Monday, October 11, 2010

Hillbilly YA

The other day I was reading a short story that was, in a word, dreadful.The hopeful writer who asked me to read it is an acquaintance of mine who is looking to make some holiday cash by penning a few short stories. What I didn't tell him is that you get paid in copies for years, and an acceptance can be months, or even years, in the offering. He would be better off stocking shelves at Toys 'R Us.

(Expert 1)

                                                                                         (Expert 2)

I think there's a whole misconception out there that writing is easy, sort of like a hobby. I've said this skadey eight million times, but when I meet people, I almost never confess to being a writer. I've gotten too many weird glances, like I'm saying, "I shrink ocelot heads in my basement and make garlands from their teeth." So I just say I teach English and change the subject back to something about them.

(Expert 3)
But I know I have to say something to this man about his work. It was dreadful due to the dialogue. It went something like, "She's at the beauty parlor." "You don't say." "Yup, she is. Getting her hair all done up for this Saturday night."

Now, I'm paraphrasing that sample, but if you're thinking they sound like hillbillies sitting outside the gun shop, that's pretty much the impression I got. And it's YA. Hillbilly YA. Maybe hillbilly teens still say "beauty parlor" but I doubt it. I'm sure even they go to the Daisy Duke Spa.

You don't necessarily have to have teens to write successful YA dialogue, but I really think it helps to either have them around or work with them in some capacity. I have a ready panel of YA experts. They never seem to mind when I swipe their phrasings. This is one example of a recent dinner:

Emma: Did you guys ever meet someone with an eye that doesn't quite...
Philip: Yes! You mean a slow eye?
Christopher: Mom, didn't you have an aunt with that?
Emma: This girl has it and she talks to me all the time. Like all the time. And I know I have to talk to her or Mom will lecture me on how lucky I am...
Philip: I know. To have two good eyes or something.
Mom: I'm sitting right here you know.
Christopher: I have a paper due in ten hours. It has to be five pages long. Mom, have you ever read...
Emma: So here's the problem. When she looks at me...
Philip: Who ate the last slice of pizza?
Christopher: So what happens when she looks at you?
Philip: You definitely ate it last night.
Emma: I never know where to look. It's just that there are too know, decisions to make on what part of her face to focus on.

And so it goes.


Jen Daiker said...

I'm a new follower and this post was hilarious!

No I'm not laughing because someone has bad writing or you're afraid to share that you're a writer because your not in the mood for 'the look' I'm laughing because the dialogue between teens is hilarious!

I write YA as well and I work hard to master dialogue since it is infact my weakness. Hanging around my nephews and their girlfriends help me understand how to better write them and become more accurate.

I used to be one of those people who thought writing was simple, until I dove into a story and realized somethings that are brilliant are supposed to look easy but never are.

BTW - I'm with you. No one says Beauty Parlor

Anne Spollen said...

Hi Jen and welcome!

Dialogue is easy for me because I just listen to them and I'm around them all the time. Revision is my nemesis.

Yes, writing and parenting,and to some extent teaching (well) are the three things in life that looked much, much easier to me when I wasn't involved in all three of them.

Just keep hanging around with those teens. Teenspeak sort of burns itself into your brain.

Marcia said...

*still laughing at that bit about ocelot heads*

I hope the guy who gave you the story wants a real opinion--boy, I don't envy you.

Bish Denham said...

LOL! Now THAT'S how REAL converstaions go. And it's amazing how many people think you can just write a story, sell it and make quick money.

I've had people suggest we collaborate on a story telling me what a wonderful idea it is, what a big seller it would be. I get very non-committal or I flat out tell them it's a whole lot harder to get published than they think.

Anne Spollen said...

I've learned to be tactful over the years, Marcia. Still, it's so insulting to think someone doesn't have to learn writing as a craft...

Yes, Bish, that is actually a real conversation. The amazing thing is my kids remember them despite their conversational ADD.

And yeah, the whole "bestseller" as a winning lottery ticket philosophy. It's best to be honest with that kind of thinking.

adrienne said...

I'm guessing your acquaintance doesn't read your blog...?

I love the dinner conversation, and can't imagine trying to write YA without being around teens. I sometimes wonder why there aren't more funny YA books, 'cause teens are hilarious. Maybe adults have a tough time capturing that.

Anne Spollen said...

Ha, Adrienne, that's the beauty of him knowing me by the last name of my kids (different from Spollen) and not as Anne Spollen. I barely know him, and he only knows that I teach English at the college.

I agree - teens are hysterical. There should be more funny YA books; most of them are more angsty.

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree - you can't write teen/kid dialogue without talking to teens/kids a LOT. There's a different rhythm and style for each age group. Love your dialogue - so true! :)

Anonymous said...

What do you say to people whose writing is so bad, you don't know where yo begin?

As for the teens, I have a teen daughter and a bunch of her friends who read my stuff on the look out for things like the correct use of Ew and Eugh. They let me know if there's anything there they just wouldn't say. That sort of checking is vital methinks