I once had to read a fake case study for a psych class. In it, there were two interns who hated their boss. At one point in the scenario, they were sitting at their desks texting each other. The conversation went a little something like this:
Person 1: ICBH ISI CYMMATWC
Person 2: SRII BRB LOW MYAWCI5
I am not exaggerating this. Whoever wrote this article sincerely believed that this is how young adults text. Well, let me tell you something: I had to flip all the way to the back of the article to find the key in order to understand what the heck they were saying (If you're wondering, Person 1 said, "I can't believe her, is she insane, can you meet me at the water cooler." Person 2 said, "she really is insane, be right back, lots of work, meet you at water cooler in 15."
So, to sum it up, teens don't text like that.
Now, I'm not saying that teens don't abbreviate things. That's definitely not what I'm saying. Because we do. And I'm also not saying that we all text the same way. Because we don't. But, I can give some general tips on texting dos and don'ts.
DO write a text the way your character would, not the way you think a teen would. Like I said above, all teens text differently, and it usually varies by personality. Think about your character. Are they a self-proclaimed nerd? Are they in AP or Honors English classes? Do you have them texting like: r u sre that your goin to b their? Please say no. This is speaking from experience, but thus far in my life have I yet to meet someone matching the above description who texted that way. These teens (myself included) tend to text like this: Can't you ask someone else? Really not feeling up to it right now. And that's on a bad day. Most of the time, these teens' texts are complete, grammatically correct sentences. However, I have friends who text like: r u sre that your goin to be their? These people are completely different than me, so it only makes sense that they text differently. This is why I say look at your character, think about your character, and write like your character, whether it be inner narrative, dialogue, or a text message.
DON'T go so overboard on abbreviations that it's not understandable. I think my anecdote at the beginning makes it obvious why this is important. BRB, LOL (though most people don't capitalize these, they just write brb or lol) OMY (on my way)--these are commonly used and understood. Memorize them. Love them. Take them home to meet your parents. Don't freak your parents out by bringing home crazy, bad-boy abbreviations like MTFBWYBYAA (this means "may the force be with you because you are awesome," by the way). What I mean by this is don't confuse your readers. I've read some YA novels with texting scenes that I'm like...what's this person saying? And then later in the scene, when something completely out of the blue happens, I'm like, oh, that's what they must have been texting about. Got it now.
Don't do this.
DO make it easy for a reader to understand 1) that it's a text message and 2) who's sending it. I don't care how you format it in the manuscript so long as it makes sense. Don't get convoluted. You can do something like:
Me: blah blah blah
Anna: No! You don't say?
Or, you can intersperse texts (instead of stringing them all together), in which case a simple narrative line of "My phone beeped and I pulled it out, opening a text from Anna" works. It makes it clear. It keeps it simple. If you're making it a group message, state that before any of the texting begins. Don't try and think up a way to show the reader that all of these people are receiving all of these texts. It gets confusing. Just say it. If you've already prefaced that Anna, Nick, and your MC are in the conversation, the reader will understand that everyone is seeing everyone's texts.
DON'T capitalize on trends. Texting changes. New abbreviations come into the mix, and it's tempting to use them while they're popular. But, I'd suggest shying away from them. Yolo was big, but it's on the way out. Same thing with smh (shaking my head) and swag. Things get big, and then they pass. Don't willingly date your book--unless your book is supposed to be happening during a specific moment in time or time period, in which case, go for it! Oh, and please, for the love of God, never have one of your characters say, "Oh swag," to describe a hot guy. Please. Just no.
DO use texting. Teens text, if I haven't made that clear. Yes, there are always outliers and exceptions to every rule (and you should be aware if your character is one of those exceptions) but more often than not, teens text. I mean, phone calls aren't obsolete. I still call people. But, I wouldn't call them just to ask a single question. I'd text them for that. Also, texting vs. email? I can only vouch for myself and the people I've met, but I've yet to see a teen send an email to talk to someone vs. a text. (When I say talk to someone, I mean just random conversations. Emails are fine if they're being used to send info or links, etc.) I still see email conversations in manuscripts, and it confuses me a bit.
DON'T ever think that teens don't write in grammatically correct sentences. I know this was said above, but I just had to reiterate it because it's very important. Give your character some credit, here. They're a smart person. They can find the letters a, r, and e on the keyboard. (This is not saying that you shouldn't abbreviate things, I'm just pointing out that you don't have to.)
That basically sums up all the main points. All in all, sit down and have a texting conversation with the characters in your novel. If they all text the exact same way, you may need to look deeper into your characters and make sure that they're also not speaking and acting the same way. I've yet to meet someone in life that was my exact doppelganger. To find twenty people in your novel that are exactly like your MC is weird (unless you're writing a novel about cloning...). Your MC should be unique. Your secondary characters should be unique. Your random, dog walking tourists should be unique. Everyone should be unique, because every human being is unique.
If you have any specific questions about texting, please leave them in the comments section so that I can clear things up! If not, have an awesome Wednesday :)
This made me crack up so I had to include it!