If you’ve read any number of young adult novels, you may have encountered a few similarities between them. Or maybe more than a few. Sometimes, the same themes are used in fiction – over and over again – because they just work. But other times… you wonder if authors are running out of ideas.
There are many clichés I could list, but here are my top seven that seriously need to stop.
1. The Love Triangle.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. Not only is this a ridiculous concept to begin with (how many girls do you know who are simultaneously in love with two boys? and why is it always a girl at the center of love triangles?), it’s shown up so many times in recent literature that it’s become trite and formulaic. I have seen some less-offensive love triangles lately, but overall I’d rather see new approaches to romance, please. Wouldn’t you?
2. The sassy “strong” girl.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m beginning to feel like the majority of YA heroines are… almost the exact same person. Or perhaps more accurately, they have the same kind of personality. They are usually independent, defiant, quick to learn how to kick butt, and they have that predictable sass that often draws the main love interest to them.
Don’t mark me wrong; I have nothing against this kind of personality. The sassy strong girl is a lot of fun to read about. But… *yawns* it’s just getting a bit old.
3. The brooding “bad” boy.
There’s a boy in the corner. He is quiet and soft-spoken; his dark, heavy past is reflected in his dreamy, chocolate-brown eyes. He is naughty; he breaks the rules, maybe even the law, but somehow he is still gentle and respectful to our heroine. He has strong hands and muscled arms, but a tender heart and soft touch.
Who is he? Our heroine’s typical love interest, of course!
First of all, I’ve never met anyone in real life who remotely resembled this. Second of all, portraying “bad” boys as kind Prince Charming’s in disguise is dangerous because, well, it doesn’t reflect reality. Third of all, it’s overused. (Obviously.)
Quick soapbox moment: Rather than basing our male (or female!) characters after common literary tropes – or on our own distorted fantasies – we should base them off of real people we know. The world is incredibly varied with vastly different types of people; not only will our characters become more original this way, but they will also become more relatable!
The girl with flaming red hair. The boy with sky-blue eyes. Basically, in a word, white. Why are they always white??
There is a reason for this, of course. The majority ethnicity in America is “white” or Caucasian. Thus, the majority of YA authors are probably white. And we tend to write about what’s comfortable and familiar to us, so it only makes sense that we would write about characters that look like us.
But, let us not forget that African Americans make up 13.2% of the population, and Hispanic and Latino Americans make up 17.1%.
Think about it for a second.
Those are not small numbers.
This could be an entire blog post in of itself, so I’m not going to go deeply into why representation is extremely important, but this a huge problem still in our country. We writers have the power to fix it, but instead we just keep falling into the same ruts as everyone else, writing about the cliché, familiar characters we’re all used to.
Now, I must add on to this: I say this gently, because I’m guilty of falling into the same trap. In my own book, most of the main characters are white. I did this without realizing it, just like many of us do. I wrote about people I could relate to, and in some sense, that meant making them look like me, too. But now that I understand this issue, I’ve become passionate about it, and I have plans for much more ethnic diversity in future books.
By the way, diversity does not mean throwing in a side character that’s black. That’s so easy, and almost condescending. Also, blacks are not the only ethnicity that should be represented more; and what they need are main, heroic roles, not arbitrary, accessory roles.
5. The Chosen One.
There was a prophecy… and you are the One. Only you can defeat the Evil.
This cliché is not limited to young adult literature, and hopefully I don’t even have to mention this, because it’s so universally overused. We need more stories about ordinary heroes and unseen courage – something we can all relate to and look up to. Very few of us are specially chosen to save the universe. Besides, the concept has lost its flavor. It’s just… bland.
6. Impossible training sequences.
“I’m a total amateur. I can’t handle a gun/sword/[insert genre-specific weapon here]. How am I supposed to fight?”
The mentor places a hand on our hero’s shoulder, and smiles. “Don’t worry. You’re in a young adult novel. You’ll be an expert in no time!”
No, this conversation never actually happens in books or movies, but sometimes I feel like this is exactly what takes place. Our weak, incapable heroes often go through a training sequence and become impossibly strong in a short period of time. Don’t mark me wrong; I’m a big fan of watching flailing, incompetent characters become epic heroes, but this is a process that needs to take time.
… unless you’re in the Matrix and you can download your training instantaneously. In that case, you’re off the hook.
7. End of the world catastrophes.
Saving the world… big, epic fights against aliens or dark lords… *yawns* I don’t know about you, but this just doesn’t faze me anymore. Superheroes and “Chosen” teenagers keep saving the world, and I’m not really worried about it anymore. What about making the conflict smaller? Rather than putting the world in danger, let there be high stakes for the character personally. Emotionally, this is far more engaging, not to mention more believable.
What are some clichés in young adult (or other) stories that have you riled? Rant in the comments below! ^_^
For further reading:
On the issues of writing “strong” female characters, I recommend this blog post by Hannah Heath. On the issue of writing believable male characters, I recommend this post by Hannah Heath and this guest post from Ink and Quills.
P.S. I wrote a guest post for Mariella Hunt’s blog titled “Should You Write to the Trends?” Mariella says it’s her favorite guest post of the year… but I guess you’ll have to make that judgment for yourself! *winks*