10 Worn-out Cliches in YA

#Cliches are everywhere, especially in #YA. Learn what's been overdone and how to avoid it or make it new. Cliches are everywhere, especially in YA fiction. Some things seem to catch on and repeat themselves over and over, despite readers rolling their eyes.

Not only do cliches bore readers, but even worse, they bore publishers. Which can spell disaster for your novel. So what’s a writer to do?

Learning what cliches are out there in YA and becoming aware of them will help you to avoid them in the future. It will also help you to get creative and find ways to break the cliches or turn them on their head.

Here’s 10 tried-and-true cliches in YA to get you started.

#1: The Obscure Prologue

This seems to be a requirement for beginning any YA novel. Often a vision or dream. Basically tossed in to arouse interest with  a vague, cryptic scene or a punch of random action because what if the reader bails before the author gets to the good part?? Almost always unnecessary to the story.

#2: Love Triangles

These are a staple in YA. Why, I’m not sure since they seem to frustrate many readers to no end. Yet books with love triangles continue to do well, which is probably why we’re stuck with them.

(Side note: one reason readers tend to hate love triangles is because they are predictable–it’s obvious who the heroine favors. One love triangle book I have  enjoyed and thought was done well was the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. She made you love both male characters and it wasn’t obvious who the heroine would choose in the end.)

#3: Beauty Blind

No one likes a heroine who bemoans about how hideous and repulsive she is when she’s actually gorgeous. Despite her friends and family telling her she’s beautiful, she will insist she is ugly. That is, until the Love Interest comes along and she is shocked that he is attracted to her. Suddenly she realizes she is beautiful after all! *eye roll*

#4: Insta-Love

You know the drill. Girl sees boy. Boy sees girl. Their eyes meet. BAM. Instant, undying passion and devotion. They would die to be together! Even though they’ve only known each other for like 5 minutes. Or one song. (I’m looking at you, Marius & Cosette).

#5: Mr. Tall, Dark, and Perfect

Not only is the love interest super-model hot, but he’s also perfect. Because heaven forbid the heroine fall in love with a man with flaws! I’ll take a fixer-upper any day.

#6: The Brooding Bad Boy

Closely related to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, he is also super-model hot except he is tragically flawed. He has a dark, secretive past and is no good for the heroine. But she pines after him because she is inexplicably drawn to his irritable, brooding personality. The bad boy has the emotional range of a teaspoon and won’t let inferior emotions such as happiness dull his swagger.

#7: Royal Realization

Surprise! The hero/heroine was a prince/princess this whole time and didn’t even know it! This might have been a good plot twist if we hadn’t seen it coming from page 1…

#8: Undiscovered Powers

This has become a staple in YA fiction. The hero suddenly discovers powers he never knew he had, usually when he comes of age.

#9: The Problem with Parents

The death toll of parents in YA is staggering. If the heroine’s parents are lucky enough to be alive, they’re often negligent or clueless. Or, she is living with abusive step-parents, guardians, etc. Where are the normal, happy families in YA?

#10: The Trilogy

Is there some unwritten law that every YA novel must be a trilogy? They’re popping up everywhere these days, and it’s getting kind of tiring–not to mention time-consuming.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good trilogy, but the problem is too many trilogies tend to go downhill and should’ve stopped at the first book. Must we make *every* story into a trilogy?

BONUS: The Chosen One

Not to be outdone, the Chosen One is also a popular choice in YA. The hero or heroine is the *only one* in the entire universe who can defeat the villain and save their world. Usually they have been destined to do so because of a prophecy.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my hero save the day because he found the strength to do so on his own, not because of some mystical prophecy.

So does this mean you can never use any of the things on this list that have been deemed ‘cliche?’ I don’t believe so! It’s true that everything has been done so many times that everything more or less starts to feel somewhat cliche, and it’s hard to be original.

I think rules are meant to be broken. Knowing the cliches allows you to realize how they might work against you, but it also helps you to make wise, informed decisions about whether or not to use them. So whether you decide to use, avoid, break, or bend these cliches, I think it depends upon your creative intent and your story.

Which cliches get under your skin? Which ones have you used?

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62 thoughts on “10 Worn-out Cliches in YA

    1. I know what you mean, love triangles make me cringe. Like I don’t mind if a girl is confused about who she likes for a bit cause that’s realistic but don’t drag it out foreverrrr especially when it’s obvious who she’s going to pick.

      1. I’m not even sure if my love triangle can be called a love triangle because my heroine doesn’t ever have any romantic feelings for the other guy. He falls for her and she almost immediately shuts it down but he has a hard time giving up hope because it doesn’t seem like her relationship is going to work. I just don’t enjoy watching a girl pine over two guys, even if she has a favorite. Actually, it’s almost worse if she has a favorite…

      2. In that case most of what Shakespeare wrote will make you cringe. Great Expectations will make you cringe. Most great literature will make you cringe. Love triangles are such a normal part of life, like drinking water, i would hesitate to call then a trope much less a cliche. Same with love at first sight. Its actually been researched, and proven that people are instantly attracted to each other or not at all. Its a little something known as CHEMISTRY. Yes, kids. Its HORMONES that establish attraction, not our brain making decisions. Of course we don’t have to act of what we feel. But a strong chemical attraction will be sudden. Also, there is a pretty good reason why most people fall in love with people they find handsome. Most of us don’t look for flaws in the people we desire. Thjis is pure nonsense. The dead parent thing is pretty simple; If you want your child hero to be able tom act, the parents can not be around and vigilant. Because then the kid kind of has to obey the parent, and stay home, not go out adventuring. No one cares about that….The one cliche I can not stand however is the Snarky, Sassy, teenage girl who can kick ass of large burly adult Marines. And she does it with a flippant one liner. And the way she gets a guy to fall in love with her; Why she insults him, of course. That is so absurd and annoying. Does every heroine have to be that way? EVERY. FRIGGIN ONE?

    2. Same. I actually hated Cassandra Clare’s love triangle just as much as any of the others because it’s just so annoying to see two guys fighting over the main character. Is she really that desirable?
      And plus, one of them is going to be the best friend who (surprise!) has loved her his entire life. The other one will most likely be the handsome, dashing, new guy.
      I threw up in my mouth when Simon chose his last words to be,”Clary”. I mean, does he really care more about her than his family, friends, and religion combined?

      1. I think she meant the one between Tessa, Will and Jem… not that I’m a die hard fan or anything.

      2. I think the Cassandra Clare love triangle mentioned in this post was the one in Infernal Devices (Tessa, Will, and Jem). But you still make a valid point.

  1. Oh my goodness. This is so, so true. Great post!

    Hmm…some YA cliches that get under my skin? I think you covered all of the obvious ones, but another that really bugs me is the overboard originality that’s starting to pop up everywhere. Things like “The Maze Runner” that don’t really make any sense, and you get the feeling that they’re trying a bit too hard to be unique.

    Also, another that’s super annoying is the imbalance in romances. They tend to be so shallow that I don’t even find them worth shipping. Ever. It’s almost like there’s a rule that says “one character must be weak and the other must be strong…and maybe sometimes they can switch roles.” (*cough* I’m looking at you, “Divergent”.) Honestly, why can’t we have a romance where both characters are fully-functioning individuals who aren’t chalk-full of insecurities? And if they do have some insecurities, for goodness sake–stop fixing them the second they get into a relationship! It doesn’t work that way. The “boyfriend fix” is another cliche that needs to die.

    Again, great post. I’ll be sharing this. (:

    1. Oh yes, I hate it when the heroine solves all her problems by getting a boyfriend. Really? Ugh. And I think I know what you mean, I’ve seen some pretty strange concepts out there and some of them work, but some of them it’s like they’re trying to weird for the sake of it and trying to stand out, but it just falls flat.

    2. First off, yes – I definitely understand the idea of “overly original” being off-putting. But I must note (because I really do love such books) that the Maze Runner was written in the early 00’s, far before the YA craze of The Hunger Games or even (ugh) Twilight.

      1. Actually The Maze Runner was published in 2009 and The Hunger Games was published in 2008 (Twilight came out in 2005).

        I think some YA authors come off as trying too hard to be unique because they want to capitalize on a trend (eg: YA dystopia), without seeming to be jumping on a bandwagon. Or they like all the popular stuff coming out and think it would be fun to write something like that too, but feel they have to contribute something new to the genre pool. So they end up essentially following a formula, but then throw in some extra things in an attempt to set themselves apart from similar stories. Sometimes this works, but it can also lead to contrived-seeming characters and situations, and might make a story feel inauthentic, which is off-putting. That’s my speculation anyway!

    3. Okay true but characters with no insecurities or weaknesses are hard to identify with and, well, dull as a brick

  2. I was about to start getting ready for bed, then came across your article via Twitter. 🙂 Brushing my teeth can wait a few extra minutes. *lol*

    This is a fantastic article, Kaitlin. I’ve picked up on all of these tropes at some point while reading YA speculative fiction (and I liked a lot of Emily Tjaden’s observations, too); and while some instances of certain tropes haven’t bothered me, all of them have at one point or another. Except the trilogy / series one. I’m perfectly OK with that one, though I couldn’t really explain why…

    Honest to goodness, I wrote my YA fantasy (which I’m now revising) without paying much attention to trends or tropes. So I ran it through this list… and it falls victim only to two of the 11:

    #9: My protagonist’s parents were killed when she was 5 years old. The thing is, their deaths have shaped her into the person she is now, and the story’s inciting incident awakens her desire to avenger them. In other words, the story wouldn’t have happened if they were still alive. What do you think?

    #10: *gulp* Yes, I’m planning to do two more books with the same protagonist after the current one. But (I think?) I have two reasons why. First, the events of Book 1 naturally lead to the events of Book 2, and so on. Second, the protagonist’s emotional wound is more complicated than just her parents’ deaths. There are other things she still needs to learn, other ways she needs to heal and grow as a person. She’s not done in Book 1, and the events of Books 2 and 3 will take her through the rest of that necessary evolution. I hope that makes sense…? Again, what do you think, Kaitlyn?

    1. Haha well I’m honored you postponed your dental hygiene to read my article 😉

      Some of the cliches don’t bother me either, especially the dead parents. I’m right with you on that one–my current WIP also involves the deaths of my main character’s parents, and it’s the inciting incident that sets the story into motion. I think in cases like this it’s justifiable to use a cliche. I wouldn’t worry about it 😉

      As for the trilogy, I think it’s fine if your story warrants it! There are trilogies/series that I enjoy and that are done well, one of my new favorites being the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Seriously, that woman is amazing. Each book gets better than the last!). I feel that as long as you have enough “story” a trilogy is fine! I think it crosses into cliche territory when you try to stretch it out into a trilogy just for the sake of it because it’s the “popular” thing to do. I would rather read one awesome book by itself than to read one awesome book and be disappointed by two okay sequels. Hope that helps 🙂

      1. I know it can seem cliche for characters to come from troubled households or dead parents, but a lot of our awesome tragic heroes come from brutal pasts. They wouldn’t be tragic if they lived like the Brady Bunch!

        Regardless, I have read books where characters come from happy households and they can be done really well. Take Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter, both of them came from happy family lives, and in a way it made their lives even more difficult because while Harry grew up suffering a great loss, Ron and Hermione had to live with the fear of losing the ones they loved. So I think that heroes and heroines can come in all shapes and sizes.

    2. One of the reasons for the “dead parent trope” in YA and children’s lit is that with parents out of the picture, teens and children are put in positions of responsibility, which makes for higher stakes in their story. There are tons of great characters who have happy families and who still face struggle (like A.L. Goodlett says: Ron and Hermione), but when there is a responsible adult who a young person can turn to in times of trouble, the situation doesn’t seem as dire, and thus is not as suspenseful.

      I also think having no parents or guardians can sometimes untether the protagonist and free them to do things that a parent or guardian wouldn’t allow. Katniss, for example, lost her father and has an essentially absent mother. This makes her the responsible adult in her family and so her decisions and her actions have more weight than they might if she were being taken care of by parents. Or she might not have to make the same decisions.

      I don’t mean to say that the orphan story is better or more exciting than a story about a kid with parents, but removing the parents/guardians definitely allows an author to tell a different story.

      This is one trope that I’m totally okay with because rather than squashing the story into a predictable formula like some cliches, it can be used as a device to create more possibilities for drama and adventure.

  3. I like your article. I definitely agree with the “fixer upper” romantic interest, you could theoretically apply that to the “Chosen one” scenario. And trilogies! I don’t know if you’ve read any Mercedes Lackey, but she pretty much just writes trilogies.

    I’m not sure about your Les Mis analogy of love at first site. It definitely is like that in the musical adaptation, but I seem to remember that the first time Marius met Cosette he thought she was ugly (in the novel). And he didn’t fall in love with her until a few years later.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Christa! I’ve never heard of Mercedes Lackey, but I feel like the majority of authors nowadays write either trilogies or series. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to write a solid stand-alone. I intend to break this cycle 😉

      Ah, well I’ve only experienced Les Mis through the movie and haven’t gotten around to reading the book (I know, I know). But I’m glad to hear it’s not insta-love in the novel! Thank you Victor Hugo!

      1. Mercedes Lachy has a formula I really like. The majority of her Valdemar (her fantasy world) books are trilogies because she focuses on different times and types of people for each set. But she does have stand alone books. She started in the late 80s (still publishing) so I wouldn’t say she’s part of a trend unless she was at the front of it.

        1. I’ve got to say, I feel like the ML trilogy formula has begun to wear on me. The first book about our hero, the second about their love interest, and the third about their relationship. How do any of them manage to stop the bad guy/free Alta/be the last herald-mage with all this romance flying around them? 😉

  4. You forgot the ‘monsters/demons /whatever took my younger sibling and I , big sis/brother will do anything to save him /her. Most people I know would actually warmly thank any monster abducting their sibling , but maybe it’s just my friends who are evil…

  5. Agree with all of these points so much!
    And I love Cassie Clare’s love triangle in The Infernal Devices completely. I think one of the reasons it works so well is that Jem and Will love each other wholeheartedly, and there’s no tension or hate between them like there usually is in other love triangles.

    1. Yes, I think you’re right. It’s not like an annoying competition or fighting over the girl, but it has high tension because they’re friends so you wonder how they’ll deal with it/who will end up with her.

      1. Infernal Devices is one of my favorites. Clare stated that she set out to create a completely balanced, equilateral triangle. I think she succeeded. Rather than having the competing guys hate each other, they love each other just as much as each of them loves Tessa. Very unique. It’s a good example of how the cliche itself isn’t always a problem, It’s the execution that matters. (I cried the hardest when Will felt Jem die. Ugly crying.)

        As far as missing parents, it’s a defining theme of YA. Usually YA deals with coming of age, kids learning and growing into the role of adulthood that lies ahead of them, saving the day rather than an adult doing it for them…Adults will either have to be portrayed as ignorant and stupid, or be nonexistent. Even Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones books do this, as the protagonists are kids. In those cases, the adults are oblivious and just “don’t get it.” YA books tend to have missing adults, I imagine because it’s harder to convince the reading audience that adults are stupid and oblivious (but it does hasten occasionally – The Selection did it, and I didn’t really buy how out of touch both sets of parents were). The execution of this genre-defining cliche is frequently sloppy and tired.

  6. The beauty blind is one of my pet peeves. It’s okay to make a character self-conscious but for the love of all things written, do it in a way that is believable without making it look like the character is either messed up in the head or eternally fishing for compliments. At least until Mr. Perfect can tell her how to feel.

    I like the ‘Chosen One’ scenario, but I detest tacking a prophecy or something onto it. Adding a prophecy more or less sets the ending in stone and basically gives it away right from the start. If someone chose to go the prophecy route, at least let the character do their best to defy it at every turn. Going up against fate can have interesting results.

    Undiscovered powers is generally a good way to fling a character straight into conflict. It can also be a great way to educate your readers because you’re learning right alongside the protagonist what their powers are all about. It can be overused, especially in fantasy, but it’s one of the tropes I don’t really condemn as much as others.

    Insta-love is just silly. It doesn’t happen, ever. Insta-lust, insta-infatuation, insta-helloooogorgeous, perhaps. One should always allow their characters time to get to know one another – it gives the reader time to get to know them too.

    One trope you forgot to mention that tends to get on my nerves is the insta-hate, rivals in love, I’ll-hate-you-until-I-realize-I’m-in-love-with-you trope. It drives me up the wall how many characters start off hating the love interest for one reason or another, usually because he treats her like absolute crap, the exact type of guy you shouldn’t be falling for in the first place, then goes and falls in love with him because maybe she found out that he was just being mean to her in order to protect her or something. I don’t get why they heroine falls for an abusive guy and we’re just supposed to chock it up to the bad-boy syndrome. Please.

  7. I loved the use of every single gif. They were perfect!! On the royalty one, I once read a ya where that was reversed and it turned out she was false royalty. I can’t remember the name of the novel for the life of me but I can remember the cover art. It was an amazingly written book but sadly didn’t have a sequel. This article was awesome and very helpful

    1. Thanks Calista, I’m glad you liked it! Oooh I wish you could remember the name, I would love to read it! It’s funny you should say that because I was actually thinking of writing a story like that in the future. Seems someone has already beaten me to it haha 😉

  8. I hate the bitchy queen bee or mean girls trope because the majority of the time, it isn’t necessary. Along with them also having names the same generic all-american rich girl names like: Alexis, Kaitlyn, Lindsay and Heather. I see it waayy to often.

    As well with names, I despise the main character having an out-of-this-world name, such as: Ariannella Luna Cunningworth. Whilst the friends are named Emma Lewin and Michael Taylor, etc. However, if everyone has a weird name like in the Hunger Games that’s fine by me.

    I also have a serious pet peeve with the protagonist being new kid in class, or falling for the dark and brooding new kid in class with a painful backstory with a soft side. Ew.

    1. I’m with you, I don’t like the mean girl or new kid cliches either, they’re too overdone. I don’t mind a love interest with a dark side but it gets on my nerves if he’s always brooding and just treats the heroine and/or other characters like crap. I’m a sucker for interesting names, but that’s probably because I mostly read fantasy. I agree with you–in realistic fiction the names need to be toned down haha. Thanks for stopping by, Addilyn!

  9. I agree that there are a lot of books about there that probably shouldn’t have gone past the first book, but I can understand why they did.

    Some YA trends are terribly annoying, but I can’t imagine how hard it must be to give a book that doesn’t follow some of the bigger trends to a publisher or lit agent and have them say “Yes, I can sell this.” I think we all want to take the road less traveled, but I feel like a lot of people might have been prodded into doing trilogies when they meant to do a single book.

    But I don’t know too much about the publishing industry so maybe I’m terribly wrong.

    1. You have a point, agents/publishers do like trends because they sell, and trying to write outside the box can be a risk. I think one of the appeals of writing a series is that it’s easier to make money off and several books rather than one, thus helping to start off a writing career. Stand alones don’t seem to get as much attention as series, and Hollywood loves to snatch onto book series they can turn into a movie franchise. All I ask is that writers please consider whether sequels to their story are even necessary before they hop on the series bandwagon haha.

      1. I love trilogies and book series. When perusing the library for reading material I look for them. There’s something very satisfying about living with characters you love for more than just one book. There have been a few stand alones that devastated me because I couldn’t stay with the characters any longer.

        Your list makes me think. Some of those cliches are alright if they are done really well. The only one I really hate is the love triangle when the MC can’t make up their mind (but not really). It’s ok to recognize lust and attraction for what it is, but don’t stew in indecision because s/he’s hot. It makes one look very weak.

        The others can be very interesting. I’m a big Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan and several of the cliches on your list are almost required!

  10. I can’t lie. Royal Realization is one of my favorite guilty pleasures in ya/romance novels. haha I’m also a sucker for a good love triangle. As long as it’s not too predictable.

    1. Don’t tell anyone, but me too 😉 Sometimes we complain about cliches but we can still enjoy them if the author is telling a good story!

  11. How about the strong badass female character that is exactly the same as every other badass female out there? Unfortunetly I have a badass lead female who happens to be into archery. I love her character and the archery part is crucial to the story. then I remember my hatred for cliches and recently with archery’s popularity, Baddass Archer Lead Female with No Love Interest Except for that Guy Everyone is Shipping Hard. It’s a real dilemma and actually harder than you’d think to avoid cliches. The key to a good story is creativity and originality.

  12. Great post! So nice to see a succinct listing of YA cliches.

    I am guilty of the Trilogy cliche in a big way…I’m writing a quartet! My defense is, if all goes according to plan each book will get better and build in intensity to the finish. 😉

    A cliche I have utilised is that the main character in my fantasy novel is a Princess.
    Yes, yes, terribly cliched, I know. I have also read many of these. The distinction for her, in my mind, is that she is slowly realising that her absolute monarchy kingdom is stagnating in comparison to the neighbouring constitutional monarchy. This leads to some very interesting and potentially treasonous thoughts and decisions on her part.

    Another cliche I am guilty of, that wasn’t here, is that the Princess was in love with her body guard. He guarded her during a war when she was a young teen. She lost contact with him during her time as royal ambassador to the neighbouring kingdom and now that they’ve reconnected he will not allow her to strike up their friendship/relationship again. It’s a source of great emotional tension for her and there are very interesting reasons for this distance that slowly emerge over the story. There is no clear yes or no answer on their status. Friends, lovers, nothing at all? 🙂 It’s very fun for me to write.

    Oh and she does have caring parents…if busy since they are running a kingdom!

  13. Hi, lovely article by the way! I’m also a writer too. Nice to see a list of YA cliches because I’m also planning to write a YA fantasy novel. However, I’m guilty of the cliche number 8 and 9 that you mentioned ‘Undiscovered powers’ and ‘The problem with parents’. But I turned that cliche around so my main character is aware of his power and he uses it for entertainment purpose. And the parents part…well, he’s not a orphan! But has only one parent, the father. Mother is dead by execution has something to do with the plot, but I might change this later on.

    What do you think? Would like to hear your input on this 🙂

    Thanks and keep writing! Love this blog <3

    1. Thanks so much, Idil! 🙂 I love how you flipped that cliche about the powers around! That sounds like a great idea, and pretty funny too. I wouldn’t stress too much about the parent cliche, it’s so common in YA I don’t think readers even mind it. My main character in my current novel is an orphan, and the status of the parents for my next novel isn’t looking too good either lol. But in both cases, the deaths of the parents play an important role in the story. I think it’s fine to use cliches and break rules–as long as you have a good story, that’s the main thing!

  14. It’s a new year and this list still rings true! Ugh, I am not a fan of love triangles. Seriously, I don’t know why, but it just make me feel… sleepy.

    I’m fine with Chosen Ones (if done right), but I really hate Beauty Blind! It really is annoying. Honestly, it’s not cute or humble! We can all tell! Like when the FMC’s closest friends and family tell her she’s pretty or cute or okay, but then she only gains confidence when her love interest – or several love interests – tell her! There are so many beauty blind FMCs that it’s making my blood boil.

    Anyway, great post!

  15. Especially #1-6; 9-10. Once was enough for most of them, and some really REALLY shouldn’t have been there in the first place… like 1,4,5,6. Never were these character type romances EVER appealing in the first place… those types of romances 100% ruin any good novel for me.
    For instance, in one book I read, there was a love triangle. I personally felt that the author had rightfully put in that love triangle, it wasn’t obvious about ANYTHING(except for they both just HAD to be hot). But the problem was, the first love interest… he had no flaws. Only one ever came out and in reality, it could be justified. However, the other character WAS. Like, A LOT. And do you wonder who all the goodreads’ fans ship the most? /The couple with flaws./ Because it WASN’T perfect, never WOULD be perfect, and everything in that romance would take WORK on both sides of the equation. It was realistic, and not cliche. That was what had everyone rooting for the second love interest. /He was flawed./ I did not see one reviewer who shipped the other couple!

  16. I really do believe cliches are there because as readers sometimes we tend to gravitate toward certain repetitive themes.
    But I think its more important that as writers we realize that we have the responsibility, as well as opportunity, to do more.
    We can re-invent cliches, we can make them our own. We can “turn them on their head.”
    We have the unique opportunity to effect the way a reader sees people and situations.
    I think it’s important to remember that although readers often read to escape reality, I know I have in the past. Reality can be effected by how a reader views it afterwards.
    As readers we often make emotional connections to characters, so as writers I thinks its important for us to create “real” 3d characters.
    I think when writers achieve this, even if there’s a cliche theme it’s not as annoying because the story has presence.

  17. Okay, the big fuss about love triangles really irks me. There are soooooooo many classics and “adult” fiction that have love triangles. Start with Gone with the Wind for one. It’s not just a YA thing. And there is a reason for it. Sometimes that is what the story is. Also, missing parents in YA. If the parents are there and very much in the life of the teen, it makes it hard for them to get out and do a lot of the things that they do. Normal, happy family life doesn’t make for running around to save the world without calling home and checking in, etc. Not that I haven’t seen people do that in books before, it just makes for more of that kind of stuff needing to be in the story. The beauty blind thing – I know that women should feel pretty, girl power, etc. As a woman who has low self-esteem, no matter how much I tell myself that is stupid, that part of a story works because it is how many people feel. Not all, but some. And for those that do feel that way, such as myself, who need to connect to the character, that works. And often, it isn’t that they’re “beautiful” to everyone. Just knowing you’re beautiful to the person who loves you is nice as well.

    Sorry, those are my thoughts. The love triangle thing just irks me, because it is around in so many things besides just YA.

  18. Those are tropes not cliches. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything you pointed out. Tropes are basically tools of storymaking. They work because they mimic real life, or a iconic situation. So by all means use all of the tropes you mentioned. Here is a cliche; Your Heroine likes a guy, but because you don’t want her to seem weak, you will have her behave in a snarky way to emphasize her independence. That will lead to a cliche of the slap slap kiss kiss variety. Don’t do that. if she likes the guy. she will try to be nice, not mean. Otherwise people roll their eyes…and good luck trying to write an underage hero that is not an orphan…you will just end up finding some other reason he is free to act, like the parents are divorced, and the mom is always drunk, or the parents is comatose. Because no one wants to read about your hero doing their homework, and going to class. Teenagers really do not have that much unsupervised time. And they certainly can not leave home.

  19. Hello,
    Oddly, I have found this article on Facebook. Maybe Facebook is good for something other than stocking your friends lives as part of your character development research. Hmm. 😉

    I am in the early-mid stages of writing a dystopian story. It is a bit of a personal goal of mine to break as many clichés as I can without having a super dull story. The acception is that one of her parents has died, (or did she?). However, the surviving patent is not emotionally incompetent, and my heroine is somewhat rounded and was raised in a living home.
    There is no love triangle and only two options for her. To have boy or not to have boy.
    There is an opportunity to rush in and save the day as a tiny little wonder woman, but she actually fails at her meager attempt and gets herself into a bad situation and needs rescued. (Because 100 lb women can’t take on 200 men, simple)
    I am thinking about doing two books per story. It breaks the trilogy cliche, but gives a little more room to beef up the story. Pros and cons of this? It’s not set in stone. I am just afraid that with my created world situation, there won’t be enough room in one book to cover everything. Ideas welcome! 🙂

  20. This is amazing! I adore and annoy myself by pointing out tropes and clichés I see in books, TV, movie, etc… I’d have to say I hate the love triangle cliché the most. I always scream at the protagonist to just pick someone or no one. Also, because I don’t want it to take up most of the plot (if it’s not a romance novel, which I don’t often read).

    However, I’m semi-guilty of #8, #9, #10, and the Chosen One. I’m currently editing my YA fantasy novel and I have incomplete clichés. Is that not a cliché anymore if it’s not complete? Half-clichés?

    #8: My protagonist is aware of some of her power and has been using it since childhood, but she doesn’t know she’s more than that. People in her life have taken measures to hide it from her for the safety of her and her kind (like erasing her memory when she does discover her powers a few times throughout her life).

    #9: Her parents are cold, but she has memories of her father being loving when she was child. Her mother has always been off to her, but the protagonist was conceived for a purpose in the future (her father originally thought she was an accident); and her mother finds her inferior and only sees her as a tool. Her father is attempting to protect her from her mother (who he believes he’s trapped and erased memories from) and her mother’s family/group, because they are the enemies. Enemies that kill the protagonist’s kind.

    #10: While it is going to be a trilogy/series, it’s not all on the first, main protagonist. The trilogy will focus on my protagonist, with the third installment being split between her and her boyfriend/tracker (she goes off the deep end). But then there are spin-off stand alones of side characters and new characters from her world. There’s enough factions and councils to keep the flaming chainsaw going. The protagonist was the catalyst.

    Chosen one: She is chosen to do something for the enemy, but it’s not like she was prophesized or all the characters put their beliefs in her to solve a problem. If anything, her kind was trying to keep her away. She was born, in her mother and enemy’s eyes, to do a task for them with her ability that she could only do with her blood relation to the group’s leader. They needed her powers, which she got from her father. Hence, the weird parent relation and chosen-ness.

    Does this extend themselves away from clichés?

    I’ve also been trying to stay away from the blind beauty cliché so hard. My protagonist was originally written as a recovering bulimic (because that’s what all of her friends were doing in middle school years ago, and she got addicted to the feeling of control of her body). She suffered body image issues because of it and the bullying after that, but I feel it makes her too insecure and it requires her boyfriend to step in too much. So, I may just change it to depression from her relationship with her parents, because there a major plot points that go along with her actions in the past and how she’s treated at school because of it.

    Any advice to try and seem more original with what seem to be clichés?

  21. Hi Kaitlin!! What can I say? This post is amazing!!! While I read it I realized that lots of things were in Harry Potter but only really bothered in different books (The Chosen One, problems with parents, hidden powers)…
    Anyways, thanks to you I discovered thet whole big cliche that The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer are:

    Insta-love, hidden royality, undiscovered powers, dark/badass/perfect boy, and also beauty-blind, ALL-IN-ONE.

    I am really upset but thank you for opening my eyes!! I love writing and I know that its really easy to fall for this themes.
    Another cliche that I would add is: a character who was supposed to be good and loyal, betrays the hero. I have seen this THOUSANDS OF TIMES.

    Loved your blog, thanks for sharing!!

  22. I think my biggest pet peeve when it comes to cliches is when a girl who is “not like the other girls” suddenly meets this new, amazing guy. Then she suddenly gets out of her teenage-angst ridden, “I don’t care about my looks” phase to hook up with him.

    Also, I absolutely loved your post!

  23. You forgot a couple:

    The ‘Flawed’ protagonist. Meaning a protagonist that is flawed but only in ways that make them more endearing and likeable or plot convenient. Being headstrong and speaking your mind are not flaws.

    The Mary Sue or Marty Stu

  24. Sure, they are cliche to adult readers who’ve been reading YA for ten or more years, but to actual young adult readers, most of these devices are new and probably alluring, resonating to them on a deep level because of their experiences as teens. The character who feels ugly only to see herself through her male protagonist’s eyes and discover that maybe she is beautiful isn’t cliche. Most teen girls feel ugly– heck, I felt ugly until I saw myself through the eyes of my husband and realized I am beautiful. ( not that I don’t have ugly days, lol)
    Personally, I feel the chosen one is more classic than cliche. It follows the Hero’s journey like stories have for generations–and like I said before–these things aren’t cliched for new/young readers of the genre. We oldies (lol) who love this genre sometimes forget we aren’t the target audience.

  25. Bummer. I totally wanna do a trilogy! But with the exception, that the next two books involve the couple having a not-so-happily-ever-after, after their big wedding day. Yes. Romance doesn’t end when a couple ties the knot. It is the beginning of a new chapter, of a new adventure together!! =D

  26. Honestly it feels like too many romances focus on the getting of the girl/boy of their dreams and suddenly end afterwards. And if there are other books later it involves scandals with others, or the happily ever after ending for a friend, sibling, etc. No wonder no one stays with their spouses anymore. Love is turned into an always pursuing something different. Not continuing to pursue that same love until death due us part. I totally want to change that! 😀

  27. I’m working on a book (my first one) and I had a question about the Chosen One section of this. Would it be acceptable to have some characters go on a quest that every child of their age goes on? If not, what do you suppose I do instead? They’re not going to rebel because I’m quite bored of rebellions.

  28. This article is fantastic. I’m a fairly new writer and I don’t have a lot of experience, and so my main source of, I guess you could call it “writing education,” has come from reading books and studying their language and structure. That’s fine, but I finally decided that researching a bit of REAL writing tips was worth trying instead of forging ahead on my own like a bull-headed kid.

    This article alone will probably end up getting me to read everything on your website, because it doesn’t say that cliches are bad, simply that they are used too often and aren’t exciting anymore. They should be used sparingly, not that they’re forbidden, because there’s a reason why they worked in the first place. 🙂

    Thank you for posting this!!

  29. In a story I’m writing, one of the main characters is technically the “chosen one” and is supposed to save the magic/ supernatural world, but isn’t the one to fight the evil. Actually, because of certain circumstances, he is unable to fight the evil. The thing is, he’s the one that has to make this huge decision because of other reasons.

  30. A++ for the Sherlock gif.

    The chosen one/unrealized powers is one that is really killing me lately. Some YA books have done it really well recently (I think Red Queen gets a pass because of how it was introduced for example) but in general it has become the cookie-cutter beginning to nearly every YA fantasy novel. I’m really grateful that writers seem to finally be drifting away from it a bit, but it is slow to die for sure.

    I would highly, highly recommend you read The Rest of Us Just Live Here if you haven’t yet. It is a tongue in cheek play on the chosen one trope and it does it super, super well. And it still managed to give me way more feelings than I was expecting.

    Katie @ http://www.katsyxo.com

  31. If you read All Quiet on the Western Front today, it is crammed with WWI cliches, but the book created those cliches (i.e. they weren’t cliches in 1929). Also, they are not necessarily cliches for a 15 year old today because they had not been exposed to the history (separate argument here about how well history is taught in schools). Cliches are only cliches if the reader has been over-exposed to them. To someone who has never been exposed to a cliche, it is fresh new and exciting!

  32. Agreed- especially in screenwriting. It’s come to the point where 75% of the time I know who they fall in love with, when they give up then come back, who betrays them… you get the point. Though, sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. In my WIP I’m using #8 and #9, except I’m changing it so they aren’t obvious. For example, my main character gets “special powers”, but they do not cause the adventure and at the end she still can’t use them without getting a head ache or passing out. One of those moments when you think “Wow, I’m really awesome at this!” then realize you aren’t.

  33. Ha! #6 is pretty true, unfortunately. I want to write what I guess you could call a spoof of a Gothic romance for my second book (nothing official yet, just playing around with ideas), and I’m going to be using all those traditional characters like the dark, mysterious bad-boy character, so hopefully people won’t hate me for using that ‘cliché’. But, seriously, amazing article! I really love your website. You have so many great things to say.
    P.S. Please excuse the fact that my website name is rather like yours. I had no idea your site existed when I made mine!

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