We live in a world of convenience, and the technology in contemporary books obviously reflects that. Now characters have laptops instead of typewriters, and Prada suits instead of hoop skirts. We fly on planes instead of taking the stage, and we write about cell phones instead of rotary phones or telegrams.
Which leads me to today’s blog topic: how to use text speak/text messages in your manuscript.
With the emergence of texting over the last few years, it’s finally begun to weave its way into contemporary literature. And when done right, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Even if you don’t text, you undoubtedly know what it is, and know your readers will, too. It’s almost expected, these days, that you include modern conveniences in your story. As a writer, what you have to be careful of is how you include those things in your work.
Though text messaging is far more prevalent in YA novels than it is in the varying adult genres, it’s still become a trend that I feel needs to be addressed. I’d say around 60-70% of our YA submissions include text messages in one form or another, be it an actual text message, or just a reference. That’s not to say you should take them out; I’ve seen a fair amount of text messages in recent published fiction. They’re woven in seamlessly, and there is, more or less, a purpose for it. They’re also done in such a way that the reader isn’t left guessing as to the text’s meaning.
However, in the submissions we receive, this is where I think things tend to get a little messy. There have been numerous times where I’ve spent a good 20 to 30 minutes trying to decipher all of the text messages an author has included in their manuscript. Words have been made up, or shortened to such an extent that they’re unrecognizable. In one instance, I thought the text messages were actually a code the reader was supposed to crack in order for things to be explained. I was disappointed to find out this wasn’t the case at all – it was just a failed attempt at including text speak in their manuscript.
That being said, I think there are plenty of books that pull off texting very well. Just keep the following in mind when adding texts to your own manuscript.
1. Things like “How r u?” and “I’ll c u 2morrow” are things easily understood by a reader. “W@ up d00d adsouyasdh” is not.
2. Is there a purpose behind using text messages? Could the information be incorprated in another (better) way? If so, it’s probably best to go that route.
3. If your characters are in the same room and could freely speak to one another, don’t resort to a conversation through text messages.
4. One of the main rules of writing is to show, not tell, how things are done. Texting is strictly telling, so you want to keep it to a minimum.
5. Keep it consistent. If you’re going to use text messaging throughout your novel, spell everything the same way.
I firmly believe text messaging in contemporary fiction is something that’s here to stay. So just be sure to include it in a way that makes sense, and doesn’t pull the reader further and further from your piece. After all, writing is about gaining a new audience, and once you have them, it’s up to you to keep them around.
Best of luck!