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*
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.