Monday, November 16, 2020

A TV Guide to Teen/YA Dialogue

Today I'm handing my blog over to Tyrean Martinson, author of Liftoff, a fun, new YA scifi novella. In the meanwhile, I'm over at Tyrean's blog. I also have a short guest spot on Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog, so please visit there as well. Take it away, Tyrean.

Teen/YA dialogue, like any dialogue in any novel, is dependent on character, and is often used to indicate different character traits. While I know I used the phrase, “Cool,” more often than most people I know, one of my daughters says, “Coolio,” with a hint of sarcasm. After watching Community, our whole family started saying, “Cool. Cool, Cool, Cool,” like Troy and Abed. In real life, the phrases we use indicate something about who we are. They can be considered habits of speech. With characters, these habits can become catchphrases or markers of character within a dialogue. 

 If you’ve watched Scooby Doo, you know “Zoinks!” is uttered most often by Shaggy, “Jinkies!” is usually Velma’s catchphrase, and “Jeepers!” is more often said by Daphne than any other character in the show. “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands,” is Fred’s signature line. Between all the variations of the Scooby Doo universe, there are more than 120 episodes filled with dialogue and these catchphrases come up in nearly every episode. The danger is that catchphrases can become overdone, so in later renditions, the Scooby Doo creators tried different phrases, or mixed up which character used them. 

While catchphrases are useful, we don’t want our readers to start thinking we’re lazy as writers. This means, we need to dig into our characters and figure out why they say what they say. In Liftoff, my characters are a teen girl from Earth and an alien boy from a different part of the galaxy. They have a few discussions about language, which was my way of addressing the problems with slang, and also addressing the issue of “universal language” that shows up in many science fiction tropes. Sol doesn’t understand Earth slang and he’s reticent about details concerning the war his people are involved in – both were something I did purposefully to share who he is as a character. 

While I think TV is usually a half-step behind the most current slang, watching some episodes of shows set in modern culture can be a way to begin to understand modern teen/YA slang. If possible, find out what teens you know are watching. Ask parents of teens about slang and word usage, as well as references. My character Amaya has been sheltered by her parents, was sent to private schools, and she enjoys reading; she makes some references to indicate those things about her character. 

Dialogue is often at the heart of how we show who our characters are and how they are developing throughout a novel. It can be tough to do well, and I think in many ways, it takes practice, as well as research. In addition to using TV to guide our dialogue, we always need feedback from beta readers. I know many teens are busy with activities and homework, so I have found the best way to get feedback is to choose a scene or a chapter, and ask for feedback on that. This goes for parents of teens, as well. I ask them to be honest, even if it’s brutally honest. I want to know if I’m doing it right, or not. I changed some of my dialogue because of feedback I received from beta readers who only read three to four chapters. I applied their help to the rest of the book. 

Writing requires dedication and some of that dedication requires listening to the world around us. Listen for the cadences of speech, the cultural references, and the slang in real world conversations and on television shows, and it will help guide you. At the same time, much of writing takes practice. So, write the dialogue. Get it on the page, and get help as needed. 


Liftoff: The Rayatana Series, Book 1

A spaceship in disguise,
an Earth girl searching for a sense of home,
and a Thousand Years’ War between alien races,
all collide on a summer afternoon.

An old movie theater welcomes Amaya in and wraps her up in the smell of popcorn and licorice. But one sunny afternoon during a matinee, the movie screen goes dark. The theater rumbles. 

Amaya gets trapped in the middle of an ancient alien conflict. Angry and frightened, Amaya entangles herself in a life-changing cultural misunderstanding with Sol, a young alien who keeps omitting key information, even while they’re on the run from his enemies. 

What will it take to survive a battle between alien races involved in an ancient war? 

Liftoff is a fast-paced read for fans of Code 8, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Cobra Kai. 

Kindle - Barnes and Noble - Kobo  - Smashwords - Goodreads 

Tyrean Martinson is an author and teacher from Washington State. As a former fencer and kickboxer, she enjoys writing fight scenes in fast-paced novels and novellas. As a teacher and writing tutor, she loves to get students writing and reading comfortably by any means: talk-to-text, short writing assignments, short stories, novellas, and adventures. She wrote her latest novella, Liftoff, for herself during COVID, but realized it also fits a dream she’s had for a while: to create a short, fast-paced read for teen/YA readers who love popcorn movies, adventure, and sweet romance. 

Blog - Newsletter - Instagram - Twitter - Facebook 


Don't forget to visit Elle Cardy over at Alex's Blog and over at Tyrean's blog


Update: I have a guest post on Ronel Janse van Vuuren's blog 



  1. Catchphrases also set the character in a certain time period, which is another reason to use them with care. Zoinks!

  2. Realistic dialog is important. It's easy to overuse a phrase a character says. Congrats to Tyrean on her new book.

  3. Alex - very true. Catchphrases can definitely set a certain tone and set us in a certain time zone. You can tell when I watched the most cartoons. :)

    Natalie - True. Thanks, Natalie!

  4. Catchphrases or period slang can be so fun to set time and people! But you're right it can be overdone. I've seen it handled so well (and a few that didn't).

  5. HR - I know what you mean. Sometimes, it's good. Sometimes, it's not.

  6. Or go hang out with a bunch of teen. LOL There are so many words and text speak that I have no idea what they mean.

  7. Teen slang can change very quickly as well! It's sometimes hard to keep up!! :)

  8. Hi Lynda and Tyrean - so much is changing - it's challenging to know what will be what in 50 years time ... I'm sure some authors today hope they'll be read in the decades ahead. Good luck is all I can say - take care - Hilary

  9. This sounds like such a fun read - definitely adding it to my TBR.

    I took a quiz the other day about current-day teen language trends, and was surprised to get 7/8 even though I don't have kids or teach them. :P

    1. Impressive score! I think I'd fail, lol. I tend to leave out current language trends in my books because they change so quickly. That, and they tend not to fit in fantasy.


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