There will always be tropes, cliches, and stereotypes that I hate. There’s not much I can do about that, other than try to avoid writing them into my stories, and hope that others do the same.
In order to avoid writing them in the future, here are my 10 least favorite YA writing tropes, cliches, and stereotypes.
Just because there’s nothing I can really do about these tropes, doesn’t mean I won’t complain about them.
So here are 9 of my least favorite YA writing tropes:
1. “You’re not like other girls”
I cringe every time I see this in a book, or hear it in a movie or TV show, for a number of reasons.
First of all, it usually has sexist implications. This line is often said by male love interests to their female targets, as a way of showing romance. But what it actually does is tell the female that she isn’t stereotypically feminine or one dimensional and is therefore better than other girls.
It’s basically the same as the male saying, “You’re more human than I expected you to be.”
I see this implication most often in stories where the female MC judges other female characters for taking an interest in feminine or popular things, and it just serves to confirm that the meaning of that ‘romantic’ line is a sexist one.
Just because something is feminine or popular, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Teaching young girls through these kinds of stories that it’s okay to superficially judge people based on harmless interests or style choices (like fashion and wearing literally any makeup) is wrong, and can lead to bullying.
Secondly, I hate that line because I find it in stories with flat female characters.
Do you want to write dimensional female characters? Give them personalities, goals, motivations, and fears.
There’s only one exception that I can think of, in which I actually like this cliche:
When it’s used to show that the male love interest is uninformed about others around him, making it into a point of character development and growth.
2. Controlling Love Interests
Another ‘romantic’ trope I hate are the controlling love interests.
Especially if that controlling behavior is being romanticized and shown as healthy.
It’s normal in relationships, especially at the beginnings of ones, that there will be some competition for a bit of control. But if person A in a relationship completely takes over the life of person B, then that’s abuse, not romance.
This is especially true if person A in the relationship is determining who and who isn’t allowed to interact with person B.
It’s an emotionally manipulative tactic that prevents person B from having anyone to turn to for support, allowing person A to exert more power and control over person B’s well being and personal life.
That’s why I hate this trope, because it’s teaching young and impressionable readers that abusive behavior is romantic, while in reality, it’s toxic.
3. ‘Worldly’ Characters
I understand why this is common in YA, because many teenagers see themselves as being worldly, wise, and mature, even if they’re not (myself included). After all, teenage-hood is for many a time of growth and maturing, as well as exploring world views and thoughts on reality.
It makes sense that writers would represent this period of growth by adding characters who make worldly observations.
Part of the problem is that so many of these observations are either:
- fairly obvious
- romanticize things that shouldn’t be romanticized
One of the common observations that I see many YA characters make is the one where they realize that everyone’s weird, has quirks, personalities, and lives as complex as their own.
This observation is presented as insightful, when in reality it’s already being taught to us as children.
Then there are the observations that are completely false.
The opposite of the characters who observe that others are just as weird and complex as they are, there are also characters who wholeheartedly believe that they are the only ones with flaws and complex lives, and are treated as if they’re so mature for their age for having this observation.
Lastly, my least favorite characterization of this trope is when people are portrayed as wise and mature for romanticizing things like depression, suicide, and abusive behaviors.
Teenagers are the target audience of these books, and a teenager’s brain is very impressionable.
Teaching these minds that suicide, depression, and abusive behaviors are romantic and beautiful can be very harmful and lead to lasting psychological issues. Especially since most parents don’t address these issues with their children, so teenagers are learning about these things through the media they’re consuming.
4. Motivation-less Sidekicks
All good characters should have motivations and goals, and this includes sidekicks.
I’m really tired of reading YA books where the MC’s (main character’s) best friend has no goals or motivation throughout the book, other than blindly serving the MC.
Don’t be afraid to give sidekicks their own goals and motivations that conflict with the MC’s goals and motivations. In fact if they do conflict it’ll lead to a more interesting story.
5. The Mean Jock
The mean jock is overused, especially if they’re bullying nerds because of their nerdiness.
In my experience of being a nerdy teenager, my weird geekiness is actually celebrated by my peers, and is largely considered to be acceptable.
While I don’t have any interest in sports or things similar to sports, I can still get along with those into sports and physical activity, because these interests are no longer seen as polar opposites on a hierarchical system.
Interests do still change how people bully and are bullied, but things have changed in the past couple of decades.
This is because social order and bullying is no longer as affected by how nerdy or sporty you are, but is determined more by your personality and how noticeably different you are from others your age (be it because of race, sexual orientation, illness/disability, etc.).
The tough jock who bullies the weird nerds is an overused cliche.
If you want to create conflict through bullying, try using different motivations for the characters, and if you haven’t been a teenager in awhile, ask actual teenagers what their social hierarchies are like.
6. The Mean but Pretty/Popular Girl
This cliche is similar to the previous one, but replace the tough jock and weird nerds with pretty/popular girls and shy girls.
Again, the social hierarchies that teenagers have now aren’t the same as they were a decade or two ago.
This trope especially becomes annoying when the only reason the pretty girl is mean is because the shy girl is a bit pretty too, but doesn’t realize it yet. It feels very superficial and places too much of a character’s value on their looks.
7. Outdated References and Slang Terms
Don’t try to make references or use slang in your YA novels, because by the time the book is out there and readers are buying it, the references are old and the slang is stale.
Even if you’re lucky and the reference somehow still works for most of your audience, the book still won’t age well.
Not many will know or care what yeet means 10 years down the line. Just have a character throw their empty drink can away without saying anything.
8. Boring/Average Looking MCs
Repeat after me:
“It’s okay to make your main character looks visually striking or appealing.”
Not every main character needs to be Plain Jane or Average Joe. You can let your characters have visual quirks, like heterochromia, hair dyed a bright color, strange clothing styles, etc.
It seems to be most common in romance, but there’s only so many times I can read an MC describe themselves as average or boring looking.
9. Blank Slate MCs
This goes hand in hand with the Plain Jane and Average Joe MCs. They can look visually distinctive and they can also have distinctive personalities!
In fact, I beg you to give your MCs strong and distinctive personalities.
Making your characters a blank slate so that reader’s will relate to them more easily doesn’t work. People relate to people, not cardboard cutouts.
What YA tropes do you hate?
If you enjoyed this post, or found it helpful, please leave a like, or share it on social media.
I publish blog posts every Wednesday on writing, so check back next week for some new content.