Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day Seventeen- Excuse Me, I Speak Jive

Okay, so some of you may remember the above dialogue from Airplane. (It's also why occasionally I say that I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue... for those of you wondering if I had a drug habit.) They pick the most ludicrous person of all to speak "jive" of course--the older lady.

I'm currently listening to an audiobook that makes me want to stick pencils in my ears because the author thinks she speaks jive. She sooooo doesn't. Her twenty-one year old MC has the out-dated image of what a twenty-one year old was like--well twenty-one years ago... or longer. Her dialogue is hokey. The ideas are old-fashioned. It's just not reality. The problem is that this particular writer has been writing for thirty or forty years. Her audience has grown with her and, lucky for her, they're near her age. Okay. Fine. Write for your fans. That's fine. On the other hand, keep your characters over the age of thirty or forty, because you CAN'T write from the viewpoint of anyone under that age. Ugh. It's so terrible that it defies description. I've tried to explain the sheer awfulness of it, but it's just not possible. The two MCs are like caricatures of twenty year olds. I nearly want someone else to listen to it to share the horror that is this book.

So, that brings me to the topic of "speaking jive." I think about half of us are writing for a YA audience--at least at times. We've discussed language before, but it just keeps dancing around my brain.

I once read a review on Amazon from a mom on a book that was vying for the "Breakthrough Novel Award" and she said something to the effect of: This book is simply not realistic because there isn't any swearing in it. On the other hand, I wouldn't let my daughter read it if there was swearing in it. Well, that's what we call "a paradox", isn't it? I think a lot of parents feel that way. How will our intended audience feel about it?

Do they want reality?


Do they want something that dodges around reality without getting their book snatched yet without being patronizing?

That's a fuzzy line. A really fuzzy line.

That's even before you get to slang... and my personal conundrum: texting.

I'm currently writing the occasional text conversations into this book, but I'm not writing them in "text speak" because it would make my head explode. Seriously. It would. My sister and I text back and forth, and I use full sentences and punctuation. I feel like texting is contributing to the fall of grammar as we know it. I was reading a book with text conversations in it--painful. Agony. I felt brain cells dying.

Suddenly, I find myself questioning: am I doing the same thing this author--who has nearly driven me to drink--is doing? Am I attempting to speak jive when really I'm not?

How do you handle these things?

Now, for the Seussian challenge in regards to texting conversations: "Would you, could you in a box? Would you, could you--with a fox?"

No, Sam I am, I really, really couldn't. If it comes to writing the conversations in text speak, I'll cut them--rather than make my eyes bleed. That's even besides the fact that I can't speak that level of jive. Shudder. It makes me want to climb into a corner and sing songs like Kum-ba-ya.


  1. Hmm. I also text in full sentences and use punctuation. Not, on the other hand, like this:

    When R U gonna go?

    B4 6. TTYL.

    (Srlsy? OMG.) I just gave myself a headache. Yeah, I don't blame you for not wanting to write like that in you ms, but you might need to in order to be true to your characters, right?

    Could one character write fluid messages, while one uses text-speak, and the other is annoyed by it? That would make for some interesting commentary!

    And we could probably all help you with the lingo.

  2. "I nearly want someone else to listen to it to share the horror that is this book."

    Been there! I did an anti-book club with a friend once so we could have someone else to COMPLAIN with about two books that were just awful beyond belief...

    Oh, and this is why I don't write YA. I couldn't have written YA when I was a teenager: my personality went straight from middle grade to adult.

    And, I don't care if my daughter reads swearwords, so I don't ever concern myself with filtering them out of my writing. Either it fits that characters or it doesn't.

  3. Texting IS the downfall of grammar!

    Oh, but there is hope! Blogger is telling me "texting" is not a word :)

  4. See, in my book, I'm handling it by saying that neither of them text very often--so they don't use the regular "text" stuff. I'll still have to cut out some unnecessary words because I'll admit that I don't wax eloquent in text messages. I'm hoping to get around exactly what Amber posted. I hate that so much.

    CKHB, I've got some swear words in my stuff, but I draw the line at the 'F' word and a few others. I hate to justify it by calling them mild swear words, but sometimes it fits with characters and makes them realistic.

    K.M., I was pretty happy that blogger was telling me texting was not a word. All hail grammar. Hurrah!

  5. The other thing to worry about is texting lingo becoming dated. I know I find it distracting when reading an older book that makes too many references to dated fads and pop culture (Yes, Stephen King, I am talking about you). A good story can be timeless, but only as far as you avoid embedding too many distracting fads.

    Texting acronyms and lingo have changed over the years and will continue to do so. This leave a substantial risk that the lingo will feel as dated as the Jive in the clip. However, on the flip side, there are still a number of kids that text with proper grammar and spelling. It is becoming increasingly more common for proper grammar to exist in texts especially with smartphones auto-completing words like the ubiquitous iPhone does.

  6. I text in full sentences...and now that I think about it anybody that texts me uses full sentences too. Very rarely do they do that "text speak" thing.
    I think that when you are texting someone you don't text very often that you use full sentences, then as you text them more and more it degrades. Unless neither of you like "text speak".
    So I can't speak for teenagers, but for me and my 20 something to 30 something friends the "text speak" is few and far between.
    You should ask your teenage "Honor" fans how much they "text speak". I bet it's not as often as pop culture would have you believe.

    By the by...commenting in a writer's blog makes me super-paranoid about my sentence fragments, punctuation, and spelling. It's like talking to a psychiatrist and thinking they are analyzing you the whole time.

    Hey! Don't Judge Me!

  7. This is a paradox, isn't it? Wanting your story to be current but not so faddish that in ten years it will seem dated. Geeky Husband has a good point.

    No words of wisdom here. I'm hoping to see what others say because I often have the same problem. I write for middle graders and although I have young ones in the house; I still sometimes sound like middle-ager trying to sound like a middle-grader.

  8. The Husband- that's a good point about it becoming dated. I hadn't considered that--but anything that reinforces my choice to not have text speak is good in my book.

    Jaime- Heidi's sister-in-law is really a good one to aim that question at. My rabid fan is really young and I doubt her parents let her have a cell phone, but I could be wrong. My sixth grade neighbor has a cell phone.

    Catherine- It really makes sense with how quickly technology progresses as opposed to how long before even an agented manuscript is published.

  9. Heehee, I love that all the writers in the bunch text in full sentences. We just can't make ourselves text-speak. It's almost sacrilegious, isn't it?
    Swearing is...part of life and teenagers. Wendy, I also draw the line at the f-word, though.
    And, I always steer clear of anything too "trendy" that might appear dated a few years down the road. I'm drawing a blank of examples but there are so many YA books that succeed without referencing stuff that will be dated out of existence.

  10. That clip is full of WIN!
    Oh, and you write really well.
    Thanks for share.
    All the very best.

  11. Deb, it's a sickness really. Actually, I see text speak as a bit of a disease. Shudder.

    Romantic, it is full of WIN. I love that clip. I sort of want to find a montage of all the "I picked a bad week to stop...." but that would be over the top... maybe.

  12. "We ain't found shit." (sorry for the language but it's a quote)

    I haaaaate texting so when I do its complete words. I've tried to text speak and my best friend made fun of me and pissed me off.

    JAIME---I feel toootally self conscious when I comment in blogs. I'm terrified my grammar is tisked at. ( like the sound tisk tisk) I mean for Pete's sake, we are all writers so you feel like your words are always being critiqued, right? With that said, I just realized that I have never read a comment or blog and said "Are you kidding me? And she calls herself a writer." It's the inner demons I tell you.

    BTW Wendy, I downloaded 9 Crimes, good stuff. My new favorite song.

  13. I forgot to add that the only time I wanted to stick a pencil in my ear was after I watched the Wrath of Con and con put the creature in Checkoff's ear. *shudder*

  14. Phonetically speaking, I meant Chekov.

  15. Wendy, this goes hand in hand with our post today, doesn't it? I appreciate hearing your POV on these issues and you've certainly given us and I imagine many other authors a lot to think about. I'm actually really interested to know if Jackson Pearce's book that's coming out in 2010 contains strong language. Maybe I'll see if I can find out.

  16. It does, L&L. I'm glad you weren't offended. We've discussed swearing in my blog--many a time. It just keeps coming up. My current WIP--it turns out that I'm rather fond of the word "ass." So, there you go.... I have to figure out where to leave it and where to remove it.

  17. GwOE-Isn't 9 crimes awesome? I'm glad to know you're a complete sentence texter also.