Have you ever eavesdropped on a teen talk to another teen when they didn’t know you were listening? There’s a reason why some people think teenagers speak a different language. Writing dialogue for young adult and middle grade fiction can be challenging.
So how can you translate that language onto the page? Just like Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge, I test read a variety of first draft dialogue and identified five common mistakes.
- This dialogue is too stiff. You’re writing along in your scene and decide here’s a good spot for the teens to talk to each other. What you didn’t do was alter your voice from being a narrator to being a character. Would a teen really use a word like “circumspect?” I think not.
- This dialogue is too authentic. You realize you need to make your dialogue sound age appropriate, so you go to the mall and listen to a bunch of teens talking and write everything down. Everything. Stutters, pauses, interruptions, the works. Have ya ever, uh, tried to— yeah, tried to read a book, you know, like that? I mean, OMG.
- This dialogue has too much dialect. Using dialect can help you set the scene, establish a character’s educational and social stature, even develop connections or barricades between characters. But if you use too much, it forces readers to slow down and interpret pretty much every line, which takes them out of the story, quite possibly never to return. A pinch of pepper is better than the entire shaker. Oh, and unless you’re writing historical fiction, don’t use slang that will date your book. That’s far out.
- This dialogue is too long. After a few back-and-forth interchanges, readers are ready for a break. Fill in the conversation with narrative and action between the lines, it holds the reader in the scene while stimulating the story – both important aspects of keeping your reader interested!
- This dialogue is too short. The opposite of the point above, having too little dialogue in your book means the reader never gets to experience the characters without the narrator standing between them. Make sure you give your characters a chance to express themselves, while keeping the plot line moving forward.