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View Full Version : Unusual words in YA ...how much use a thesarus?



chimita
05-06-2009, 04:39 PM
Hi!
I know dialogues in YA should be as "teen ager" as possible to make them sound real.
I was wondering about prose... (If it's written in 1st person).
Does this mean one shouldn't write a word a teenager wouldn't use?
If so, thesauruses in a YA wouldn't be of much help, right?
What do you think?

And I meant thesaurus, not thesarus...lol
*blush and finish edit*

kaitlin008
05-06-2009, 05:07 PM
It depends on your teen. You should be careful with using the thesaurus anyway, because sometimes you end up using words that are too fancy sounding or that just don't fit. But there's no reason why you can't use a variety of words. I was very well-spoken as a teen, and I know I'm not the only one.

CheyElizabeth
05-06-2009, 05:17 PM
I think a lot of it depends on who the teen is.. the smart kid would use fancy words where the high school drop out drug head wouldn't.. But I agree that the dialouge should be within the range of how a normal teen speaks.

MeganRebekah
05-06-2009, 05:28 PM
A thesaurus is a great tool when you're stuck and can't put your finger on the right word. I used one last night as I was writing because I knew there was a specific word I wanted but couldn't find.

Anyone ever see that episode of Friends, where Joey wrote an adoption recommendation letter for Chandler and Monica using the thesaurus on his computer?

That's the perfect example of overusing a thesaurus!

Manix
05-06-2009, 05:54 PM
I'm writing a YA novel and I was told early-on that my prose sounded like it was a YA novel written for adults. I'm not sure that was a good thing. I think it meant I was over using my thesaurus and the word choices were reflecting a flavor too sophisticated for a YA audience.

Now that doesn't mean you have to dumb-down your writing in a condescending way, nor does it mean you can't simplify word choices on purpose. Maybe you want to keep that easy reading flavor intentionally. Just remember, if you do it, be aware that you're doing it. It should reflect the words your characters would choose to express themselves.

Some very successful writers keep interesting word choices sprinkled throughout their work that require a dictionary handy while you're reading and others don't even bother limiting AP vocab--it's rife throughout! The other end of the stick has YA wording written at a third grade level, which works for some audiences too. It may not work for me, but I've seen it done, published and popular. I don't like to dumb-down my choices to the lowest common denominator, but that's just me.

chimita
05-06-2009, 05:59 PM
A thesaurus is a great tool when you're stuck and can't put your finger on the right word. I used one last night as I was writing because I knew there was a specific word I wanted but couldn't find.

Anyone ever see that episode of Friends, where Joey wrote an adoption recommendation letter for Chandler and Monica using the thesaurus on his computer?

That's the perfect example of overusing a thesaurus!

lol, I know what you mean.

I use the thesaurus that way too. I also use it when I don't want to repeat a word.

But for instance if I don't want to repeat "skillful", should I use "adroit" in a YA book? (not in the dialogue of course, but in a 16 year old POV)?
or the words: disconcerted, fret, dispirited, impregnate, etc?

kaitlin008
05-06-2009, 06:26 PM
Anyone ever see that episode of Friends, where Joey wrote an adoption recommendation letter for Chandler and Monica using the thesaurus on his computer?

The funniest part of that is when he signs the letter 'Baby kangaroo Tribbiani'. Makes me laugh every time I watch it :)

Chimita, I don't think I'd use the word 'adroit', just because it's kind of an awkward word. If your problem is that you're using 'skillful' too much close together, then maybe you need to think if you need to be saying it so much in the first place. That might solve the problem.

But I don't see a problem with the other words you listed, though I don't know what context you are using them in, or how often. The thing of it is that teens (and adults, for that matter) don't speak or think like a thesaurus. If I'm thinking about how skillful someone is, my brain doesn't say, 'Wow, that person is so adroit.' Would yours? That's probably more the way you have to think about it when deciding what words to use and what not to.

Manix
05-06-2009, 06:41 PM
The thing of it is that teens (and adults, for that matter) don't speak or think like a thesaurus. If I'm thinking about how skillful someone is, my brain doesn't say, 'Wow, that person is so adroit.' Would yours? That's probably more the way you have to think about it when deciding what words to use and what not to.

QFT. For YA, you might use "clever" or say something like, "You do that like a pro..."

disconcerted, fret, dispirited, impregnate, etc?<--these seem too convoluted, generally speaking. If you want to convey a personality of someone with a very high IQ who actually thinks words like "adroit" on a regular basis, then it might be good to have other characters make note of it, reference it, call attention to the fact that this is a whiz-kid, or something.

Toothpaste
05-06-2009, 07:13 PM
Well . . . it also depends on what you are writing. I'm working on a historical YA, and so of course the language is a bit different. Also my protagonist is pretty full of his own wonderfulness and enjoys using words that his more common friends might not. Heck my MGs have a more old fashioned feel to them and an extensive vocabulary (and the kids don't seem to mind). It's the age old response: Do what suits your book.

chimita
05-06-2009, 07:52 PM
Kaitlin, Manix, and toothpaste, thanks for your comments.
I think I've got the picture clearer.
Then explain me why I bought a vocabulary builder...lol...just kiddin'
:)

Manix
05-06-2009, 07:55 PM
Kaitlin, Manix, and toothpaste, thanks for your comments.
I think I've got the picture clearer.
Then explain me why I bought a vocabulary builder...lol...just kiddin'
:)
Seriously--words for a writer are like tools in a toolbox. You never know when you might need the word "unsullied" It could happen...;)

chimita
05-06-2009, 08:24 PM
Seriously--words for a writer are like tools in a toolbox. You never know when you might need the word "unsullied" It could happen...;)

Right, it could happen, but not likely in YA...right? That's the point, isn't it?

Toothpaste
05-06-2009, 08:25 PM
Actually no, unsullied could be a perfect word for my YA. The point is: it depends.

Phantom
05-06-2009, 08:39 PM
I think maybe you should ask a teen how to say it. Adults usually think a kid would talk a certain way, but a lot of the time when I read YA books they come out sounding a) like adults b) stupid with a bunch of cussing c) like they're from the 70's or d) saying "dawg" and "wussup" and "fo shizzle" Seriously, I've read a book about a thirteeen year old who talked like that. And he called girls "betties" and "chassies". It was scary. And there was this group of popular girls that they called "The Chicas" Seriously, kids don't give the popular cliques names. Especially not "The Chicas" or "The Boys" (which is what they called a group of popular guys)

Sorry for my rant. Just saying, what adults think kids say, they don't usually say. You should probably go over to the Teens Writing for Teens and ask their opinion on a word

kaitlin008
05-06-2009, 08:56 PM
I disagree, Phantom. I think that's a very broad generalization. I've read a lot of YA written by adults, and the majority of it sounds just fine. Also, remember that sometimes it's hard to have perspective, because as a teen, you might think that every high school is the same as yours or every teen speaks the same way you do. It's not necessarily the truth. I think you get yourself into a trap if you assume that you have to be a teen to write YA that sounds good (or if you think the opposite).

coryleslie
05-06-2009, 09:41 PM
I believe you should write YA prose similar to adult prose, though I think dialogue is a slightly different story. For instance, I have a teen girl tell her boyfriend "Ego much?" after he says something arrogant. A couple of my adult readers asked "huh?" but the teens laughed and knew exactly what I meant.
Back to the prose... Sorry to quote TV shows, but there is a huge trend of writing smart dialogue for teens (Dawson's Creek comes to mind though it's dated now). These shows appeal to teens because they are not talked down to. The difference is not necessarily the voice but in the observations the YA character makes in the first-person prose. A teen is at a different stage in their life and will care about/notice different things than an adult as they try to figure out their world and what matters to them.

Indus
05-06-2009, 10:13 PM
I believe you should write YA prose similar to adult prose, though I think dialogue is a slightly different story. For instance, I have a teen girl tell her boyfriend "Ego much?" after he says something arrogant. A couple of my adult readers asked "huh?" but the teens laughed and knew exactly what I meant.
Back to the prose... Sorry to quote TV shows, but there is a huge trend of writing smart dialogue for teens (Dawson's Creek comes to mind though it's dated now). These shows appeal to teens because they are not talked down to. The difference is not necessarily the voice but in the observations the YA character makes in the first-person prose. A teen is at a different stage in their life and will care about/notice different things than an adult as they try to figure out their world and what matters to them.


Exactly. I quit reading YA and went on to adult fiction when I was younger because a lot of the stuff that was considered YA when I was that age was really only interesting until I was 13 or so. That's was so cool about how YA has evolved over the past couple of years.
Most dialogue will not be that different from adult fiction. I think the major difference is in the perspective of the characters.

Conant
05-06-2009, 10:15 PM
I try to refrain from using the thesaurus whenever possible. Unless I want someone to speak eloquently, I think it's best to relay the story to people on a very ground-level vocabulary that almost everyone will know. Because I understand firsthand how annoying it can be to not know every other words used (Thanks, Christopher Paolini!).

It's-Magic!
05-06-2009, 10:38 PM
Depends on all sorts of things.
If it's in 3rd person, it wouldn't matter whether you used the thesaurus or not, but if it's in 2nd or 1st, you need to make sure they are responding the way a teen would in their own minds.
E.G:
Most of my friends use the words random and dodgy a lot. But then again, a lot of teens swear too much, I do not.
A bit of bad language is realistic in a teen book, and make sure to include random.

chimita
05-07-2009, 12:21 AM
Can you think of a YA bestseller that a normal teenager wouldn't need a dictionary at all?

dragonkid
05-07-2009, 12:35 AM
Another teen here (though no one ever said I was normal – ha). In my opinion, the most important thing to remember when writing about (modern) teens is that we speak more casually than adults, but we don’t use NEARLY as much slang as some adults think we do. We might not use as many “big words” when speaking with our friends, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what they mean. Disconcerted, fret, dispirited, and impregnate are not big words – I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at them in the narrative voice (except, perhaps, for the last one – not because I don’t understand it, but because we teens tend to be squeamish about those sorts of things and thus use slang).

In other words, teen dialogue is just the business casual of adult dialogue - almost the same, but a little different in tone.

ETA: I don't think I've ever read a YA book that has sent me scrambling for my dictionary. :tongue

kaitlin008
05-07-2009, 12:50 AM
ETA: I don't think I've ever read a YA book that has sent me scrambling for my dictionary. :tongue

Same. Or at least, I can only think of a handful of times when I wasn't sure what a word meant.

alainn_chaser
05-07-2009, 01:22 AM
I think the important thing to remember is that a lot of heavy readers have large vocabularies. If you read a lot you have much better diction than if you don't. This goes for both adults and teenagers.

At the same time you need to make sure that the word is used in regular conversation. Some words virtually no one uses.

eyeblink
05-07-2009, 02:23 AM
I think the important thing to remember is that a lot of heavy readers have large vocabularies. If you read a lot you have much better diction than if you don't. This goes for both adults and teenagers.


A case in point is Aidan Chambers's 1978 novel Breaktime, which I read recently. The protagonist is a heavy reader and the novel (mostly first person) is deliberately written in the sort of literary-influenced style he would use.

MDei
05-07-2009, 07:43 AM
Another teen here (though no one ever said I was normal – ha). In my opinion, the most important thing to remember when writing about (modern) teens is that we speak more casually than adults, but we don’t use NEARLY as much slang as some adults think we do. We might not use as many “big words” when speaking with our friends, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what they mean. Disconcerted, fret, dispirited, and impregnate are not big words – I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at them in the narrative voice (except, perhaps, for the last one – not because I don’t understand it, but because we teens tend to be squeamish about those sorts of things and thus use slang).

In other words, teen dialogue is just the business casual of adult dialogue - almost the same, but a little different in tone.

ETA: I don't think I've ever read a YA book that has sent me scrambling for my dictionary. :tongue

I agree as a teenager too. We talk a little more casual than adult, but not everything we say is slang or a cuss word everytime we open our mouth. Just use common english language and sprinkle it with a little teen flavor. It's like taking vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on it. It's still the same ice cream. And it's more that our perspective is different. Teens aren't dumb or shallow and don't all blink when you say the world "ejeculate" instead of "cum". We get it. If anything, we will learn bigger words to insult each other or just say something to prove another is stupid.

Here's another good example of two different perspectives tough. Take an adult and a teen that see a girl and she's pregnant. Either of them may say "she's pregnant." or "she's knocked up," but the reaction is different. Where as I'll say, nothing new. She's the fifth one in my year. I see it all the time. They'll be thinking that she should be ashamed of herself or that her life is ruined and make it a big deal. My mother does this. I shrug and she's ready to call parents and have a meeting.

The main thing is to make sure you portray adults and teens as apart of two completely different worlds. I'm serious, because in a teen world, some things we just don't sweat and it stays in our little circle because adults make a big deal out of everything. Not all, just a lot of the ones I know. Two worlds we can dip in an out of, but let's face it, we can only belong to one.

Did this answer your question any?

eyeblink
05-07-2009, 10:38 AM
Here's another good example of two different perspectives tough. Take an adult and a teen that see a girl and she's pregnant. Either of them may say "she's pregnant." or "she's knocked up," but the reaction is different. Where as I'll say, nothing new. She's the fifth one in my year. I see it all the time. They'll be thinking that she should be ashamed of herself or that her life is ruined and make it a big deal. My mother does this. I shrug and she's ready to call parents and have a meeting.

I think in a situation like this, it will depend on your connection to the girl. If there is none, or if she's someone you only know very casually, then gossip apart it's not your business. Yes, you might show some sympathy, or for that matter think she's been stupid, but unless she actually wants to confide in you that would be all.

But if YOU had made her pregnant, or thought you had, then I'd suggest you would be a lot less indifferent!

kaitlin008
05-07-2009, 03:02 PM
Also, the pregnancy example isn't a teen/adult difference, so much as a difference by where you live. Teen pregnancies were very rare in my high school, which created a different reaction than just 'oh it's the fifth one this year'. Some people ignored it/shrugged it off, but other people (both adults and students) were shocked and would whisper about how the person was ruining their life.

To be honest, as far as the words I say and the slang I use, hardly anything has changed in the way I speak since high school. Some of the trendy slang I might've used that's already passed has left my vocabulary, but for the most part, it's pretty much the same. The difference is the content. Though I do know some people who have changed a lot since high school in what they say and how they act. There is no broad generalization you can make for how a teen would speak.

chimita
05-07-2009, 08:07 PM
Thank you guys!
You've been very helpful.
Now I'll try to sprinkle some teen words in my ms...
Obviously, later, I'll need teen betas to tell me if I pulled it off :)

popmuze
05-07-2009, 09:06 PM
If you want to convey a personality of someone with a very high IQ who actually thinks words like "adroit" on a regular basis, then it might be good to have other characters make note of it

My main character is a big Scrabble player. At one point his prospective girlfriend says, "Wow, you must know a lot of words." "Over a million," he replies.

MDei
05-07-2009, 10:37 PM
I know that. It was just a bad example because I couldn't come up with anything else.

Blackest_Nite
05-31-2009, 03:25 AM
I only use a thesaurus when I am over-using a word or I am revising something to be more cohesive. It can be very hard to reign in on those high vocabulary words.