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.
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.
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 many...you know, decisions to make on what part of her face to focus on.