I’m pondering this because the book I’m currently writing is based on diary entries of two (sometimes three) girls. The entries are one hundred years apart, 1914 and 2014.
As I have mentioned previously I use a few methods to get the language right. I have a 15-year-old niece I am using as a dialogue coach for the contemporary girls. I also use Urban Dictionary for additional help, and I plan to hang out in coffee shops where that age group hangs out, so I can listen to their conversations. Call it creepy, if you like, but how else can I get it right?
For the 1914 girl I have a family diary from that period. Unfortunately, the journalist was a grandmother when she was writing. It helps me get a sense of the times, but I was still missing the vernacular of a 14-year-old girl in 1914.
I contacted TAG Historical Research and Consulting to see if they might know of any resources. Bingo! Elizabeth directed me to the Idaho State Historical Society Archives and to one diary in particular. The diarist was a teenage girl who lived in Boise at the right time.
I’ve learned much about what a teenager then would care about and the style of writing of one bright and engaging girl. I’m picking up some terrific tips from her. I need to use underlining for emphasis. The ampersand was a common shortcut. Spelling--at least the spelling of this girl--was spot on. They did use contractions. She used exclamation points, sometimes in multiples.
Reading this young girl’s diaries, her musings on ordinary life and something about her dreams, makes me melancholy. I feel a little like a voyeur. At the same time, I feel like I’m letting her live a little more than she did. A few of her thoughts and feelings will fly forward one hundred years, though she herself died at age 17.