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Saturday, March 27, 2010

YA Cliches: Duck and Dodge

This is why READING is SO important for writers. It’s called research. Every innovative market does this. Fashion designers see what’s in and out of style; reinvent pieces from the past to make it Retro. Ad agencies research the trends in a specific market then promote accordingly. The same applies for writing. By doing this “Research” you can see what’s been overdone and what can be resurrected from the ashes as far as premise.

But most importantly you can see what’s been worked to death within the writing itself…


Since my genre is Paranormal YA, I’ll go with that. My research inspired me to use mythical creatures that not many people know about or have yet been addressed in YA fiction. As far as plot, I’ve noticed that the same formula appears in over a dozen YA books. The list goes as followed:

• The story opens with a hyco/emo poem/ bible passage/ journal entry/ famous quote

• The obscure prologue that tries to Tarantino its way back into the story somehow

• The handsome mystery guy that singles out the most boring character as his love interest

• The awkward classroom courtship

• The near death rescue by male lead

• The annoying best friend/sidekick who is only in the story to provide comic relief and make the main character smarter and more attractive by comparison.

• The beautiful/ popular girl in school who is mean to everyone

• The constant dreary weather

• The convenient absentee parents/ guardians

• The over-description on one person above the rest of the cast

• Telling that someone is attractive instead of allowing the reader to come to that conclusion for themselves

• The abuse of adjectives and over-analysis of trivial shit

• The lame references to mystery guy’s secret identity despite that knowledge being revealed on the book sleeve or book cover

• The “I’m dangerous for you but I can’t leave you alone” duplicity of the male lead

• The inexplicable need to use stalking as a sign of affection

• The inability to carry on a polite conversation or answer a simple question without a raised eyebrow and pointless intrigue

• The one-stop Google search that answers everything

• The marathon of stupid decisions that places the main character in danger

• The declaration of undying love that falls out of the sky
• The one-dimensional super villain who devises a drawn-out, grandiose means of destruction where a quick murder would suffice

I know, I know. I’ve pretty much summed up the entire YA section of the bookstore. These are just some things I have noticed reoccurring in these stories, and I make it a point to avoid them. And reading and seeing what those clichés are will minimize the risk of using them. I’m not saying any of the above items are evil by themselves, but COLLECTIVELY they become trite and eye-rolling obnoxious. Not ALL cliché’s are bad, but just like any other crutch, it becomes a hindrance and can debilitate if abused.

Everything is good in moderation. Write responsibly.


  1. This is a great and amusing post. Well down on pulling together the list of cliches. You've given some good advice here on the moderation, that people should consider it.

    I need to go do my research in the genres.

  2. Great post and hilarious (and so, so true) list! *bookmarks list*

    Reading should be mandatory for writers (most of whom, I'm sure, are already readers anyway). It's the only way to avoid writing the same thing million others have already written.

  3. I LOVE these! HAHA I'm with you that after a while you read them, and they all just sort of POP OUT at you :)

  4. Fabulous list and soooooo true! I'm glad you mentioned "The inexplicable need to use stalking as a sign of affection." When you think about it...this would freak the hell out of most girls, no matter how good-looking the guy is. Stalking = bad! In real life, AND in fiction!
    Thanks for the post! :o)

  5. Oh man, this had me in splits. Great post. Definitely cliches to be avoided!
    The repitition's getting so tiresome


  6. great post. this made me laugh but at the same time, it's soooo right on.

  7. This is just awesome. And so true. Glad I cut my MC's google search at the climax of my book!

  8. A great Sunday morning read, so true and well laid out. Funny how these cliches are easy to see but hard for writers to ignore. I take most of the cliches and turn them around and I say most as Erin is right stalking is just down right creepy!

  9. That list is hysterical :) I can identify several books without even thinking about it! Fun stuff :)

  10. Best post I've read in a while. For reals: cliches need not apply to paranormal YA. Save a reader's life and pass it on.

  11. I want to take your post and write a story that does the exact opposite of everything you've mentioned...I'm just not sure if it would be any good? interesting post though, definitely food for thought :)

  12. I think that's her point, though...all these elements are totally fine on their own, but when used collectively, they begin to fit a cookie cutter profile of what people have seen as YA...I like seeing manuscripts from people who think outside the box :)

  13. Thanks for the smile. I'm sure there are more, but I, at least, am thankful my darlings didn't make the list.

  14. This is like a summary of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

  15. Oddly enough, the list is based on 6 books that were published AFTER Twilight. Make of that what you will.

  16. I'm not surprised. Aspiring writers tend to read in their genres and whether consciously or not, imitate what's working. And I'm so glad, Jaime, that you did the research :) I just posted about what makes great characters recently: and I'm quite sad I turn the phrase: "The inexplicable need to use stalking as a sign of affection." I see SO much of that in the books I edit!

  17. Cracks me up...but maybe I should go back and look at my MS...LOL!

  18. Traveled over here from YA highway. Great post! Some thoughts on this one:

    • The convenient absentee parents/ guardians

    This is actually a trope that touches most literature for children, not just YA. I took some children's lit graduate courses, and we discussed the orphan/essentially-orphaned child cliche quite a bit. In a way, it's just necessary for many of these plots to occur. Even when we're talking paranormal romance and not, say, middle grade adventure with the heroes traveling the world unsupervised. Think Twilight: most parents would be much more concerned and even intercede more directly than Charlie's half-hearted attempts at grounding his daughter. And then we wouldn't have a book. Yeah, it's convenient--but it also might be necessary.

    Something else we discussed was how this offers an opportunity at wish fulfillment. Dispense with the parents, and by the end of the story, you can learn that you're really royalty, or the son of the greatest wizards EVAH or an alien or whatever. What kid doesn't dream about that?

  19. You used Tarentino as a verb. I will now follow you anywhere online :)
    Seriously though, great post~can't wait to read more.
    PS:I went to VCU too...well, for a couple years in the 90s, before i went on my own soul-search. never found it; now languishing in Gloucester County, but frequent RVA visitor.

  20. Great post that had me thinking...oh crap.

  21. I linked your blog on my blog, there's been a lot of talk on this subject this week.

  22. Thanks - this is an interesting post. I've, lately been wondering about cliches in YA novels - though not of the situational kind. Though there is as slight difference in what we're thinking about, it is interesting to think about cliches on both sides of the spectrum: the situational and the expressive.

  23. what's so bad about being or using cliche? I mean you read the books didn't you? Obviously it works!! Btw, u forgot to mention annoying/ignorant/clumsy/infuriatingly naive/tortured(as if we are not)/ innocent/average looking/low profile but quite selfish, as it ends up to be, heroine. and yet there are 2 or even more guys that care about her, while she lives her own drama picking up one! plus whats up with the ignorance and disbelief? u r a ya book fictional character for heavens sake! the guy you like is pale, cold (literally), he avoids sunlight and seems ready to bite you how high must your IQ level be to realise he's a freaking vampire? he glows?then he is a fairy! he is missing at the end of the month when there is moonlight? then he is a werewolf!a stray or wild animal has come to you after you just met the new transferred haughty of your school and boy of your dreams, and its eyes look familiar? Hold on, here it comes... its him! he is a shapeshifter and probably a dreamcrasher too! Surprised? and the list goes on with the bitter lines coming from the mouth of the hero/main interest of the heroine, to her, while he is trying to stay away because he is dangerous, that goes like ''you really thought that a guy like me would ever be interested to someone like you? I never cared for u, you were a mere game to pass my time'' etc. Funny though how those words fit better to the picture and seem more true than the others in the script, well they definitely make more sense! 2 more advices before I start my own blog in here,1 stop mixing up werewolfs-lycanthropous with people who can turn into fully wolves, even if by doing it they look more with bears in size. And 2, why do all the heroines just have to be such devastating idiots? not caring about their friends or boyfriends feelings, falling in traps again & again and waiting to be rescued, complaining over and over again about the current situation they're in without doing anything about it,make a choise already, don't waste our time woman! Stop making them so victimlike and finally, give them some good humorous and smart lines to astonish their guys and friends or to put their rivals back to their place, no matter how shocking they might sound. I think we all had enough with the shy slow and stupid answers and observations they make every time their talking (or not talking, just sticking to the vowels) to the person they a little more dynamic, but not bitchy please! thanks. good post btw! Very inspiring! too bad, as I've noticed, that now all I can think of is a story that concludes all of those parts you pointed out! You've ruined me! thanks a lot! ;p

  24. Okay, I'm pretty sure you just desribed Twilight. And possibly Evermore.

  25. You're hilarious.. and so on point.

  26. Does this seem cliche? Okay, so, my MC falls in love with a bad boy, but not despite her best instincts since she's never been in true love before. The bad boy is actually tricking her to get information about her, but she has no clue that this is going on. The bad boy then ditches her and she goes through the break-up phase and is super depressed since she was head-over-heels for this dude. So--her father died a few months before this, just a side note--she closes up.
    Also, the bad boy isn't really a bad guy in the beginning, he's actually funny and sweet (to decieve her), bu later in their relationship, he starts to act a little jerky. I want to make the readers love him, then distance themselves from him when he starts to act snotty, but still be heartbroken when he betrays her.
    There's also this other guy (UGH, this seems so cliche already!) who was her friend who she met around the same time as the bad boy, and they're kind of friends, but not really. So, the other guy becomes her REAL love interest (there's no love triangle. she was already broken up when he gets in the picture), but I don't know how to make the transition from the bad boy to her friend with out it seeming rushed? The bad boy had NO feelings for her, so, in the sequel, he won't be competing aganist the guy.

    Also, this isn't a romance novel. The love interests are mostly a subplot, which intertwines with the main plot (because of the bad guy stealing info). I know it seems like a romance, but it's more of a sciene fiction (but there's no rebellion or anything similar to that).

    Sorry, I think I typed too much, so if you missed my questions:
    1) Does what I wrote above seem cliche and how to fix it if it does seem that way?
    2) How to make a transition from bad guy to break-up phase to her friend?


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