Writing Authentic Teenage Dialogue

Writing authentic dialogue is a crucial component in writing a believable story. When you're an adult writing YA, though, it can be challenging to get teenage dialogue down correctly. As a teenager (albeit the oldest teenager numerically possible), I'm going to share some tips on how to write dialogue that sounds like it came straight from the mouth of a sixteen-year-old.

Note: This is from my personal experience with my middle-class, mostly white, American friends, so it might not reflect the way all kids from all backgrounds talk.


1. Humor is king

When I hang out with my friends, we constantly mess with each other, make inside jokes, and generally do everything we can to make each other laugh. This isn't to say that your dialogue should always be a giggle-fest, but it's important to note that humor is a central part of teenage conversation -- especially if you're writing contemporary.

2. Vocabulary

In terms of vocabulary, it depends on the person, but we generally use longer words than you might think. Remember, a lot of us have to learn a ridiculous number of SAT vocabulary words, so we might as well throw them out there every so often to seem smart. Plus, words like "ludicrous" are just fun to say. This isn't to say that all your characters should speak like a college professor, but most teens don't stick to a fifth-grade reading level all the time, either.

3. The One True Stereotype

A lot of teenage stereotypes are grossly oversimplified, but the stereotype that we say "like" a lot is 100% true. One time, I tried to have a conversation with a couple of friends without using the word "like," and it was so hard. It's important to get the balance right here -- too many "like"s will annoy the reader, but slipping one in here and there won't hurt.

4. Memes

Meme references are a huge part of teenage conversation, but it's probably not advisable to use them in your story. The internet moves so fast that your reference will be out of date before you can say "Look out! I think Moto Moto likes you!" (a meme that was hugely popular in about March of this year, but was tired out by May). Just don't even bother.

5. Affectionate terms

Most terms of affection are derived from surfer/skater speak, or are a gentle insult. A few examples from this week: my friend greeted me with "Hey, nerd"; I called a couple of people "My dude"; and when I picked up my sixteen-year-old brother from his volunteer project, I texted him "I'm here, loser." It's worth noting here that "nerd" as an insult is only used ironically. Nerds are unequivocally cool now.


Do you have any more tips for writing authentic teenage dialogue? Share in the comments!

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