Monday, April 30, 2012

Don’t Age Yourself When Writing by Linda S. Glaz

Two twenty-five-year olds discussing the latest movie:
“That was so cool, I hardly know how to say how rad it was,” Jason said.
“I’m with you. The guy was a hunk. Really.”
“Yeah, and she got my groove on.”
Okay, a bit over the top, but you get my drift. Do your characters talk like YOUR generation instead of theirs?
“We had so much to drink, we were tipsy.”
“Wow! That’s so bad. Check it out, bet he thinks he’s the boss!”
A little further over the top, and yet, I’m getting submissions where the twenty to thirty crowd talk like me forty years ago, and in a couple instances, like my mother. And not just in dialogue, but in their internal dialogue as well.
Younger characters should talk like younger characters today, not like when we were growing up. If you aren’t going to write contemporary in contemporary fiction, then stick to historical. And then make sure you’re in the correct period with expressions as well.
Police aren’t fuzz anymore, most teens don’t talk about getting their kicks, and they definitely don’t wear threads. Not unless you’re writing about the sixties.
Wonderful stories are turned down when dialogue and internal don’t match the period you are writing.
Just grub to mull over. Or food for thought.
That's my take on it!


Heather Day Gilbert said...

Ha! Interesting post--I dig it. (Okay, that was before my generation, too). I guess this advice works in reverse, as well--if you're writing fiction from an OLDER generation's POV, you'd have to get in tune w/the terms they would think in.

I enjoy integrating popular terms into my conversations, which freaks my son out...but I like to stay young-at-heart! Someday I'll be that Grandma who plays video games and rides around on a hoverboard (I just know those are gonna replace cars someday...).

Fun post!

Linda Glaz said...

You are so right. I really get upset when someone has an "older" character saying, "Oh, dearie" or "Dear" all the time. And the person's in their early 60's or so. I don't talk that way and I keep waiting as I read to learn that the character is 90 or something. Please, please let your characters speak according to their actually socio-economic places as well. Folks in the UP are going to talk much diff than folks in and around large cities in Michigan. And so on in other areas of the country. Not just gender must be taken into account, but location as well. These little things make or break a good story! Thanks, Heather for the reminder of the situation in reverse.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Good food for thought. Thank you.

Timothy Fish said...

It is also a good thing to be mindful of where there stories take place and where the characters come from. On a television show about a ranch, I heard one of the actors say something about dinner, meaning the evening meal. That seemed odd to me because my experience has been that the country folk where I grew up and the country folk 600 miles away where I live now use the term supper to refer to the evening meal and dinner refers to the noon meal, while the city folk use dinner for the evening meal and lunch for the noon meal.

Even the word Y'all is problemactic because while it is used throughout the south, it isn't used the same way in all places. And once you get as far north as Missouri, you aren't likely to hear it at all.

And while we're on the subject, religious jargon is different across denominations. To refer to a pastor as reverend, for example, is perfectly fine with some groups, but is considered unacceptable for others.

Davalyn Spencer said...

Such a timely reminder! When I started teaching at a local college I received a copy of the Beloit College Mindset List reminding professors of what the current college-age student does not know/remember/say. For example, What Berlin wall? Also, most of our students have never *rolled down* a window and they've always had bottled water. And Pete Rose has never played baseball.

Thanks for the reminder, Linda, that we can't live with our head in the sand.

Cheryl said...

Excellent post, Linda. This is the main reason I hold workshops in my daughters' schools and hang out at the mall. It's eye-opening to listen to how kids talk to each other and even adults these days. If I didn't put myself where kids are, my characters would probably sound off to today's kids.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

It's a good idea to have critique partner of different ages.

Terry Burns said...

It works the other way too. At a recent conference I listened to several youth editors addressing the do's and don't of writing for young people and they said one of the biggest dangers was trying to use 'the latest sayings.' They said things came into and went out of fashion too quickly and it dated the project. So, we can use things that are too old and date the work, but we can also use things that are too new and they can also date the work. Interesting line to have to walk.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

What was "In" in Ohio when by children were teens, was not yet "In" in California when we visited relatives. So that makes it harder too.

Rick Barry said...

Linda, although I'm tempted to tell you how groovy this post is, instead I'll tell you it's really cool. The funny thing is that other slang comes and goes, but "cool" remains cool. Neato is dusty history, but my teenage niece uses the same cool that I used decades ago. Interesting.

For my historical character from the 1940s, it was fun lacing his dialogue with swell old expressions that have gone out of date.

Thanks again!

Diana said...

'Sweet!' Another one that seems to have stood the test of time. :-)

I seem to receive a good many submissions from retired school teachers that have a heart for kids of all ages and want to write to that demographic. But most of them are written in old fashion terminology and I have had to pass. I appreciate their heart though.
Fun and relevant post Linda.

Sharyn Kopf said...

Not to make things more complicated but we have to consider more than what they say but how today's generation FEELS about things.

It seems, unfortunately, there's been a loss of innocence, a push for children to grow up faster & become more independent, and an astronomical increase in how technology advanced they are. My niece, for instance, made an amazing video about her family complete with music ... when she was six years old! I'm not even sure I could make a phone call when I was six.

So, how a child responds to things today will be significantly different than how they responded 30, 40, 50 years ago. When I was eleven, I was reading Nancy Drew; my eleven-year-old niece is reading The Hunger Games. Vastly different styles of writing!

Jeanette Levellie said...

I about fell out of my loveseat when I read an historical novel set in the 17th century where a character said, "Are you okay?" It was a major pub house, and I couldn't believe no one caught it!

Great post, Linda. Thanks for the tips.

Linda Glaz said...

You all made some wonderful points and all relevant to the writing today. Yes, Jeanette, I have writers who insist on certain expressions and if they can look up the origin for me, even if it sounds strange, I'll accept it, but so often they just don't know. You all made so many wonderful points, thanks for the input.

Linda Glaz said...

You all made some wonderful points and all relevant to the writing today. Yes, Jeanette, I have writers who insist on certain expressions and if they can look up the origin for me, even if it sounds strange, I'll accept it, but so often they just don't know. You all made so many wonderful points, thanks for the input.