Sunday, January 4, 2009

Words, Words, Words

I spent a little time during the holiday intervening in word exchanges between two teenage grandchildren, each eager to verbally squash the other. They accomplished nothing but to irritate me; Each was impervious to the other's oral salvos.

"Hey," I said, "isn't this the season of 'comfort and joy,' 'merry gentlemen,' etc.?"

"Oh, Grandma!" was all I got from each, along with litanies of the other's negative aspects.

We got nowhere, so I sent them off to their computers.

Well, as a writer for children I'm supposed to be listening to what children say, using their colloquialisms, understanding their thought processes. My dear grandchildren gave me nothing to immitate. My dialogue must move the plot along. Each word counts, like a cog in a wheel. Without the word the plot fails.

I think what I have to do is examine the frustration behind children's arguments and capture that in dialogue that is both understandable, yet rich enough in word and phrase to convey the emotions driving the plot. It's a challenge, for sure, but it beats trying to reason with two cantankerous teenagers!


  1. Oh Linda! At least you get to send them home!

    I do admit to listening closely to my kids and their friends. I love listening to them joking around with each other. But I hate listening to my own kids fight.

    Last week my 17-year-old came home around nine p.m. with two friends. It was below freezing and the deck was covered in snow. But out to the deck they went with one friend stripped to the waist as my son took out the hairclippers he bought his dad for Christmas as a joke. Mind you, he had never held clippers in his hand before, let alone used them. I guess he figured if his dad could buzz him, he could buzz his friend.

    He actually did a pretty good job. We had frozen hair on the deck until the snow melted and it blew away but I got to watch a priceless scene unfold in front of me -- rich with dialoge and attitude.

  2. I've always said I'd rather be in a room filled with teenagers than a room filled with two year olds! We learn something even when they're fighting...although it is nicer when they're not!

  3. I love eavesdropping on my kid and her friends. I think they're communicating, though it's hard to say. But they always seem quite pleased with themselves, so in the end, that's all that matters. I think you're right, the challenge is to decode what they are saying so that you can tap the vein for your writing.

  4. I had my protagonist saying "Dang it" until I decided that expression didn't ring true for a kid so I deleted it. Now that my 9-year-old has started saying "Dang it" all the time, as do his buddies, I'm reinserting it. All I know is, I better finish this ms. before he moves on to his next phase -- tween speak -- or I'll go nuts. Dang!

  5. Well, my son is going through an annoyingly nonverbal phase at this moment. Grunts, shrugs and looks that can cut me down to size. I am the stupidest person on the planet, dontcha know? lol. I try not to take it too hard because yes, that part in my writers minds is always like...hmmm, good one, I'll use it! Definitely one of the upsides of this dreadful phase. And it's only just begun!