Even if you haven’t read them, you’ve probably heard of them: series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and A Series of Unfortunate Events are epidemic lately among not just teenagers, but adults as well. Quite often, the books we find most enjoyable are those that are relaxed in tone and easy-to-read — which describes the ideal young adult novel to a tee.
There is a common misconception that the author of young-adult fiction needs to be colloquial and introduce modern-day slang into his or her book in order to really speak to modern youth. But as Dr. Marion Crook exposes in her book, Writing for Children and Young Adults, today’s teenager uses a variety of different vocabularies in different contexts: “A teen who says to her friend, ‘I haven’t a clue. I mean, I mean, duh!’ is the same teen who can say to her teacher, ‘I’m sorry, I have no information on that’.”
colloquial language in young adult fiction is an unfortunate trap
In other words, like most teens, “her varied diction is part of her personality and part of her life.” The phrases in Dr. Crook’s example mean the same thing, yet if the modern teenager can speak both phrases, he or she clearly understands what they both mean. Feeling a strong pull to use colloquial language in young adult fiction is an unfortunate trap that some authors fall into, and one that may date your book unnecessarily. Colloquialisms change; though once ragingly popular, we rarely hear young adults use the term “gnarly” anymore. But who knows — maybe we’ll begin hearing it again soon!
The most important thing to remember is that straightforward, easygoing, and easy-to-digest language is the best way to get and keep the attention of young adults over the years — and just because you should use relaxed language, doesn’t mean it should be languid and lacking liveliness. What’s more, by keeping to this sort of relaxed and easily accessible language, you may suck a good number of adults into your story as well — and become the next best-selling author!
Dr. Crook holds a PhD in education and is the author of a number of books for young aduts.
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