what some of their terms meant. Luckily my boys are still too young to be embarrassed by their mother. 

What I found is that in every group, or clique, there is a certain tone to their collective voices. So if I wanted to write about the skaters, I'd need to know some key terms like:

Air: To me and you, this means the stuff we breathe. But to the skater it means to propel oneself into the air without popping the board.

Bust: This could be interpreted a few ways to us, but to the skater, it means to execute a trick perfectly.

Now if I wanted to write a story about gamers, those who play video games. I'd need to know that:

Energy Bar: Does not mean something you eat. It's the indicator of the avatars current state of health.

Mule: Is not a donkey, but a secondary character used for more storage space for the stuff you want to lug along. 

This same idea can be applied to sports groups. Kids on teams have come up with specific languages to describe what's going on in the game. 

The problem with using any of the "in" terms is that you may date your material. Think about the words:

Cool: awesome
Gnarly: very cool
No Duh: come on, I know
Dude: addressing someone
Sike: not really 
Jam: to play music together
Psych: just kidding
Rad: awesome
Baby: cute girl
Dibs: to claim

Righteous: cool
Deuce: hot-rod : car
Daddy-O: addressing someone 
Knuckle Sandwich: fist in the face
Lid: a hat
Bird: a cute girl

Some of the above words are still being used, but many of them have been dropped or forgotten. If you try to use the word Bird for girl today, teens would not know what you were talking about. 

The other place I studied tween and teen terms was the movies. I sat and watched, taking notes, on a few great movies. One of them was THE GOONIES. 

The tweens and teens in this movie, believe it or not, do not have tons of dialogue. Here's a list of some of what they said, and how they said it.

  • "Slip her the tongue."
  • "Goonies never say die."
  • "The next time you take a test, it will be at another school."
  • "I pigged out."
  • "Slick shoes. Are you crazy?"
  • "Shame. Shame. I know your name."
  • "These are somebody else's wishes. Somebody else's dreams."
  • "For sure, Mrs. Walsh."
  • "Shut up Mouth."
  • "Senior jerk alert."
  • "Ah, shit."
  • "I'm setting booty traps."
  • "Sounds like Kong."
  • "Man. You smell like phys ed."
  • "How many more years do I have before I get fat? Before my hair falls out? Before I look like him?"

As you can see, some of these lines could be said by kids today, and some of them would date your manuscript. I don't hear many kids saying, for sure, or phys ed - it's PE now to my kids. Same thing, different saying. But that means everything when you are writing for tweens and teens. 

My suggestion for you is this:
  • research slang today
  • research the terms used within each group
  • pick those that seem less odd
  • use them sparingly
  • do not use terms you used to use in school
  • do not over do slang terms because in a few years they will have changed
  • watch the movies in your genre and take notes on dialogue



  1. Great advice, Angie. Reminded me of a young teen girl I saw at the mall recently. She was talking with two other girls. Here's what she said:

    "I know, right? So, anyways, I was like all...(tilts head, rolls eyes)... You know? And he was like all...(wiggles fingers, shakes head)...And I was like all.. whatever."