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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

Issue
Solution
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.
Cop-Outs
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

Comments

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    • 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.

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