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My vocabulary got a big shock from a new word. Now I'm really worried.

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

I received a response to my Verschlimmbesserung blog that read: “Well, disimprovement is a word, yanno!” Not knowing the word yanno I immediately turned to Google to look it up, thinking it’s some sort of put down.

Even before I typed it out, I got it in a flash of phonetic realization! Yanno is “Ya know.” Yanno.

Turns out it’s a phonetic portmanteau. Arguably LOL is also a sort of bizarre phonetic portmanteau, as we do say “Yeah, actual LOL” sounding the ‘LOL’ as ‘loll.” So it’s evolved from the acronym L.O.L. into the spoken language.

There are other familiar phonetic portmanteaus out there, but not many: dunna, gimme, gonna, kinda, lemme, watcha, wassup, yall. For me the most amusing are like dwanna (“don’t wanna”), which, to add to the confusion, also happens to be a woman’s name. If you know of any more of these phonetic portmanteaus, let us know. If you come up with a good one, also please let us know.

So, where am I going with this, other than down another strange linguistic rabbit hole? And what does it matter to a writer? It may well matter a great deal, especially to writers of young adult or new adult novel fiction. Which is why we must turn our attention back to the origin of these words: texting and IM’ing.

Texting is part of our communications culture, perhaps one of the most important other than people actually talking to each other. As a writer, to put it simply, you must first decide whether to use texting at all in your work, then how much to use it.

Then, you must make it authentic, including the use of words like yanno and emojis.

Then you must make it interesting enough to support character-building and your dramatic arc.

Then you have to somehow visually represent it on the page (there’ll be a blog on that soon, for this blog I’ll use a simple narrative representation).

Yes, it can be pretty overwhelming as far as creative choices go for a writer.

Starting with how much to use texting, it will depend on whether your work is more dialogue or narrative based. It could be your story –perhaps teen romance, or catfishing – absolutely requires texting. But I’d advise any writer who isn’t able to make it authentic and interesting to just stay away from it altogether.

Personally, I’m confident writing standard narrative between characters in my books, but that fades quickly when it comes to writing text message exchanges. I have on occasion resorted to presenting text message like this, in the narrative flow:

Her phone chimed. She looked at the new text message. All it said was ‘battry 3%’ followed by the angry face emoji. She rolled her eyes.

This does flow, but also comes lacks the energy, and the invasion-of-privacy frisson, of reading what feels like an actual text exchange between people.

If you decide to embrace texting in your work, it’s critical to make it authentic. Start by asking for guidance from people in your readership target age group. Here, FWIW, is the guidance I got from a 20-year old. Brevity and compression, including the use of acronyms like RN, FR,

OFC, BC, TN, TTYL, TYFN, BRB, SMH, IRL, (all in lower case), and there are many more if you look online. In fact, when I mentioned yanno I got an eye-roll and was told that it should be YK instead! is a good place to start finding and decoding them.

As for emojis, the advice was to use them sparsely and ironically (and maybe there’ll be a blog on that too).

I was told to check how texting is used in television and movies. The series Euphoria was recommended for its realistic use of text. The movie Sierra Burgess Is a Loser was recommended for its poor use of texting, including too many written sentences, no abbreviation, no ironic emoji use, generic photos and weird selfies. Here’s an example

from Sierra Burgess Is a Loser:

Him: Just thinking of you

Her: [smiling chimp photo]

Her: What a coincidence. I was just thinking about you.

Him: So I have something to admit

Him: I didn’t want to scare you off but I know who you are

Him: Cmon Veronika

Him: Head cheerleader, I see you every time we play

Feels like it was written by an older adult with questionable texting skills? I think so.

And what does authentic text dialogue look like? Ask younger people for examples. They might tell you to gl, but you could get lucky. Here’s one, with the names changed (in this example, Murphy’s is the fictional name of a bar that was shut down because of illegal drug usage):

Alyse: no bc yeah literally

Jenni: this last year was like peak murphys time

Alyse: fly high murphys fr

Jenni: I wish it were still there that would be perfect for tn

Alyse: literally it would be perfect but no ofc it had to get shut down

Jenni: Duck you DEA

Alyse: my dad just keeps sending me articles about people getting killed in different spring break destinations

Alyse: live a little David

Jenni: Jesus Christ David 😂

See the difference?

And one key aspect may have already leapt out at you – that for some readers this is going to be a slog unless they know the acronyms. Maybe use only a few of them (limiting it to just a handful like TN, FR, BC, OFC, TTYL) so the reader’s flow isn’t interrupted.

Also, try to make the acronyms easy for the reader to understand from context clues, or inference, at least for the first few times you introduce them. Here are some examples:

Amy: what you doing tn, wanna meet

Amy: then he told me that, I mean fr

Amy: I was late bc the bus was late

Amy: ofc I wanna be rich

Amy: gotta go sleep TTYL

If you make the decision to use texting in your brilliant young adult or new adult novel, brush up on your skills and get feedback on it early. Feel free to send your creative texting our way too – at Effigy Press we offer a free service where we give a candid review of the first 600 words of your novel which will give you a good sense if you’re on the right track or not. And we invite you to sign up for future blogs where we’ll talk about more aspects of creative writing, including how to use texting.

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