Making use of slang in a fiction novel or short piece can add depth to your characters and give the reader a better sense of the personalities you intend to depict. Slang can give a character a background, ethnicity, upbringing, and even a religious preference. The trouble for authors lies in using slang in such a way that it becomes believable to all readers, especially those who regularly practice the vernacular being portrayed. For a bit of help on creating more realistic conversations in this manner, consider the following tips on how to effectively use slang in fiction character dialogue.
Tip #1: Consider the age of your character. A seventy five year old is not likely to precede every other sentence with the word “like,” although a fifteen year old may use the word frequently. Different generations tend to carry the slang used during their youth throughout their lives.
Tip #2: Be wary of the tone used. A soft-spoken mother of three in a religious setting uttering a harsh slang term may seem out of place. In other words, the use of slang terms on the printed page usually causes the reader to interpret feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, or irritation. The phrases you choose must be carefully matched to the character’s unique temperament.
Tip #3: Consider background and nationality. One’s origins can greatly affect their daily language. If the character in question still resides in their native land, research carefully the dialects and accents used there. If possible, listen to the speaking voices of individuals from the area that your character descends from for a taste of authenticity.
Tip #4: Note changes that may occur in language if the character is no longer in his/her native land. In other words, when we move to new locations we tend to pick up the speaking patterns of those we are surrounded by. For example, Americans visiting London for only a few days often report coming home with a slight accent and find themselves using a bit of English slang upon their return. If your character has been away from home for several years, he/she may no longer have a strong tendency toward using the slang of his/her youth.
Tip #5: Make note of a character’s prestige. College professors, no matter where they may descend from, are not likely to use slang relentlessly. In fact, the higher the education level of the character, the less likely they may be to use incorrect language.
Tip #6: Consider religious backgrounds. Most faith systems have prohibitions on the use of certain slang terms and phrases. For example, fundamentalist Christians believe strongly against the use of slang terminology that makes a reference to God, such as “Jesus,” “Christ,” and so on. Keep your character’s beliefs in mind.
Tip #7: Keep timing in mind. Even the most frequent users of slang terminology tend to know that there is a time and a place for informal language. One’s language amongst friends is generally vastly different than the language used when addressing a more formal audience. Time the use of severe slang appropriately.
Tip #8: Be consistent. One of the most crucial mistakes fiction novelists make when using the slang commonly associated with an area is being inconsistent with the use of a particular dialect. For example, an individual from the Southeastern United States would not say, “Ya’ll ain’t going to the movies, are you?” The use of terms “ya’ll” and “ain’t” depict a severe accent, but the end of the sentence does not provide a sense of continuity. Instead, the character would likely say, “Ya’ll ain’t goin’ to the movies, are ya?” In this case, the entire sentence depicts the character’s personality.
Keep in mind that the use of slang is common in all dialects of the English language. To provide characters with more depth and personality, however, consider making use of incorrect grammar for the purpose of clearly indicating personality traits, specific situations, and unique locations.