YA Fiction – Writing Character’s Authentic to Your Audience

This is a short video I wrote and recorded back in September, based on an essay I wrote when I was 17 about some of the issues I had with YA Fiction.

I’m honestly grateful to my 17 year old self, because when I stumbled across the essay (which was poorly formatted I might add), it made me reflect on my current work.

I actually worried if I was letting my younger self down. However, instead of going into a full on panic, I reflected on my own experiences at that age (which is when I started to write my debut). I realized that rather than my child and teen character’s being unauthentic…my adult character’s in their twenties were unrealistically too mature and that was something my editor also pointed out.

That is something I never would have realized, had I not been the same age as my adult MC’s now, versus when I started this series in high school. Experience can honestly, help with authenticity.

Yes, not all experiences are the same, and every generation faces different situations that sort of…shape their culture/period…however, my advice….and please note that I’m not some amazing expert or anything, I’m just a person who reads and writes stuff (yes, stuff).

Anyway, my advice is to try and avoid writing a stereotype or cliché version of what you think people act like at certain ages. Your character isn’t just a child/teen/adult, they’re a person with feelings and opinions and possible a strange obsession with very extravagant looking sock patterns.

I hope you like my little HSM clip there. Yes…you can be the basketball guy and the musical guy. You can do both. You are amazing, fantastic and talented! You go Glen Coco!

What…what were we talking about again?

By the way, I have sour cherry blasters and I’m really happy about it, even though they’re not the healthiest editing snack.

Book Talk Episode 10: Writing Love

Writing love isn’t easy for me…and it is possibly one of the hardest things to describe.

What does it mean to love someone?

Why and how does love change over time? Why are some of those changes painful?

It’s really something that I pounder…because I write about it often and yet, I feel as though I barely understand it.

I understand intense crushes and having ridiculous fantasies about being in love with somebody else, but that isn’t the same as being in love. A person can only imagine so much and personally I wouldn’t call any of my past experiences, “love” I’d call that infatuation.

What emotions does love stir in us that makes us crave it so much?

When I first began writing seriously at thirteen, I thought that I had a good idea of relationships and how they worked — obviously I was wrong because a few years later, I couldn’t stop cringing at the scenarios my characters were put through…a lot of which were clearly recreations of teen romance in the media, which let’s face it, is mostly inaccurate. After this, I stopped trying to write romantic relationships, and instead went on to write what I actually knew: crushes.

As someone who has had crushes since kindergarten, and had been documenting them since the first grade in her diary, I definitely found that writing about them was a lot easier than trying to create this fictionalized fantasy relationship between two people, when I’d never even been in one myself.

In my debut novel, the would be high school sweethearts are separated from the very beginning. This wasn’t something I had planned on doing, but did subconsciously because I didn’t want to try and write them in this relationship when I had no idea of what that was like. Instead I chose to write about what the two of them initially felt for one another and compare it to how they felt now, and the result of that was much better received by my early readers versus what I had done in the past.

Writing about a first “love” or crush came more naturally. I’ve had crushes that lasted years, on boys I never talked to. I’ve also had crushes on friends, that I never followed through with, even to this day because I didn’t want things to become awkward and still ended up with a broken heart.

My other main characters, are early teenagers and are going through their first real crushes. There is a gentle awkwardness there, especially with my female protagonist, who when kissed on the cheek describes it as ants crawling on her face and grows uncomfortable when the boy who likes her holds her hand. These experiences of hers are ones I felt at the same age, and it was often with people who I wasn’t sure of.

It can be confusing trying to figure out your own feelings, while someone else is putting in so much effort to try and get you to like them back. I often felt like my own feelings weren’t being taken into consideration during that time in my life, and on top of that I didn’t know how to express them. How do you politely tell a friend, that you’re not interested in them that way, without hurting their feelings? Nowadays people ghost each other when they lose interest which is a childish approach, that doesn’t allow anyone closure, but at the same time its easier than ripping off the band-aid.

I enjoy writing the contrast between past and present feelings in this series, because it shows how even my characters who put on a brave face and are viewed as strong by others, are capable of feeling vulnerable. There is still this lingering feeling of love between the older pairing, hidden within the snarky remarks, arguments and awkward silences. They tell everyone around them that there’s nothing there, and that they hate one another, when in reality the still care…and more importantly want some sort of closure.

I do believe in cases like this, that it is important to write what you know. You can only take so much from observation and make it authentic, so it is important to use what knowledge and experience you do have and use that as your strength. Listen to real people talk about their relationships, pay attention to how the describe past and present events. Explore your own feelings and emotions. What aspects of relationship make you feel like you’re floating, or like ants are crawling on your skin? What does it feel like to be in love or infatuated with someone, and why do some relationships work out while others don’t?

Book Talk Episode 5: World Building

For my series, I have spent a vast majority of the planning process building the world my characters live in.

I actually drew up several maps, created charts and took a shot at designing a layout of the estate which is the main setting for the first book.

Something that I found helpful when creating these different settings, was to go on Pinterest for inspiration. I found different styled buildings, landscapes, fashion and even collages that fit into the world I envisioned in my head.

If you don’t want to use Pinterest, you can even make your own collage by hand or a mood board. I think, especially now with quarantine, it could be a fun project to not only keep you occupied for a few hours, but also keep you inspired and motivated to work on your book!

My pin board for this series currently has 408 pins. These have been gathered over the years of course, but still…I’m shocked. My other projects don’t have that many pins…but this series is and has been my main focus for a long time now.

I think that when creating the world of your novel (or series), that it’s important to look into many different categories, such as the types of culture that are present in the story.

Ida Catherine
Ida Catherine

There are many different places in my story, and two very distinctly different groups that inhabit this world. When I created my map, initially I only did the one city, which is split into two parts, the East and the West, however I realized I needed a second map, which showed the world outside this city.

Depending on where character’s are from, they have different jobs, tastes in music, food, appearances and fashion.

For example in the city where the majority of book one takes place, the women dress like the image of Ida Catherine above. One of my main character’s is very into fashion and always wears bows in her hair. She oddly looks like a painting at my grandparent’s house, which wasn’t planned…but years after I drew a sketch of her, I saw the painting again and went, “Huh…well I’ll be.”

Siuil a Run

One of the two groups in my series speaks a different language…which I decided to do while I was taking a History and Linguistics course through my University. Creating a separate language for them really allowed for me to expand upon them even more. I wrote folk music for both groups, some parodies of actual songs that I grew up listening to.

Others are original music. I also gave them current music, holidays, rituals and other things that could help differentiate between them, but also make the world feel more alive.

Along with that I spent a lot of time reading and researching to try and pinpoint the time period better.

I’m honestly not sure why I decided to do this sort of…parallel…alter-verse… historical paranormal…world type thing with this series, but it sort of just happened. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to label it, but it takes place in the past (late 1940s – early 1950s) and because of that I had to not only create and imagine all of these different things for this world, but also spend time researching the time period. This is something that I am still doing! I am always building and enhancing the knowledge of this world because I really want it to come to life.

Luckily for me, my grandparents gave me all of their own Books of Knowledge, which had editions from 1941 and onward. This was a huge help. There were interviews, current events, technology, jobs and all sorts of information that I found extremely useful.

Something else that I used aside from the books, were videos like this:

Which I found very fun to watch.

World building can be a lot of work, but I definitely think it’s worth it.

Yes, I had to create an entire dictionary for myself but I love how having this language in my series, adds to the characters who use it, as everyone reacts to it different. I also love having my characters interact with one another, and their thoughts on different settings in this world.

1950s couple

The city near by the main setting, is looked down upon and known for its high crime rates, however one of my main characters often argues for it, having lived there for a few years. It’s fun to see how different her opinion is compared to her friends who have never traveled before.

There is honestly so much that you can do with world building, and so many ways to go about it. I don’t think that there is one exact perfect formula…however, I do think that actually jotting down notes and compiling a list of information about your world is helpful, because you can refer back to it while you’re writing.

Whichever way you go about it, have fun. Don’t be afraid to start sketching things out or creating collages. Creating your setting is just as important as developing your plot and characters. They all have a direct effect on one another, no matter what your genre.

Book Talk Episode 2: Relationships and Growing Up.

Relationships do play a big role in my debut novel. I’m a big fan of Io Sakisaka not only for her gorgeous artwork, but how she continues to explore the different aspects of love and relationships in her stories.

Futaba, Ao Haru Ride

In one of her series she perfectly illustrations how our feelings and thoughts about relationships change as we grow. When writing my series I wanted to capture those moments of surprise and revelation, that she does so well in her work. Two of my main characters are introduced years after their relationship came to an end. Now and then one of them will recall how they grew together, and went from friends to lovers to not being able to stand one another. The emotions that come while they are in these moments of recollection are some that I feel really resonate throughout. A lot of the time the question in their mind is, “Why?” or “What if?” but neither of them has the courage to try and answer that question for themselves. Growing up, you go through so many different experiences and emotions and a lot of them you face with your friends and family. So many hours of the day is spent (in normal circumstances of course…and not during a pandemic) in school, and many people attend school with the same group of people most of their academic lives.

Little boys watching baseball

I often think about the wonderful friendship my parents have had since their days in elementary school. I’m a little envious, because I switched schools a few times when we moved but I thankfully have managed to keep in contact with people from my elementary and high school days. Still, I often ask myself the same question my characters ask themselves throughout the series, “Why did this happen?” or “What if I did this differently” when recalling certain situations or feelings from those days. I’m not very old, but I think every year you wonder about more and more…and you realize that you know less and less.

Girls looking up at the sky

Our relationships really do shape us, and even if they are for a season, teach us not only about others but about ourselves. How to we react in certain situations, how to we cooperate and interact with other people? Are we capable of jealously? Are we capable of compassion? These are all things that we encounter as we grow, and things that I admire about Io’s work that I want to present in my own. I find that characters who think and feel so fully…are characters that we are drawn to. You don’t even have to like them. The character could be an awful person, but if they are fleshed out well, that really resonates throughout the work.

Kou and Futaba, Ao Haru Ride

I hope to get to a point where my characters thoughts, reactions and emotions come to me so naturally, that it is like they’re an old friend. I love watching them take shape, and discover things about themselves as I write. It’s a unique experience…and it really does resemble growing up.