Texting and the Modern Novel

SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned
SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned (Photo credit: pouwerkerk)

My students text more than they speak or write.  The biggest problem I have is getting my students to write formally without using the “texting language” that has somehow devoured their ability to write professionally.

In a recent TED talk, John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University stated that texting cannot be considered written language because it more closely resembles the spoken word.  David Crystal also wrote a fantastic article about the culture of texting, of its pros and cons, and its impact on the culture.  There is also this story about how to write an entire novel on Twitter.  The wheels began turning in my mind about what this could mean for dialogue in fiction or what this means for our future writers who want to capture the culture of texting in their novels.

Could it be that we could be seeing these kinds of dialogue passages in future novels?

“U coming 2 the game?”

“No lol.  got to have a 121 with mom”


“no no lol just business”


If this happens, there needs to be a distinction that it is not speech.  I wonder what kind of conventions will be invented to insure that the reader doesn’t think it is speech?  Perhaps it could be placed in italics.  I am debating using a couple of texting passages in my latest WIP, The Painful Best.  Let’s face it, I text my wife about as much as I talk to her in person.  Why not capture that culture in a novel?

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

3 thoughts on “Texting and the Modern Novel

  1. I have only read one book with text dialogue and it was in italics. I don’t know if I could stand chat speak in a novel though. Ugh. I don’t text that way and I don’t know anyone who does. No offends if you do though. 🙂

  2. Interesting question and timely, at least for me. I am editing a cyber-crime novel – 3rd revision almost finished – and have a similar situation: novel is set around an online fantasy game so some of the conversations are in-game chat, and text used is similar to texting. Where it is a conversation in chat I have treated it as dialogue. But when it is in-game messages or emails I use italics.

    About to have the manuscript edited – will be interesting to see what the editor says.

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