I’m not sure exactly when I learned what TMI stood for, but I’m guessing it was a couple of years ago. I also don’t know where I first heard it, or who explained to me that it means Too Much Information. The information in question isn’t an overload of data in the sense of Homeland Security staff being submerged by millions of intercepted emails from would-be terrorists, but instead in the context of, “Whoa, dude! It was kinda funny when you told the story about your grandmother’s colostomy bag exploding in the kitchen last night but, like, TMI! I totally did not need to know what came out of the bag.”

TMI presumably emerged from the texting generation (Gen Y) along with LOL, OMG, BTW and other acronyms/initialisms (though I can’t be bothered to research it; this is a blog post, folks, not a magazine article or academic paper) and has spread upward through the generations to mine, and maybe beyond. This migration of vocabulary from teens to older generations has been going on, like, forevah! Sorry, I slipped into teenspeak there. Which brings me to the matter in hand, which is the Young Adult novel. Since YA concerns teens by definition, an author working in the genre needs to make a conscious decision whether to go full-on teenspeak when writing teen dialog.

A young adult conversing with another young adult.

Unless you hang out with teens all the time or have teenage kids (neither being the case for me) if you want to write accurate or at least believable teenspeak, you need to do some research. It’s not that hard to, like, add the word “like” all over the place in your novel’s dialog, but North American teens use a wide range of specialized vocabulary, not all of which has yet become as mainstream as, say, “bling” or “homey”.

But this is where a big warning siren goes off in my head. Because the very last thing you want to do when writing YA fiction is to look like you’re trying too hard to be a teen. That’s just, so, like, WTF? Fo sho!!! And since I’m not publishing my YA novel Silent Symmetry under a pseudonym or trying to pass myself off as an actual teen, I need to have faith in my own ability to realistically render  my teen characters’ dialog, while also having faith in my readers’ willingness to suspend a modicum of disbelief (in the same way that they happily digest stories about vampires or futuristic death matches) and overlook teen dialog that sounds too “old-school”.

One funny thing I found out while I was researching teenspeak is that the young people of the world have now achieved an etymological breakthrough by finding a way to abbreviate the word “abbreviation” to “abbrev”. Or, maybe words just get shorter as they evolve, in the same way that technology gets smaller? I haven’t read The Hunger Games but now I’m wondering whether the novel’s futuristic teens speak solely in acronyms? I’m as much a culprit as anyone else in whittling down words, however. I often write Thx at the end of an email or find myself texting “k” instead of OK, which is really taking things to the limit.

Now that I’m rewriting Silent Symmetry, my conclusion is that the novel’s teenspeak is just fine. A real-life 19-year-old girl has read a draft and didn’t pick out anything untoward. But what do other YA readers or writers out there think? By all means share your opinions in the comments. K?

[Photo credit: Raymond Larose / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND]

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