Suggestion for texting like someone in his early 20s
July 7, 2018 9:42 AM   Subscribe

The novel I'm writing has a character who is a Buffalo-born 21-year old caucasian character. I'd like suggestions for how to make the text message he writes sound germane. There are a lot of them (his text messages).

Any suggestions re resources for a writing challenge like this? Searches online tend to bring up outrageous or goofy content on humor sites.

I like a source that's a bit more academic for my approach. Or fitting examples. I did find a great list on Time magazine of text abbreveations that teens use. But to just compile something from a bunch of accronyms would read false to me. This character actually has dialouge with another character via text.
posted by zenpop to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Use complete words and sentences, for the most part. 21 year olds have spent their entire lives with text message capable phones, language is not a burden on their brains or thumbs. My 59 year old uncle texts with emojis and acronyms. His (very average) early 20s son texts like a reasonable human speaks.

I'd lay off ending periods, let through some phone autocorrect errors (including keeping the first letter of the text capitalized), and throw in a lmao occasionally, but otherwise not try to sell it at all as Young Person Texting. You're just going to come off as tragically fellow kids.

The yutes do tend to text a lot more with images than my peers do, though. NOT emojis. But like if you send me a picture of your dick I might send you back one of these.
posted by phunniemee at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Search BuzzFeed for "texts". They have a lot of articles about "best texts to mom" or "best drunk texts." They should provide a good corpus for you to learn from.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:16 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Actually, the age of text message abbreviations is mostly over. Those were a Gen X and old-millennial thing. A few of them have entered the English language and stuck around, but mostly people who still use them are in their late 30s and 40s.

I googled up the Time article you're talking about, and... it's super weird. The first half of the list isn't "text speak," it's just slang and catchphrases (some of them kind of out of date by now) — people say those things out loud, so they include them in their text messages too. The second half of the list, with the abbreviations like AFK and GR8, is I swear to god just how we talked on AOL in 1995, and nobody under the age of 35 has ever written like that in any medium.

You would not go terribly wrong to have your characters text the way they talk. Strip out unnecessary punctuation, especially at the end of a message, but leave things spelled correctly (everyone has autocorrect now).
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Why I love AM.

These are really helpful pointers. And, relieves a lot of unnecessary tweaking and diddling from the construction (meaning, I'd try something with the 'text' writing and think, is this going to read like an old person trying to sound twenty years old?))

Thank you!

Must say I do love one acronym that was in that TIME article: IANAL: I am not a lawyer
posted by zenpop at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Affirming that abbrviations and acronyms (especially ones listed in articles rather than ones you’ve seen used) are going to ring false, and look dated and distracting. Totally agree, these generally were created by people with previous versions of our tech, who weren’t used to typing on those old phones. This is anecdotal, but I don’t know anyone under say, 55, who even uses “u” for “you.”

The great thing about creating a character is you get to decide how he talks. Maybe he has a few of his own abbreviations.
posted by kapers at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Community chat phone apps like Swiflie, Jodel or the now defunct Yik Yak can be an interesting window into how younger people chat amongst themselves, particularly if you're near a University/College campus.

Can confirm that my use of periods outed me as An Old on Yik Yak.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:11 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Linguist here! Tips on Punctuating Like Gen Z:

Adding a period to the end of a sentence means it's Serious Time.

an ordinary neutral/positive sentence lacks punctuation and capitalization* and is separated from other sentences by line breaks

*capitalize words for Emphasis, and/or if the writer's phone auto-capitalizes the beginning of a line

Masculine characters will use less punctuation and fewer emoji (yes, emoji are punctuation, don't @ me). If you do use emoji, stick to the ones that are all face. Of course, all of this may change if your character is trying to be sympathetic to a female interlocutor; depending on his personality, he may mirror her in using the occasional exclamation point or different emoji types. Be aware that he will present different faces to different people, and (for example) use more slang with his peer group / less with strangers and adults he respects or wants to impress.

For more info I recommend Gretchen McCulloch's blog. Studying how people talk on the internet is literally her job.
posted by WizardOfDocs at 11:26 AM on July 7, 2018 [23 favorites]

Strongly suggest having someone in that age group read your final draft. As a former young person, I remember that older people’s ideas of how we talked and dressed were almost always off and sometimes hilarious.
posted by FencingGal at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

I strongly agree with Fencing Gal. Talk to, and text with, real people in that age group and culture. That’ll help you capture the character in general, not only his texting.
posted by boghead at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2018

Remember that this is an opportunity to say something about your characters from the way they text. If for instance one actually proofreads texts and uses punctuation while the other lets autocorrect errors slip through and leans heavily on emoji, that says something about them.
posted by ejs at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, multiple short messages rather than one long message - we are the generation that grew up with instant messaging and mostly unlimited SMS, so frequently you get something like "Hey" [send message] "Are you coming tonight" [send message] "Becky is going to be there" [send message] rather than "Hey are you coming tonight? Becky is going to be there" [send message].
posted by btfreek at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, was already on to that btfreek. Thank you.

And yes, of course, ejs.

What I like about this mode of showing is that there is something automatically compelling about reading what would be private correspondence between two people. It's a great exercise in using a format to reveal very succinct impressions and plot movement.
posted by zenpop at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you much dialMforMara (handle of the year!)

*takes a bow* I'm glad I could help :)
posted by WizardOfDocs at 5:19 PM on July 7, 2018

So it's emails, not texting, but I saw this article featuring unedited email comments by teenagers and thought of you. It demonstrates a bunch of things that have been mentioned in this thread, including Emphatic Capitals and ~sarcastic~ ~tildes~, underuse of punctuation and capitalization, and mostly normative spelling (relatively few abbreviations, some obvious autocorrect mishaps).
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

One other artifact I've noticed is replacing autocorrect fails is dictation/transcription fails.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:23 PM on July 11, 2018

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