Something Stronger than Words

Here’s the difficult thing about writing a play with teenage characters: making the dialogue sound realistic.

This shouldn’t be difficult for me. I’m still young.

Um, I don’t speak like most teenagers. I use “henceforth,” “aforementioned,” “usurp” and random Yiddish words in everyday conversations.

Here’s a sampling of lines from the teenage characters of plays I’m currently working on:

“Yeah, I’m Jewish. Sorry you missed my Bar Mitzvah. It was awesome.” -Seth in The Moment I Begin to Focus

“This is some kick-ass tea.” -Rob Simons in Life After Death

“He’s a male American teenager, Mum. The only things that matter are sex, American football, sex, sports, sex, rap, sex…”-June Diluain in Life After Death

“Oil paint. it gets to be expensive, but I find it nice to work with. It takes a while to dry, and if something ever needs to be changed, there’s time to do it.” -June Diluain in Life After Death

See a difference? Seth and Rob’s lines seem more realistic. This might have something to do with the fact that most of my friends in high school are guys. And one of my friends looked at the New York Times the other day and exclaimed “Kick-ass, it’s James Levine!” June’s don’t seem that realistic.

There are some problems here. June is a Scottish immigrant and speaks with an accent for most of the show. She’s not a ditz, she’s a teenage filled with so much angst, some audience members would probably leave the show wondering if she’s insane. The final problem is that she’s not exactly raised by idiots. It’s explained early in the show that she spent about six years living with her mentally unstable Grandmother, a professor of mathematics (which, in the UK, means she was the department head). She then lived with her father for a bit (less than a year) before living with her mom, an epidemiologist.

I could always shrug it off as “Oh, she lived with well educated people for most of her life,” but that would be like the time I explained the missing miming of opening doors in a mimed version of “Hansel and Gretel” as “The Parents sold the car doors for money.”

I just need to sit down with my red pen and mark up the script to the point that it almost looks unrecognizable.

On another note, I’m realizing how many times “shut up” is said in Life After Death.


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