ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Ultimate Cliché List to Avoid in YA

Updated on January 29, 2020
Priya Barua profile image

Pursuing a rather tedious subject called law, Priya Barua still tries to find time to follow her passion for blogging.

Young Adult (hereinafter “YA” – sorry, I’m studying law) novels are notorious for employing clichés. Tropes handed down, wrung dry and recycled yet again result in clichés. After a while, they become terribly boring. I’m not saying clichés are bad per se but as a reader, it defeats the purpose of reading a book if I already know how the story is going to pan out. So this post is all about clichés that desperately require a fresh twist.

Please note: These clichés are generated by YA novels with female leads. (I’m familiar with them).

Let's all try new tropes.
Let's all try new tropes. | Source

The Ultimate Cliché List to Avoid in YA

1. Damsel in Distress

2. Character Introductions

3. Self Description

4. Love Triangle

5. Cop-outs

6. Girl Hating

7. Token Character

8. Useless Parents

9. Reads Classical Literature/ Romance Novels

10. Poor characterization

Let's look into them in detail.

1. Damsel in Distress

Reese Witherspoon, a Hollywood actress, in an acceptance speech once said (sort of): What woman doesn’t know what to do at times of an emergency? And yet, Hollywood scriptwriters churn out scripts when the female protagonist would invariably turn to her male counterpart and say – What do we do now? Fairy-tales are overrun with this terrible cliché and it’s bad enough that young girls grow up listening to those tales. It’s worse when this cliché is adapted in YA novels. YA is an impressionable group and it is important that girls don’t carry on this notion into adulthood that they need “saving.” [I am defs preaching] Damsel in Distress is soooo 18th century, give it a rest already! We need independent female leads who are actually independent. Not whiny, pathetic leads who claim to be independent but ultimately always need rescuing.

2. Character Introductions

In first-person narration, I’ve noticed authors awkwardly have their protagonists introduce themselves to the reader. I am Rosa, short for Rosaline and I’m a sixteen-year-old girl, I am Jacqueline and I thought I was normal till yesterday. I am Kylie and I am an idiot. As a reader, yes, I want to know the name of the protagonist in the first page and preferably a short description so that I have an idea about what he or she looks like. But cliché phrases like the ones mentioned reeks of unoriginal content. The only book that got away with it is Percy Jackson and that too because it’s a Middle-Grade novel.

3. Self-description

Nobody and nobody looks at the mirror and describes themselves. At least, not in real life. The character describing himself on a mirror or a glass reflection is a staple in poorly written first-person narration. I’m certain there must be subtler ways of describing the character.

One triangle we should be bothered about.
One triangle we should be bothered about. | Source

4. Love Triangles

We can all thank Stephanie Meyer’s Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle for all the love triangles that have occupied every single YA novel thereafter. Love Triangles does wonders to elevate the angst, indecision, and tension in the book. But it’s become a sure-fire cliché which irate plenty of modern readers. It’s even worse when it’s evident which of the two guys (or girls) is going to be chosen. It’s always the brooding, pained, rebel without a cause. Always.

5. Cop-Outs

For me, three cop-outs are a big no-no when I read a novel. Let’s categorize them into (a) fainting (b) Dreaming (b) Deus ex Machina.

(a) Fainting:

People do faint from exhaustion or heavy blood loss or whatever. But characters aren’t normal people – they are – but the reason we’re so invested in them as readers are because we root for them, care for them and want to know what happens to them. In first-person narration, the author cops-out big time when the character faints in a critical scene. And yes, post-war is a critical scene. We want to know what happens after the villain is destroyed. Conveniently making the character faint is lazy writing 101.

(b) Dreams:

How to move the plot forward? How to learn the motives of the villain? Oh, I know! Let the protagonist learn it from a dream! See? Lazy Writing.

(c) Deus ex machina:

Deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived. (Wikipedia) This too is a cop-out. There’s tension, the hero is battling with the villain and the hero is losing, he’s about to die, and then the hero realizes that he has powers in his reserves, powers he never knew he had, and those powers help him defeat the villain. End of story. No. Plus, new powers take time to master.

Going to hate her just because she is pretty.
Going to hate her just because she is pretty. | Source

6. Girl Hating

Why would you hate someone who’s is prettier than you? There will always be someone prettier, smarter and richer than you. I wish some YA would try to drive home that point. But the resident pretty, rich girl is always a bitch who gets humiliated in some way or the other at the end of the story. I never quite understood that point. And the resident pretty, rich girl would always hate the protagonist for no particular reason. Why can’t we have a resident pretty rich girl who just doesn’t give a shit about the protagonist because she has college plans and cheerleading practice?

7. Token Characters

You have a black girl who is confident, sassy and a total badass. You have a black girl who’s gay but is like totally comfortable in the 2000s homophobic era. You have a black girl who’s gay and Muslim. Do you get what I’m trying to say? The author makes an effort to include minority groups to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity but it more often than not fails. These characters remain in the background and are introduced and disposed of when convenient.

8. Useless Parents

I am 21 and I still have to rely on my parents. How do sixteen-year-old kids go on to save the world without their parents? How do parents not know when their kids keep disappearing in the middle of the night? Don’t people lock their houses at night? This is insane, ridiculous and serves as a giant plot hole that authors cover-up by stating that the parents are (a) on an extended business trip (b) partying (c) abusive or (d) dead. That’s right. Easier to kill them in the beginning so that the protagonist can keep moping about it for 50 pages.

9. Reads Classical Literature/Romance Novels

I am sick of reading about female protagonists who love reading classical literature and/or romance novels. I am sick of reading about female protagonists who love reading classical literature and then discuss its subtlety and plot devices with the love interest. I am sick of reading about female protagonists who love reading classical literature but never actually read them in the novel. Classical literature does not make sense to fifteen or sixteen-year-old kids. They only read it because they have to write an assignment. That also from Sparks Notes.

10. Poor Characterization

Poor characterizations are over overwrought in YA novels. Sometimes, it sounds like the author has never met an actual person. People are complex. They don’t fit in archetypes no matter how much you want them to. The protagonist is brave and courageous. The mentor is wise. The villain is bad. The friend is loyal. The love interest is a brooding rebel without cause. The love interest is a sassy badass.

Suggested Alternatives

Damsel in Distress
Kills the dragon before the prince arrives
Character Introductions
Introduced by another character
Self Description
Compares oneself to a relative and describes oneself for the benefit of the reader
Love Triangle
An actual triangle where readers root for both guys or girls.
To be sincerely avoided
Girl Hating
The resident pretty, rich girl doesn't even know who the protagonist is.
Token Characters
Give them their own story arch
Useless Parents
Parents actually care. Parents stop the protagonist from "saving" the world because parents care about the protagonist.
Reads Classical Literature/Romance Novels
Reads any other genre but that. Or doesn't even read anything. Likes watching cooking videos on Youtube.
Poor Characterization
Read about the Myers-Briggs test for starters.

Comment for Me!

All comments are welcomed.

© 2020 Priya Barua


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      2 weeks ago

      Thanks @Bushra!!

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Bushra Iqbal 

      2 weeks ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Well-written and informative article. I enjoyed reading it.

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      2 weeks ago

      @Liz and @John, thanks a ton for commenting.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      Great work. I found this very interesting and agree with the points you make.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 weeks ago from UK

      This is an interesting perspective on YA language use.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)