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Style and Spunk: Writing Tips for Teens

Style and Spunk: Writing Tips for Teens

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Updated on Apr 4, 2008

Sure, your teen may have an attitude, and yes, he may be obnoxious when he treks through the mall in a pack of iPod-toting pals. Good thing, then, that the spunk in his chat room and lunch table persona can also be found in his literary voice on paper.

Consider a crew of teens at the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, who share prose and poetry at Bamboozled.org. In Kyle’s review on Stephen King’s “comical and insulting” On Writing, for instance, he describes how the master of horror “administers a slap of reality” to aspiring writers. Kyle wields and wisely employs the raw power of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Or take a review of a Nine Inch Nails show, in which Toma writes, “And there, on the stage, amidst the synthetic smoke and flashing lights, stood the man behind the music: Trent Reznor, screaming from the pulpit like some arcane cleric of emotionally charged hedonism.” Sounds like Toma may be following the footsteps of music journalists whipping up in-your-face language at Spin.

These days, the pool of writers penning fierce and vivid language is vast and deep, from Gen Xers and Twixters versed in numerous strains of slang – from iSpeak to the underground vernacular of various music scenes – to talented teens like those at Bamboozled, whose affinity for such writing may be innate.

“If you want a glimpse of today’s punchy writing, read reviews of books, movies, music, and restaurants in major newspapers and popular magazines,” says Arthur Plotnik, author of Spunk & Bite. “Because reviewers must describe the same types of faults and virtues each time, they’re forced to find inventive language for the task – and say a lot in a short space.” He’s right: Consume the online content of WireTap’s young, urban, and socially conscious journalists, or scan the digital diction of Wired magazine’s glossy pages, and you’ll read the words of edgier, media-savvy generations.

So how can today's teens infuse that extra edge into each of their sentences? Here are Plotnik's tips:

  • Think Outside the Dragon

Write heroic epics in mythical settings if you must, coughing up phlegmy names like Gnarthule and Morlaicgh to perform your evil. But in your evolution as a writer, consider skipping this imitative stage. A troubled anti-hero in your own world, someone with a name like Gary or Marcie, might lead you to more original writing and discovery.  

  • Lose the "Awesome"

Take this vow: "The next time I describe something out of the ordinary, I will not use the worn-out terms awesome, amazing, unbelievable, incredible or mind-boggling.” Refresh readers from such everyday droning. Find fresh new words and figures of speech that make writing distinctive, stimulating, and scorching. 

(A note on figures of speech: Literary devices honed in middle school – metaphors, alliteration, similes, and personification – are effective. But your teen can take stabs at other techniques:

Oxymorons: Pair words to create contradictory (yet delightful) phrases, such as “quietly obnoxious” or “aging yuppie”

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