By Sherry from Northern Virginia
We are starting an Ask the Editors column where we will be talking to independent edtiors on how to improve your manuscript. I’m first up. Yesterday, Edith talked about researching historical details which leads nicely to my topic of getting it right in the present day. I don’t think writers always research their present day characters as thoroughly as they might a historical character.
Watch out when using slang. Slang evolves from generation to generation and the word you used to describe something when you were a teen is likely obsolete now. Slang can take me out of a story as fast as the overuse of big words or head hopping. I recently edited a manuscript that had a teenager using the word “phat”. Phat was used in the nineties. There are various stories about its origin from Pretty, Hot and Tempting to a shorten version of party hat. It was usually used as a synonym for “cool”.
Interestingly, “cool” has survived in its modern form since the 1950s. But other words like Yolo (you only live once), that came from abbreviations from texts, are short lived and now widely mocked when used by teens and twenty somethings. I found that the Urban Dictionary is a good resource for researching slang terms.
Slang can be used if you want to identify someone who is stuck in the past. An aging hippie who is still walking around saying: groovy, far out, and peace. Or a valley girl who always says like and totally.
Fashion can be another trap. A manuscript I edited had a teenage girl wearing her Uggs out into a raging blizzard on purpose. Uggs are a fashion statement and, at least with my daughter and her friends, would no more be worn into a snow storm than peep-toed stilettos. On our retreat someone mentioned that the denim industry was hurting because yoga pants are so popular not only with teens but through thirty-somethings. My protagonist is 38 and she is usually wearing jeans but I’ve added some yoga pants into her wardrobe. Yoga pants are probably a phase like flannel pajama bottoms were in the early 2000s and spandex was in the early 90’s.
Music is another thing that is easy to get wrong. In my manuscript that’s in the drawer I have my thirty-five year old easily identify the Simon and Garfunkel song, El Condor Pasa (If I Could). I checked with a thirty-five year old and she’d never heard the song. So I added that the character’s mother was a big fan of Simon and Garfunkel and since my protagonist grew up listening to them she could identify the songs.
Have you had any frustrating experiences with research?