A few weeks ago, David and I were on a road trip to Tucson and he made me snap this pic, since he was driving. The pick-up truck had not only been heavily loaded with an unlikely assortment of salvage, the sides had also been built up in an attempt to keep the teetering pile from tumbling off.
The intentions might have been good, but the final result quite astonishing.
David also told me a story recently, that he’d been listening to the radio and the DJ – a white guy – was going on about a ball player’s injury during a game the night before. “I sure hope my homie is okay,” the DJ exclaimed, which is what caught David’s attention. It jarred him, he said, this guy using the slang term “homie,” which seemed so unnatural to both who he was and his relationship to this athlete.
Then, not a day later, I saw an author say on Twitter “omg! [my book is on sale here]!” I had the same jarring experience because I’ve met that author and she is not the kind of person to exclaim “omg!” She probably used it in her tweet to because it’s the perky marketing thing to do, but it hit me all wrong because it didn’t feel like part of her natural voice.
As writers, we talk a lot about voice. Finding and cultivating our authentic voice is key to honing our craft. For readers, voice is what makes the stories come alive and what brings us back time and again to the same authors.
Slang can be a difficult proposition. On the one hand, writers want to appeal to as many readers as possible, which includes the younger ones. That means not using language that communicates “old fogey” to them.
(I once saw a early twenties agent tweet that she’d read a manuscript with a character saying “cool beans” and it made her cringe at the unhipness of it.)
On the other hand, using slang that isn’t an organic part of our voice can ring false – as with homie-guy and omg!-gal.
Thus, the solution is not adopting whole-hog the slang of another generation or culture. This would be akin to piling every salvageable item onto our pick-up trucks and roping the teetering pile into place. Instead, we should take what we like best, what fits for us. My rule of thumb is that I only use slang I’d use in conversation with someone I know well.
(Online conversations totally count here for me.)
This is reasonably easy for me because I have a conversational voice to begin with. Many times people have commented that reading my books sounds just like talking with me and vice-versa. I also try to weed out of my books some of my old fogey slang (Goodbye “cool beans”!), wherever I’m aware of it.
Anyone else have good rules of thumb for using or not using slang?