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From Hashtags to Home Pages: 4 Tips for Writing About the Internet

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We’ve all had that frustrating moment while watching a movie or TV show where a character has an important question that could definitely be solved with a quick Google search, but instead they appear to completely forget about the existence of the internet, leaving us to yell uselessly at our TV screens in frustration. If they do use the internet, it’s usually a painful close up shot of a search engine that looks like a relic of the 1980s, and our beloved protagonist slowwwwlyyy types out a search term while also reading the results out loud, and only ever clicks on the first link that comes up. *facepalm*

Despite the fact that we use the internet in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, we’re still working out how to naturally integrate technology (and social media in particular) into our entertainment, whether it’s movies, TV, or books. In young adult literature in particular, this can make a huge difference in making a book feel true to the teen experience, so it’s important to get a handle on how to write about technology! Here are a few tips for becoming a master of the (fictional) internet:

Don’t ignore it!

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Unless you’re writing historical fiction, fantasy, or you have a very specific reason why your characters would not have access, you can’t ignore the existence of the internet or social media. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a central part of the plot, if you are writing a contemporary story, these things should at least be present. This goes back to the whole “you could solve so many of your problems with a Google search!” frustration. Think about what you would do in real life: if your character wants to find out more about the mysterious (and super hot) new girl in town, have them look her up on Facebook. It’s one of the first places we turn to when we want information about someone. If your protagonist has just moved across the country and is missing their best friends, set up a Skype date! Intercontinental romance? WhatsApp! These things might feel like a cheat that will leave your plot flat, but if you integrate them well you could discover a whole new set of complications and issues to explore. Ignoring social media in a book for teenagers feels dishonest to the way that we access information and connect with the important people in our lives in the digital age. 

Be careful of slang... but try to sound current!

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I know, I know, this seems like an oxymoron: how am I supposed to sound modern if I can’t use hip terminology (wait, do people say “hip” anymore...)? It’s difficult, I will grant you that, but it’s necessary. Author Rainbow Rowell has talked about how she chose not to include terms like “shipping” in her book Fangirl, even though that’s definitely a word that Cath, her fandom-loving protagonist, would use. Teenagers and young adults often speak in a very specific way that can feel really authentic when done right, but the problem is that it changes fast. Teenagers, and especially teen girls, are at the cutting edge of language, and often terms come and go like lightning. If you have to look something up on Urban Dictionary it probably won’t sound natural...and it might not be around for very long anyway!

On the flip side, one mistake that all authors, not just those writing YA, make is to use stiff or outdated language to talk about social media and the internet. No one says “the web,” anymore, for example, and having your character talk about checking his “social media feeds” makes them sound a little bit like a robot and a lot less like a teenager. It can sometimes feel weird to write the way we talk, but making sure that you are using terms that sound current and natural (particularly in dialogue) can make or break the overall feel of your manuscript.

Don’t make up names

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Say your character does really want to know where that mysterious new girl went to high school before she moved here: make sure that they’re looking her up on Facebook, not FaceLook or FriendFace (or, *shudder* “FaceBranch”). You’re not fooling anyone, and fake names are often so distracting that they drag the reader right out of the story. Typically writers will do this if they’re worried about some kind of copyright or trademark infringement, but this usually isn’t a problem. You won’t get into legal trouble unless the real company thinks that they could somehow be cast in a bad light by what you’re writing, but always check with your editor if you’re nervous!

See it as an opportunity

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Ultimately, writers should see incorporating social media and the internet into their stories as an opportunity, not something to be avoided at all costs. Our lovely Swoon author Danika Stone has really taken this to heart with her book Internet Famous, which includes internet comments, text messages, and extremely cute SnapChat dates, with the pictures actually reproduced in the text! It’s a wonderful way to naturally show how much of our lives are governed by our omnipresent phones, and to add an extra layer of romance to the story. Not every YA book has to feature the internet as an integral plot point, of course, but there are endless opportunities to use social media and the internet in little ways to move the plot along, develop characters, or even just contribute to an authentic feeling in your manuscript.

What about you, Swoon Readers? Any other advice for how to write about the internet, or have you ever encountered any particularly egregious fake social media names?

Author spotlight

Rachel D.

Growing up in rural Oregon, books were my way out. Now, books are my way of reconnecting with my home. …

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