Natalia Gomes on writing YA

To celebrate the release of the new powerful young adult novel After the Rain, author Natalia Gomes shares her experience (and the joys) of reading and writing YA novels.

YA Fiction has changed a lot over the years.

Typically YA was written for and bought by teens between 12 and 18 years old and had this stigma of being ‘simplified’ and ‘glossy’. Now more than half of YA books are bought by adults and the plots are compelling, raw and often dark. YA isn’t afraid of going there.

I didn’t set out to write YA books. In 2015, I wanted to write a story about a high school shooting in the UK (Dear Charlie), and since my protagonist was 17 my book was labelled as YA. I hadn’t really considered what that meant, and to be honest, felt slightly uncomfortable with that labelling at first because I didn’t know what the boundaries were for YA fiction. Until I looked at my bookshelf and realised a lot of the books I was reading at the time were also YA, and there were no such boundaries.

To my surprise, I was a YA reader, and now a YA writer!

Several writing years and four YA books later, I can now pinpoint a few key factors when creating a young adult protagonist, and the obstacles that can really derail your story if you’re not careful.

Authenticity is the prickliest obstacle to tackle. As an author, you want to create and sustain a believable teen character throughout the narrative and give that character an authentic voice. Speech pattern, word choice and sentence formation can help create a genuine dialogue between YA characters. You want to write informal conversational exchanges to make it believable unless the character comes from a certain background which would make his or her speech patterns differ from someone else’s.

For example, when writing the characters of Alice and Jack for After the Rain, I had to consider that Alice is American and was mostly homeschooled and therefore her word choices would vary from Jack’s who’s English and from a wealthier background so I added a slight formality to his voice. Whereas in Blackbird and We Are Not Okay, which are set in Scotland where I’m from, I made the language a little softer. I also made the creative decision early on not to write dialogue in Scots or local slang so I wouldn’t isolate readers who would have a hard time following along because they’re not from there. Scottish slang is like a whole other language!

Once you find that authenticity in voice and point of view, your character and the narrative you create can provide the opportunity to spotlight issues teens are dealing with today. Including narratives surrounding mental health, social crime and discrimination.

I’ve been inspired by so many YA authors who aren’t afraid of tackling real topics like John Green, Angie Thomas and Kathleen Glasgow. What I also love about those authors is that they don’t wrap everything up with a lovely happy ending. Like me, they write endings that give readers hope, but not complete resolution because that’s not the real world. Be real and be honest. Don’t be afraid of going to dark places, especially when you can shine a little light on them.

I’m Natalia Gomes and I’m a YA reader and a YA writer, and I’m proud of that.

Natalia Gomes’s latest YA novel After the Rain is out now. You can buy it in your local independent bookshop, bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon.

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