Use the Language of Your Audience

By Rebecca Willman Gernon

I met a well-educated woman of color a few days ago. The only reason I mention she is a woman of color is because it is relevant to this post. She is a lovely Christian lady, a licensed social worker, and she and her husband have raised Christian children, a difficult task if you live in New Orleans.

crimeHaving had crime and the murder of loved ones touch her family and friends, she wrote a great book (based on actual events) for young people. The story tells how the choice of friends, church attendance, early marriage, and association with gangs can effect a young person’s life and the lives of those they love. As I said, a great book except for one flaw. . . she had her teenagers talking as if they were well-educated adults. Using words a social worker might speak.

When I spoke with her about her dialogue, she said, “It is hard for me to write the way kids talk today.” We agreed the book does not need to  befilled with profanity, but street language is a must. She promised to do a rewrite. I hope she does, her book is thought-provoking, a must read for tweens and teens.

Telling a story in the vocabulary of your audience will make your story ring true. slangIf you are writing about kids in the 1950s, be sure your slang and technology usage is accurate for that period. If you are writing about young people today, use the language they speak. Teenage characters that speak like college-educated adults will turn off your audience. Gestures, words, and slang are different for each culture and in some cases areas of the country. Make your characters genuine.

people of color

There is a huge demand for books written by authors of diverse backgrounds. Don’t disregard your heritage. That may be the reason your book is picked up by an agent or publisher. Be true to your heritage and to your audience.

Rebecca Willman Gernon authored Amy Signs,(Gallaudet University Press 2012.) She has chapters in anthologies published by Thomas Nelson, Bethany House, Howard Books and Guidepost. On-line her manuscript have appeared in Sertoman, Fiction 365, Over My Dead Body, and ByLines. Her plays have won awards in Virginia, Missouri, and Louisiana. She calls the greater New Orleans area home.

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