I just finished writing a whole book that is entirely two teenager’s text transcript (and the people who got ahold of their phones during that time). So I thought I’d share some of my insights on text messaging I’ve gathered in the last 13 years of evangelizing real-time wireless solutions for businesses (and some individuals, too.)
Fortunately for me, I don’t have to rely exclusively on my own experiences. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch John McWhorter’s Ted Talk where he discusses the nuances of texting and language in general. The biggest revelation for me in that was the fact that writing (like I’m doing now) is artificial. It’s an outgrowth of the kind of communication we were taught in school. We use word and phrases we wouldn’t use in spoken language (a more natural skill) to communicate concepts.
In the TED it discusses that texting is more akin to verbal communication than to written communication, and that’s a very key factor in where I see many authors and older people screw up with Text messages in writing. How one texts is as unique as how one speaks. The only difference is that you can stop and review a text before you send it, not all of us have that luxury with our spoken words.
The cadence, the stops, the cues of verbal communication are present in text speak that we don’t often see in written communication. Add to this that emojis can now substitute non-verbal cues you’re missing and text messaging is even more apt replacement for verbal.
I’ve spent the last 22 years making friends all over the world with only our written words to connect us.Through that time I’ve developed the ability to infer individual’s moods through their word choice. It’s not that hard to see once you know what you’re looking for, but it’s different for everyone. For example: some people over explain when they’re anxious. Others shut down. Some stop responding entirely.
As authors we can use those quirks to convey personality and tone via text messages.
BUT, there’s an artifact of false language in texting and that’s Txt Spk. From the days in which texting relied on the key pad. Some pieces of that remain, but rarely among actual teens. Most teens have lived their lives in the post flip era. If you find yourself using things like urself, stop and evaluate the character first. Smartphones and tablets are more prevalent than you’d think. The cost difference is extraordinary and many are available in schools in place of laptops or desktop computers. They have had keyboards more of their lives on average than we have.
If you want to use texts in stories, the best thing you can do is read transcripts. Your own in particular. Even if it’s with your friends or relatives, that’s even better. You’ll see the nuances of someone you know better than complete strangers. The cadence of a text message is as important as dialogue and much closer to it than you’d imagine.