Friday, May 8, 2015

7 Cliché Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop


Super attractive bad boys. Emotionally unavailable girls with a scarred past. An overload of angst. Love triangles. Jealousy. “My life sucks” mentality. Sound familiar? Yep. I just described the bulk of YA characters. 

In an attempt to create stories that teens can identify with, authors often end up writing characters that are so horribly inaccurate and stereotyped that it's almost funny. 

Almost. 

I don't know about you, but I'd rather shoot myself than wade through all of the angst-riddled, insecure, love-sick teen characters found in many YA novels. No wonder young adults don't read very much anymore.

I think it's time for writers to take a closer look at some of the generalization that goes on in YA fiction and hopefully make some changes. So here are a list of common clichés among YA characters, why they are completely off track, and why they really need to change.

1. The character that is full of “teen angst.” You know, the one that is always unhappy, thinks no one understands them, and is generally angry. That’s just angst, strictly a teenager thing that can be grown out of, right? Um, no. That is not “teen angst,” that is clinical depression. And it's not like teenagers are the only age group with clinical depression, but when was the last time you read about a character with “adult angst?” Yeah, me neither. Okay, so teens do go through major hormone changes that cause mood swings. But that is no excuse to create a character that is extremely volatile. Most real-life teenagers I know don’t alternately behave like a depressed Bruce Banner and then Hulk, so neither should YA characters. Unless, of course, you want your character to be seen as a jerk with no emotional control, in which case, teen angst is the way to go. 

2. The girl that’s pretty, but doesn’t realize it until a boy tells her so. There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I’m not really sure where to start. First of all, teen girls who are confident in themselves recognize that they are pretty, so it’s hilarious how many confident, strong, kick-ass heroines are confident in everything but their looks. If your intent is to create a strong female character, the last thing you should do is make her somebody whose confidence is dependent on someone else's thoughts about her physical appearance. And if your intent is to apply this scenario to an insecure female character, well, it’s going to take a LOT more than a single boy to make that girl realize her beauty.

3. Characters involved in love triangles. I think we can all agree that these are overused and, more often than not, misused. They are generally predictable, a failed attempt at raising the stakes, and 4 out of 5 times are frustrating and badly crafted. It's especially annoying when a triangle is dragged out into a series. Sure, there are good love triangles, but those don't happen very often, and even if they are well done, they are almost always unnecessary. Most writers think they can put a new spin on it, but it usually ends up going something like this: 

Plus, real-life teenagers don’t usually find themselves in the middle of dramatic love triangles, making it very unrealistic for them to be so commonplace in YA fiction. That being said, for the love of all that you hold dear on this good earth, no more love triangles unless you have a darn good reason to use one. Please

4. The Chosen One. These ones mainly show up in Fantasy novels. They have been chosen to save their world, their people, or the universe. But why them? They feel so unworthy. They’re not special. Other than having a prophecy made about them a million years ago, they’re just normal, slightly insecure, teenagers. I have an announcement to make about these characters: they are annoying. We all know they are going to man up and take on the challenge of being The Chosen One, so unless you are going to think outside of the box (like creating a character who is a little too excited about realizing he’s The Chosen One), don’t even go there.

5. The one with horrible parents. Can we stop with this already? 

6. The “strong” female character. Who is, in fact, a bit of a jerk and only looks strong because she’s surrounded by a bunch of wimpy guys. This one is becoming increasingly popular in YA fantasies and dystopians. Believe it or not, it is possible for a strong female and strong male personality to exist at the same time. Happens all the time among real teenagers. Yeah. Who knew?

7. The brooding bad boy. He looks like a super-model and has a very dark past. He’s no good for the female lead character, but she’s somehow drawn to his rude, secretive personality (or maybe just the fact that he’s cute). This kind of character shows up in almost all YA urban fiction and is usually part of a love triangle. Granted, there is a lot of potential for a character like this, but does he always have to be a love interest? No. So why diminish him by making him that slightly creepy wanna-be-boyfriend? 

As writers, we owe it to our readers to at least try to bring something new, or something old but well-done, to the table. Stop generalizing, examine clichés to see if they actually make sense before using them, and, above all else, when you start to write a love triangle, ask yourself: am I really going to be able to pull this off? 

What about you? Are there any cliché characters in YA fiction that drive you crazy? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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124 comments:

  1. How about the girl/ boy who falls deeply in love with a guy after a life-changing five minutes of conversation? Or those flawless characters who don't have time to doubt, hesitate, wonder or go wrong, because they're too busy being amazing? LOL, Hannah, I love this post. So sad and true.

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    1. Oh my gosh, you're right. Instant love is so annoying. I blame it on Disney. =)

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    2. Tiffany FaulknerMay 2, 2016 at 11:00 AM

      I blame Shakespeare. Just saying... Romeo and Juliet met, married, and died in three days. :/

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    3. I agree mostly- but the reality is young teens, girls especially,fall fast and hard for "their love of a life time" and of course he is different/she/he is different-more mature. We know it is infatuation. I think we should be creating strong girl and female mentors to demonstrate recovery from heart break, ridicule from others and life-long decisions and consequences come out of these relationships. Also, a vampire that can kill you one way versus a were wolf that can accidentally scar or kill you is not romantic in real life. And being strong means knowing how to get the knowledge or help you need is strength. Also, a good decision could have bumps in the road. Also, to learn endurance problems might take longer than a movie to solve and life will be sweet again. Im a healthcare worker. Attempted, but failed suicides, leave impulsuve teens paralyzed, mentally incapacitated, bed-ridden, incontinent on mechanical ventilation, and enteral feedings. But generally we only hear about "successful" suicide attempts. I hope someone is able to discern the new way we could handle the repetitive onslaught of YA themes.

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    4. I agree mostly- but the reality is young teens, girls especially,fall fast and hard for "their love of a life time" and of course he is different/she/he is different-more mature. We know it is infatuation. I think we should be creating strong girl and female mentors to demonstrate recovery from heart break, ridicule from others and life-long decisions and consequences come out of these relationships. Also, a vampire that can kill you one way versus a were wolf that can accidentally scar or kill you is not romantic in real life. And being strong means knowing how to get the knowledge or help you need is strength. Also, a good decision could have bumps in the road. Also, to learn endurance problems might take longer than a movie to solve and life will be sweet again. Im a healthcare worker. Attempted, but failed suicides, leave impulsuve teens paralyzed, mentally incapacitated, bed-ridden, incontinent on mechanical ventilation, and enteral feedings. But generally we only hear about "successful" suicide attempts. I hope someone is able to discern the new way we could handle the repetitive onslaught of YA themes.

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  2. I totally agree with your sentiment. These are over used and miss used aspects of storytelling. I think some people are too busy typing out quantity instead of quality.

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    1. Yes. It's interesting that you would mention the quantity instead of quality. I recently started reading flash fiction and was amazing at how talented some of those writers are. They can fit endless imagination and quality into so few words. Many writers, myself included, should take lessons from them. =) Thanks for reading!

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    2. Flash fiction is a great way to get young adults to start writing also. It is something which I get the students in my creative writing club to work with.

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  3. YES YES YES. So accurate! #2 and #6 especially get under my skin. Why can't we have a heroine who is confident in her looks? And #6... So many of these tough, bad ass heroines are just mean! It's really hard to like a character who treats everyone else like crap. That doesn't make you strong in my opinion. Excellent post :D

    -Kaitlin

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    1. Haha! I'm glad this post struck home with you, Kaitlin. I'm also not a fan of the 'mean strong girls.' As Cinderella would say, "Have courage and be kind." That's the key to strength. =)

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    2. I completely agree with you. Tough, bad-ass, jerk heroines make me want to throw books through a window.

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    3. Ikr, I just can never stand the rude, bratty "strong" female characters in YA fiction. Frozen by Erin Bowman and Teresa from Maze Runner are big examples. Yelling at the guys rlly doesn't make you strong AT ALL, it just makes you appear insecure. I mean, you can be a strong female and still cooperate with males, lol, its not like the two are mutually exclusive. I also can't stand the meek "strong" female, who decides to become bold and assertive at convenient moments, but then goes back to the shy and uncomfortable newbie. I'm looking at you Divergent. Ughh I don't even know why I bother reading.

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  4. Augh, yes, yes, yes, and yes. I so agree. Excellent post, Hannah!!

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    1. Haha! If it works with the story and has a point, I'm sure it'll be okay. =)

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  6. I loved this article! Thank you so much for providing it. I recently published my first novel and after reading this list I realized that on a subconscious level I was fight against almost every one of these points. I wish I had of had a more conscious awareness at the time of writing as I probably could have strengthened some of threads that were countering the above points. I'm going to be re-reading my book through these eyes to see how I did (and how I can do better in book 2)! I would enjoy some feedback from others as to how they feel I did and where I could have strengthened things. The first book is Dreams of Beautiful Whisper and you can contact me through my website if you're interested http://tanyajones.ca - I can provide an ePub or Mobi file. Thank you again for providing this article, very useful!

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    1. That's so cool to hear! It's interesting how authors often subconsciously put their beliefs into their writing. I have a whole pile of books to read right now, but I'll definitely contact you when I have the chance to read yours. I just checked out the synopsis and it looks good. I'm a fan of elves. =) Btw, beautiful cover! Best of luck with book 2!

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    2. Tanya how did you publish your book? I would maybe like to read it.

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  8. I'm totally with You on all of these points. Great post.
    Thankfully not all YA fiction follows these boring trends.
    The Doomsday Kids series by Karyn Folan sets a fantastic example by featuring one of the most diverse range of teenage characters that You could hope for.
    The kids in these books are from all ethnic backgrounds, religions, sexualities and physical appearance.
    They are also just excellent, fast-paced, emotionally driven stories with lot of twists and turns in an exciting story. You would be hard pushed to find a better young adult series right now.
    http://thedoomsdaykids.com/wp/

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    1. I've actually never heard of that series before, but I will now go check it out. It sounds very interesting. Thank you for the suggestion, Sarah!

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    2. The Gone series is good too-- each character is well-developed (and there are quite a few, since it's basically third- person omniscient) and while it is generally acknowledged that one of them is the "hero", several of them become prominent and vital to the group's function

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    3. Cool! I just looked it up and it seems interesting. Hopefully my library has it. =) Thanks!

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    4. I think I may have heard of that series. I should read them, but lately I have been in more of a writing than reading mood. what is the series about and how many books?

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  9. The characters that are overly confident and seems to be just perfect also know as the popular kids. The characters where two people hate each others guts but turn around and realize they are deeply in love with each other at the end.

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    1. Ah. That second one drives me crazy, too.

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    2. Yeah, there's this new book, Crossing the Line by Meghan Rogers, that has that second cliché. It also has clichés 1,2,5,6, and 7. Dead mother, father ran away, relatively attractive but we don't know until guy points it out, rude to males, future of the world rests on her shoulder. And guess what, it also has to have a sequel. I don't think I'll be picking it up.

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  10. I was reading bad boy stories on Wattpad and got annoyed at how predictable and cliché they were so I decided to write my own.

    My "bad boy" is not some muscle attractive "sex god" instead he is short and scrawny. He doesn't drink or take drugs. He is not a player. Everyone sees he as being a bad boys because he is a loner and very anti-social. His anti social behaviour actually comes from him having high functioning autism as well as being a victim of both sexual and physical violence from his parents. Trauma that he does get go away overnight. This trauma and his autistic tendencies make him hate physical contact of any kind.
    My bad boy isn't even a bad boy at all, he is a good person who has gone through some horrible experiences.

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    1. Your character sounds very interesting. I think it's great that you are giving him a clear reason for being the way he is, rather than just throwing him out there. Also, good for you, writing an autistic character! That must be difficult, but it's so important to tell the stories of people who struggle with problems like that. Thanks for the comment!

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    2. My idea guy-type isn't a muscle-bound sex good either. I prefer the tall and lanky guys with a good sense of humor. I think some authors miss out on the fact that an imperfect character is usually more sexy because they're more realistic. I'm entirely too tired of all of the Christian Grays out there, ugh.

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    3. My bad boy character is tall, skinny and middle eastern. He's a foster kid who used to have a problem with drugs and alcohol due to his former foster brother being a terrible influence. Throughout the story he is mostly friendly, excitable, a good student and somewhat religious. I like to think I mostly avoided cliches with him, he drives a van instead of a motorcycle for one.

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    4. it is true that kids with autism can be born into a bad family. sometimes people do not know how to help them. to get attention or due to depression some take drugs, do alcohol etc., but this can involve all teenagers not only ones with disabilities. I like your story idea, but sadly the clichés are some peoples favorite things when it comes to reading usually.

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  11. I know that many teens are growing up in dysfunctional homes, but there are many who come from healthy families. Books like Wonder and The Running Dream are outstanding and feature kids whose lives are filled with struggles but who have the love and support of intact families.

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    1. Exactly! I understand that many teens come from messed up situations, but that shouldn't make them the default home life that writer's fall back on. I've never read either of those books, but I'll have to check them out. I love it when characters have good families.

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  12. I agree with this article for the most part, though I do feel that some of these things are okay so long as they have a reason for being there. And so long as they aren't overworked. A love-triangle is usually an author's go-to for a quick conflict fix. I also think they do it because they want their female protagonist to be the center of attention and they think that's the best/only way to do it. I admit that I do have a triangle going on in the book I'm presently writing, but I DO have a good reason for it, and I don't intend on changing it because the resolution of said triangle sets the stage for the second book.

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    1. Very good point. Love-triangles can be very interesting as long as they aren't just thrown in there for the sake of being there. Sounds like you've got yours under control. Good for you! Glad you enjoyed the list. Happy writing!

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  13. Ouch, yes. I've basically given up reading YA fiction because it's so predictable and because I find cliches super annoying. Thank you for this list; it's perfect!

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  14. Reading the comment about insta love made me think of a comment I got for my first book. I started a trilogy with it and want to have the two main characters develop their relationship through the three books. And after reading the first book a reader complained about them not having found each other yet.

    It is not only the writer pushing out the story towards insta love. It also is in many cases the reader expecting that. I personally love more realistic timeframes. There might be an insta-attraction, but love, hell no lol

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    1. Great point, Jessica! Writers, readers, and publishers all form a sort of awkward writing triangle, don't they? But good for you, thinking ahead and deciding to go the more natural, 'develop love over time' route. =)

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  15. Personally, I LOVE strong heroines that realize they aren't as strong as the hero. Newsflash: girls are not as strong as guys. I LOVE damsels in distress; but how about the kind that are strong, skilled warriors that just aren't strong enough? And that's when the hero comes in and HELPS. Not defeats the dragon all by himself, but distracts the dragon and then the two fight together and beat the dragon. Please...someone write this.

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    1. YES. Same here. There's nothing wrong with a little team action or realizing that you just aren't strong enough to do it on your own. That goes for both male and female characters. =)

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    2. I love it when the guy(s) and girl(s) team up to take down the baddie. While watching each others' backs, of course. :)

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  16. GREAT POST! I agree all the way! And here is a fairly new YA book that has none of those stereotypes: www.amazon.com/dp/B00CM1V9VE Milestones, by Wylee Carter

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  17. LOVE THIS! Haha! I was laughing to myself all the way through!

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  18. What annoys me the most is seeing conversations where all the characters sound the same. I read this in The Selection where the guy characters sounded more girly and don't even get me started on the main character in that book! Ugh! More Laini Taylor please - all epic characters (no love triangles), world building, imagery, plot etc.
    I have a love triangle in mine, but one of the love interests is more centered around stockholm syndrome due to the theme of my book which is sex trafficking. And by the end of book two, my character fully knows which one she wants. My character is also too preoccupied with things going on around her like people dying around her and threats on her life and and her body as well as trying to find her family to be too concerned with the state of her romance life :-P
    Just got picked up by ZSH Literary out of New York/Boston :-)

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    1. Sounds like you have a realistic love triangle going on, Emily. I love that she spends more time focusing on saving herself than being concerned about her romance. Wish more books did that. =) Go you! That must be excited to get picked up by a literary agent! Best of luck to you!

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  19. I'm guilty of number four, HOWEVER I have made it ever so slightly different where he absolutely loves being the chosen one. He has been kidnapped and held prison for years, tortured and devalued, so when it is revealed he is a reincarnation of Arthur he loves it! Is that okay?

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    1. Yep, that's totally OK. It sounds like a cool story and your angle on the Chosen One sounds super fun! Keep up the awesome work.

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  20. #3 Should read "characters" not "character's" - sorry to be pedantic!

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    1. *slaps forehead* Please don't apologize. You are totally right, it should be. Thank you so much for pointing that out! I appreciate it.

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  21. One word: ARCHERY. So hard to resist from Baddass Archer

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  22. I can kind of relate to the girl from 2, since having bad body image is a relatable thing for most girls, though one boy telling her she's pretty and her then knowing she is isn't realistic. (It would be more realistic to have her just realize her looks don't matter to the one guy who does matter.)
    I completely agree with 3. The love triangles, in my view, are rarely done right. The one case I saw that was interesting was where the girl didn't love both guys, but marrying one would bring in a bunch of new allies, so she was torn between duty and love. One thing to remember is that even if the MC likes both guys, the reader likely won't.
    6 can be overdone, though I haven't seen too many cases where all the guys were weak. I thought Enclave managed to pull off the strong female well by having strong males as well. Even though the second book took place in a society of weaker males, the MC's two guy friends were strong.

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    1. I've been wanting to read Enclave, but haven't quite gotten around to it. Now I'm going to have to bump it up in my TBR list. Looks like fun! Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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    2. It was pretty good. Another thing about the main character was she wasn't completely opposed to "girly" things if she wasn't in the middle of a battle.

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  23. Ha! And I thought I was cliche when writing YA stories. It's funny, really. I'm currently writing a story about a young adult (well, he's 19) who hates cliches. So in irony, I think this article would really please him! I love it :D

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    1. Lol! That sounds like a fun character to write! Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  25. I'm a teen and I agree that all these should go BUT I am guilty of 4 and 5.

    My character's bad parents are NOT for angst (Thank Goodness) but as a reason for her anti-hero personality and grey morality. AND for her skills as an assassin (former-ish).

    I need them also as reason for her leaving her home to protect her 4 year old sister whom she brought along with her because she couldn't allow the same to happen to her. But she left her brothers behind (who are 19-25, it's fantasy so they're still there) which is where her guilt stems from.

    Plus, my character is the "Chosen Villian", the "Chosen One" is trying to locate and defeat her before she can restore an evil spirit/god (depends on which in-world religion is referenced to) and corrupt the world (which she isn't interested in doing).

    Her only interest is to protect her sister, raise her in a normal setting, and gain control of her own powers and help her sister control hers as well. (Who [the sister] ends up being more "Chosen One" than the other "Chosen One")

    Wow, okay. So my former royal, anti-hero, assassin "villian" with uncontrollable black magic is protecting her mega "light of the world" magic sister who has more power than both of the "Chosens" while unknowingly being tracked by a "hero" who is out to destroy her because she may release an evil god.

    Too complicated? It's a pentology so maybe that eases the transition some.

    Lol, sorry. On a related note: maybe #8 should be: Irresistible Female Protagonist-this is the character everyone instantaneously falls for despite quirks and personality (or lack thereof). Case point: Bella "Blank Slate" Swan from Stalker, Glitter Boyfriend with Extra-Pale on the Side.

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    1. My apologies for my late response. I just saw this comment and am completely fascinated with your story idea. The idea of two Chosen Ones, along with a "Chosen Villain" is amazing. I would love to read a story like that. I'm over here drooling on my keyboard. =) Keep up the awesome work!

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    2. Have you read Un Lun Dun by China Mieville? The girl who was supposed to be the Chosen One doesn't work out, and then the girl who was supposed to be the sidekick ends up saving the day.

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  26. One cliche that seems to appear quite often is where the main character is a normal person until they meet some person/people that cause them to have a completely different personality. This would cause them to become the most irritating person possible.

    Other things I find quite cliche:
    -Character does not know when to not yell profanity and things that would normally get people to instantly hate you (like to a kidnapper or to a stranger).
    -Tickle fights.
    -The "I love you too" when a person is angry at them and similar phrases.
    -Falling in love with the kidnapper or bully (there most likely are some more serious issues going on if this happens).
    -Suddenly having the main character's most hated person suddenly care/befriend them after the main character gets injured in a similar way that reminds the hating character of a tragic incident of their past.
    -bad boy/good girl cliches where the good person loses just about every one of their morals in a short time frame.
    -The 'good' girl gets pregnant with the 'bad' guy and every guy seems to be lining up to be with her.
    -The main character gives in to a friend's begging. Honestly, this just makes the main character look like they don't have any morals or a sense of judgement at all.

    I believe this is overused far too much, and I seem to be instantly repulsed by these things. These make an author look like they put personal comebacks in their stories instead of putting them in the right places. The first thing that comes to mind when I come across one of these is that there better be a good reason for it to be there because it is overused.

    Sometimes I feel like I am the only one that thinks this because these are one of the easiest books to find.

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  27. I agree that the love triangles are getting boring ("Getting?" No, for me, they always were) The chosen one works great for stories like Lord of the Rings, but like you said, it's so common we know what the process there is going to be (Love the idea of being over-eager about it!)

    Now, when it comes down to the teenage character, tons of angst, insecurity, anger, and confusion sounds like a normal teen. Okay, maybe not completely normal, but it's all an influx of the teenage experience, which is, I think, one of the many things YA should strive to capture. The reason teens tend to have a hard time with these things is because they are new aspects of their life introduced biologically, emotionally, mentally, and through society. They're all pouring out of an entirely new universe a teen could never have conceptualized a few months before it hits. I remember being so pissed off as a kid because I was certain that I was the only one suffering as bad as me (Chosen one syndrome) The character may or may not feel the same way as I did, but honestly, that doesn't matter. What matters is how the character resonates with the reader. Since a story is built up 100% in the reader's head, there is an emotional connection there that is, essentially, no different than looking in a mirror. We feel what the character feels in ourselves, and it was at times like these that I could shout "Finally! Someone GETS it!" All of those emotions I was dealing with seemed to weigh a thousand tons compared to other people's (who I now know were feeling the same), so seeing these emotions expressed just as dramatically was like a sigh of relief.

    As for physical insecurity...I was talking to one of my friends just a few hours ago. She's one hell of a bad ass like you'd never seen, and she knows it, but she thinks she's ugly (She's also 27. This is a blight in our mentality that drags on from before we even are teenagers) Trust me, this chick just as booming as she is bad ass. She has an immense amount of confidence in every aspect of her life except for her looks, because, as she said, "I was never the pretty one growing up." I agree that having to have the boy you like tell you you're beautiful to believe it is kind of lame. But, in real life, when you're crushing hard on a guy, you become vulnerable. No matter how confident you are, insecurities you never knew you had might rise up to the surface, and having that boy tell you your beautiful, that packs more punch than Armageddon. BUT! (In my experience) That only works if it's a guy you're crushing on. If it's a boy you're already in a romantic relationship with, it barely means a damn thing (whether it's true or not)

    What all these things have in common is the context in which you use them. If a character is nothing but a whiny bitch because that's what the author thinks emotional turmoil looks like, yeah, putting the book down. If the character is responding to his environment in a way that moves the story further, then these intense emotions can be a major tool. The same goes for the brooding bad boy and strong heroine—hell, even the love triangle. As long as it has purpose, and isn't just a cheap gimmick to ride the coat tails of other, successful stories, then I say go for it! Stories are like paintings, and the elements that build them are like the paints. As long as you mix them and apply them in the way to show YOUR picture, it doesn't matter if someone's used the color before.

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  28. I'm fed up with the "I'll do this now because I look brave and courageous when in fact everyone will realise afterwards what a stupid idea it was". I just spend the entire time banging my head on the table. Can we not have a rational hero/ heroine?

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  29. To be frankly honest, the second cliche would be a good way to establish a villian out of the single boy that tells her she's beautiful.I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but my audience seemed to enjoy it when I used that technique with that cliche.

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  30. Sometimes there are good books that have similarities to these cliches. The author Tamora Pierce has strong female and male characters. She is my favorite author

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  31. I find there are a few clichés in Kelley Armstrong's darkest powers series mentioned here, but for some reason (for the most part) they seemed natural and not annoying, for example, spoiler alert, there's a love triangle which yeah I think 'ugh' to, but I actually liked this one. The girl had feelings for 2 guys yes, but the relationship was more like this: One guy= popular, cute, sweet, funny, but maybe more like a brother than a boyfriend and he likes her too... then the other guy= at 1st seems rude, dark, grumpy, violent, strong but as she helps him at his weakest point when anyone else would be terrified, a deeper connection forms between them. He still gets mad at her, they fight, but they're both trying to protect each other... but the thing is the two love interests don't hate each other. They're brothers and they've depended on each other's help for surviving in this world for years. They're like best friends and they each want the other to be happy, they each want the other to get the girl.*spoiler* And the thing is, the obvious choice for the popular 'flighty blond' is the popular guy, but when he actually asks her out, she's so happy, yet there are no 'sparks' and he's the one who points it out, he's the one who knows what she really wants, and he forgives his brother, he's fine, they're fine, and I love the dark guy too... so yeah I'd recommend The Darkest Powers to read, obviously not for the whole love triangle, but it gives really diverse teen voices and although it starts out slow, it really grips the reader by the end of the first book. Although warning: some of the main heroines outbursts against other characters, I find uncalled for and annoyingly dumb... but the rest is awesome.

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  32. You've got a lot of really good points here, but I'd like to point out, really? Horrible parents? That entire concept is too cliché? Everything else on the list is a specific scenario that happens over and over again, while this is more like saying "Don't write girls with blond hair and blue eyes." Yes, it is used way too often, yes, it is often pointless, but you can't write off that large a portion of reality. That's another problem with that suggestion. Horrible parents are a part of reality. There are plenty of people with lousy parents. We need to think hard about what we're doing and why we give them this past/setting, but there's no reason to remove it from our writing entirely.

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    1. I understand that there are lots of bad parents out there. However, not all "bad parents" are completely bad, which seems to be a current trend in fiction. Also, there are lots of great parents, too, so why not try to reflect that in books rather than completely ignoring it? I don't think we should removing bad parents from fiction, but it should not be our go to. We also shouldn't be removing good parents. Balance. That's what's needed.

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    2. Well, yea not entirely. But its that almost every ya book has shitty parents or separated/dead parents as a way to just get the adults, parents, and authorities out of the way, so the kids can easily "save the world" on their own. Its not to discuss the hardship of having a broken, abusive family. What YA protagonist has un-abusive alive parents who are together? Most teenagers' parents are un-abusive and alive I hope. Although, divorce rates have been going up.

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    3. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with writing bad parents, but I do think there are two key things to ask:

      1. Why am I giving the protagonist bad parents? Does this serve a deeper purpose, or is it just to get the authority figures out of the way? When done well, bad parents can provide a lot of insight into deeply flawed protagonist. When done poorly, they're just a lazy trope that detracts from the main story.

      2. Are these bad parents "real people", or are they just stock villains? This is where reality comes into play--there are many shades of grey, and there's a massive spectrum between "Protagonist has awesome, loving, supportive parents who are always super reasonable and understanding" and "Protagonist has horrible, evil parents who intentionally set out to destroy their child". The latter does, unfortunately exist, but thankfully, it's extremely rare. Most parents, even deeply dysfunctional ones, DO love and care about their children!

      If you're going to write "bad parents", try to make them realistic, fully rounded individuals. Think about their motivations. Think about their own families of origin. Think about their own traumas. Think about both their strengths and weaknesses--just because say, Mom is overly harsh and closed minded doesn't mean she isn't right about some things, and just because Dad is a physically abusive drunk doesn't mean he won't help slay the dragon and/or pay for college (depending on genre). Family relationships are complicated, and there's no need to make parents either 100% awesome or 100% horrible. "Bad parents" are much more realistic and compelling if you give them some genuinely good moments (or at least bad moments caused by their good intentions gone awry).

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    4. My character's parents aren't bad necessarily, just very Christian. And I mean Southern "Christian". The type that are blatantly homophobic and don't want her hanging out with her non-white friends. The "I still love you but you will burn in hell" type of parents. Is this realistic?

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  33. You forgot one: No matter what, the bad boy always wins in the love triangle. I have not seen a single YA story in which the nice guy succeeds in getting the girl unless he's the protagonist, in which the two girls he has too choose from involve a nice and sweet one and the Devil herself. And even then, he always goes for the mean one.

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    1. I've read lots of books where the nice guy/girl wins out... The Selection trilogy for one? The girl Maxon chooses is way nicer than Celeste, who is beyond awful. This is just one of many examples btw.

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  34. In this story arc/series/something I'm writing, I'm making my lead character slowly become annoyed with the fact that they're slowly sinking into Mary Sue-dom.

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  35. One thing I always find annoying in ya (and many other books for that matter) is the pretty, skinny white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. I kid you not I read 4 different books in a row last month with the female leads having those same exact characteristics. Seriously, what's so wrong with making your characters have tan skin and brown eyes? The world is full with diversity and many different looking people. So why is that so hard to represent in ya? Are authors scared or something? I think it's time authors wrote books with characters of more than just one representation of race (and not just as the side character).
    Another thing I find that is used way too much in ya is sex, and the horrible misrepresentation of it. The ya books I buy usually have the age range of 12-16+, and no matter what the age range, there's always sex involved. I read a book once recommended for 14 year olds and the whole thing was basically a new adult novel, just with younger characters. There are also many situations in books like this that glorify situations that are basically harassment, and this gives many young girls a misconception of what's okay and what's not.

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    1. I think it also has to do with our culure. Skinny kids with blue eyes and straight, blonde or brown hair are just seen as more relatable and normal in American culture. And most authors want to use a skinny, middle-class "normal" protagonist, aka Harry Potter, Tris Prior, so they can do interesting things with the plot and the side characters (Dudley is fat and spoiled, Ron is a ginger and poor, Hermione has bushy hair and is muggle-born). I don't think authors are afraid, but this just makes their writing easier, which is why its so overused. I admire authors who are willing to take more of a risk by having a main character with curly hair or one who is fat, from a minority race.

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  36. I agree with this so much! I get rather passionate about topics like this because I did a lot of research about it.

    I wish those who did the abusive families would actually do the damn research into ALL the ways it really screws you over from top to very deep. ALL the different ways people can hook their claws into you without you knowing about it. Coincidentally not too different at the basis of abusive relationships too. Another thing that is FAR too common is actual warning sign, GLARING red flags everywhere, abusive relationships masquerading as a "tru wuv of the ages!" and thus making people extremely confused and thinking that those signs are simply "oh he just loves me THAT MUCH" and not a "HOLY HECK GET THE HECK OUTTA HERE NOW!" ... *facepalm and disgusted sigh*

    The more I research that for my book, the more horrified I get at how prevalent its depiction is in media of all kinds and how it's assumed to be "just the way things work" instead of a horribly abusive and traumatic dangerous as all heck situation. Ugh... I think less authors would slap on an "abusive family past WAAAAH" background for their characters if they just did some bloody research and seen what it REALLY does to people. This is not something to just mess around and go "tee hee oops!" if you get it wrong people! PLEASE do research before you go about giving this sort of thing to your characters. Please. ALL sort of research. All the words of the survivors that are found out there. If you have to read any one book, let it be "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft. Please.

    In any case one of my novels in progress deals with an abusive relationship and power imbalance between a Hunter and his prisoner, but the Hunter is also the recipient of an abusive dynamic with his corrupt superiors and is thus taking that and turning around and using it on his prisoner, who isn't taking his mess there and fighting back as much as he can to get free again. They have to navigate the winding broken road from that first hate-hate abusive dynamic, to eventually respect, and then finally (as the Hunter starts changing himself due to his inability to keep hurting someone he respects anymore and actually keeping to the long, hard road of change despite any backsliding moments) to like and appreciation, and then finally as they saved each other many times and the Hunter's proven himself many times over, they become friends and can then join forces against their mutual enemy, the Superiors. This takes place over the course of many books lol so it’s a very slow process that I think it’s worth it. :)

    Though I hope any readers of it won't mistake it as being number 6 of the bad boy because the prisoner noticed for a moment at the initial meeting the physical attractiveness of the Hunter (yes he's gay so what lol) but his hatred of the situation he was in and what the Hunter soon did to him never changed. The Hunter never noticed anything like that himself until he started respecting his captive for his fighting spirit and fighting ability, backing off, and started changing himself to get better and not like the corrupt superiors.

    At least I'm taking pains to show it as it really is, abusive and dangerous as all hell until the abuser decides to change it - and he HAS to decide to change it, because true change in people doesn't come about until the person themselves MAKE that choice to change and COMMIT to it to the very damn bitter end no matter the long, hard road to follow. You cannot "love" the abuser into being a good person. You can't. Your love just gives them more "validation" for their abusive behavior RIGHT NOW and makes it "more worth it" to CONTINUE to be that way to you. Another good point I'd like to make and have be known more often.

    Anyways sorry for the yabbering and the length of it! Thanks for the listing! Very good read and told me a lot of what I already know. :) <3 Over and out!

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    1. It's neat that you know exactly what problem it is that you want to accurately portray. I agree that a lot of people think, "Oh, abuse, that's a good backstory" and just slap it on without thinking about it too much. Abuse is a horrible thing and deserves more attention than that. So good for you, working to portray it in an accurate, helpful way!

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  37. Appreciated this. Halfway through writing a self-pubbed low fantasy series, and I'm trying to fight the trope of the Teflon protag, one who goes through horrible, traumatic experiences with basically no ill effects at all (emotionally, etc.). Gotta watch out for some of these, because it's easy to fall right into them.

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  38. "3. Characters involved in love triangles."
    Right. And they are so unneccessary, because EVERYONE including the girl! knows who she will end up anyway. Everyone, maybe except the loser. It doesn't conduct to suspense at all because it's so predictable. And imo it's always the wrong one the girl ends up with :(

    "6. The “strong” female character."
    There is more tell than show to this cliché anyway, at least in most stories I've read. The only one stronger than the "strong" female is usually the bad boy she'll end up with. When she gets to know him, she usually loses not only all her strenght, but all her characteristics and qualities entirely. The only thing defining the former "strong female" is the "love" and devotion for her bad boy.

    "7. The brooding bad boy."
    ... which the female lead usually follows around like a lost, lovesick puppy, regardless of his attitude towards her. He may insult her, abuse her, tell her to get lost, but she usually still follows him without any consequences.

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  39. "4. The Chosen One" a well done "chosen one" out of the box is Luke Skywalker vs. Kylo Ren where Luke has no idea who his past is etc. while Kylo is, well, the opposite: he wants the power of his grandfather, the "chosen one" ultimate opposite

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    1. Great comment, Merlia! I think these two characters were pretty neat examples of the chosen one: Anakin, too. They were each very different, unique spin offs of the same cliche. Love it! Thanks for pointing that out!

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  40. Hello, this is pretty interesting. I try my hardest to break those obnoxious cliches present in YA. In the novel I am currently working on there is no stereotypical romance. No beautiful girl who hides behind ugly clothes. I am trying to make it both interesting and realistic. There is a bad boy but he isn't bad in a lovable way. He is simply a horrible person. And unlike in many YA novels there isn't a strong female lead who starts falling over herself for a boyfriend. That works in some novels, like Marissa Meyer's "Cinder" but it is played out. This article helped confirm that

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  41. oops....hehehe. Anyway it confirmed that what I am doing, albeit unorthodox, is a good choice.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that you're working to break the cliches! That can take a bit longer that just going with the current trends, but it is very much worth it. Best of luck!

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  42. Im not even a big writer, but I love reading. One thing that is veey annoying is 1. The lack of diversity in books. It's very hard to find a person of color as a main character with an actually good development and 2. If there is a minority character, they are usually pretty stereotyped. Like the 'sassy and loud' black girl/woman trope is so annoying, or the the girl who just assumes she's bad at everything. I also hate the trope where a male character picks on a female character for "never having any fun!" And then she always gets all defensive. There are so oo many women who are really funny and relaxed. And the stereotype that all girls are always mean to other girls and really shallow. That's annoying too.

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    1. Right? Or like the gay character who wears pink leopard print jumpsuits to school?

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  43. I'm not necessarily aspiring to become a YA author but I enjoyed reading your tips and thank you for helping me on the right path. Currently 16 and I want to be able to write more professionally and avoid cliches.

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    1. I'm glad this was helpful to you! It's awesome that you are already looking for ways to avoid common writer pitfalls. You're already way ahead of the curve. =D Happy writing!

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  44. I'm a walking Mary Sue. I'm a tall, beautiful (with strange green eyes) woman who does karate and owns a gorgeous dancing stallion, speaks three language fluently, has an MA in science and is a published author. I did not know I was beautiful until I was 18, when I left home and met people who were not familiar with my accomplishments. It is possible to fall in love immediately. I met my husband on A Tuesday, agreed that we should be together forever two dates later, and now it's been 30 years. He's a tall, dashing, intelligent, architect who speaks four languages, teaches at a university, rides a motorcycle, and reads quantum physics and loves Murakami. Triangles happen all the time. And some adults are angsty, but its called grumpy or bitter at our age. Don't say "don't" to a writer, and especially not before you've even had your first book published!

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    1. Yes, but your life irritates me. When I say this, I mean I wouldn't want to read a book about someone like you. I want to read about someone who is vertically challenged, not rich, not pretty, not cishet, and/or doesn't experience "true love" until way after the book is over. I want to read about someone like me.

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  45. Trying to use my own experiences with depression for my main character, as both me and my older brother suffer from it. We are generally kind, and have fun or laugh, it's just....a muted feeling of joy if that makes sense? Like, a bright day with a thin veil of cloud that never goes away, just is patchy so the sun comes through sometimes?

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    1. That totally makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing! I think your description of patchy clouds is really helpful. Keep up the amazing work!

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  46. Loved these - your take on the examples I mean, not the actual tropes themselves. :) Another one that irritates me is the one where the teen hero has to be the patient, responsible adult of the household because their parents are flippin' useless. Y'know, all those extra responsibilities on top of saving the world/being the town's most attractive supernatural-being-magnet...

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    1. Ah. The useless parent. That is an unfortunately common occurrence in fiction. If used correctly, it can be heartrending, but usually it's just overdone and annoying. And I cracked up at your 'attractive supernatural-being-magnet.' =D So true!

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  47. All of these are so accurate! For number five, it can work if there is a good, well thought out reason that has importance in the plot later on. I hate the instant love thing. I once read a book where a girl met a boy and was in love in two days. I didn't finish the book. It's the same with a lot of books I see on wattpad.

    Another cliche I dislike is when the character learns to use their powers like a pro in an insane amount of time. It's way overused and it makes the story quite dull, as you don't see their ups and downs in learning throughout the story.

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    1. I agree about number 5. If done thoughtfully, it may end up working out.

      And yes, I love your inclusion of the instant pro trope! That one is annoying. Readers like to grow alongside of characters and watching them triumph over their struggles. The Instant Pro cliche robs them of that. Thanks for the great comment!

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  48. All of these are so accurate! For number five, it can work if there is a good, well thought out reason that has importance in the plot later on. I hate the instant love thing. I once read a book where a girl met a boy and was in love in two days. I didn't finish the book. It's the same with a lot of books I see on wattpad.

    Another cliche I dislike is when the character learns to use their powers like a pro in an insane amount of time. It's way overused and it makes the story quite dull, as you don't see their ups and downs in learning throughout the story.

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  49. While I love YA and am writing my own YA novel, I must admit all of these are true. This might be a slight personal gripe but I must admit there is another stereotype that irks me: the "good girl" female protagonist who never gets into trouble and just effortlessly makes straight As. I swear I have seen this too many times to count. Examples that I can recall include Alyson Noel's Immortal series and the Lux series by Jennifer Armentrout. As a reader and generally straight A and occasionally B student, I haven't always been able to achieve that sort of unrealistic perfection every semester and most students don't either, no matter how good of a student they are. I feel like high school is so unrealistically portrayed by YA authors sometimes. It just annoys me how unrealistically perfect but at the same time superficial characters like this are, all for the pursuit of pseudo perfection.

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    1. This comment cracked me up because it's also a gripe of mine. Highschool is so oddly portrayed in books. There is so much stereotyping going on, which is unfortunate and not at all helpful.

      I haven't read either of the series that you mentioned, but it is a problem I see cropping up all over the place. Thank you for pointing it out!

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  50. THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS

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    1. YOU ARE SO WELCOME! =D I'm glad you found it helpful.

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  51. I have an idea to write a novel with these clichés but with a twist and this was very helpful to jump start my ideas.

    I just want to say though... although I have to say love triangles are overused in YA novels I will definitely be using one because I'm currently in a love triangle. It's surprisingly common enough that it has happened to me and so it will go into my story. At least in my love triangle we are all friends and interestingly enough, all girls. (I think another cliché is that every single girl is straight and must ALWAYS end up with a guy)

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    1. I'm so glad this post helped you, Cass!

      I certainly think that love triangles can be done well. A few of my favorite books and TV series have some very good ones. If those writers can pull it off, I'm sure you can, too. =D Happy writing!

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  52. I don't agree. There is some brilliantly original and expertly crafted YA out there and I think it is you who is making generalisations. It is true that there are overused tropes (is this not true for all genres? Crime, for example, is often extremely formulaic), but please don't dismiss an entire genre based on what seems to be your own rather limited experience. YA is a genre that demands taut, gritty but often beautiful writing, tackling difficult and complex ideas and some YA books are the finest I've found. Don't generalise, do your research and don't make shock-horror, tabloid statements. They're not true.

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    1. Yes, there are some amazing writers out there which use these cliches in an amazing way, but there are also some which use the same pot over and over again, ruining the genre.

      I personally don't read much YA books, so I don't know about them. I do however spend a lot of time reading manga, and many of them have the same overused plot.

      Hannah was just pointing out some common, overused cliches which kill tension in a story because you pretty much know exactly how it's going to turn out.

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  53. I TOTALLY agree with this.

    I just hope I'm not using Stereotypes. I did go over all the characters in my story, cause I don't really want to have stereotypes in my story. But I will have a small love triangle. It won't be the main focus of the story, however, and It will be different then that hilarious diagram above.
    The two people, who are in love with the same girl, won't have a mutual hatred for each other. They actually become best friends during the first book. In the end, the girl does fall in love (and eventually marry) one of the guys. The Other, ends up falling in love with a different girl and Marrying her. And their friendship survives! Horaay!

    But, Romance will not be the main focus of my story.

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  54. Thank you so much for these posts on profanity, character cliches, and darkness in fiction. They have been extremely helpful, being a writer myself.
    I am a user of the "One Year Adventure Novel" program, yet find these outside resources extremely encouraging and I feel much more motivated to finish my book.

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  55. I would also really like to see more diverse character appearances. I am sick of the cute white, brown eyed brunette girl who suits the "you don't know you are beautiful" song, who thousands of boys think is the most beautiful human being to ever walk this world. I want female, smart blonde protagonists who don't suit this dumb blonde stereotype and aren't spoiled brats. I want more ginger protagonists. I want more black protagonists, more Hispanic protagonists, and so on. I want everything but this typical Bella Swan look alike. I am sick of the cute, shy brunette who doesn't really care about her looks suddenly gets a confidence boost when a guy she has known for less than a week tells her she is beautiful. Seriously writers, there aren't just skinny, white brunettes on this planet. Some diversity would be nice. And why do all those girls need to have a low self esteem in the first place? There is nothing wrong with being confident!

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    1. yeah I agree with white stereo-typing. this one girl on the internet asked to make a all black version of Harry Potter WTF!! I know most of the characters in harry potter are white, but WTF!! and why are all stories only about African Americans and European whites what a stereo type what happened to all the other races):

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  56. I don't get why in a lot of young adult books have to have this "strong" female character that is mainly just a bitch. And if she was a complex character like scarlett o hara I would not mind it but most times they are not. A good example of this is nesta from a court of throns aND roses they try to play it off and make here seem like a complex character by stating the cliche of she's a bitch because she been hurt and guards her heart. But it just falls flat. At the end of the day she is just a bitchy character and it annoys me the they write women this way a lot in ya.

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  57. I agree with everything. Especially the Plain and Boring Main Character. Like can you be more interesting than Bella Swan urgh. She is the worst YA Heroine I have ever seen.
    "I am not pretty or anything special. I am boring girl, how could two hot guys love me?"
    Stupid...
    I am ranting xD
    But anyway, I don't know if I am guilty of any of them but this is my idea for story. My story is fantasy
    My main character is Brazilian girl and she has twin sister. They both are different but similar if you know what I mean.
    Main Character: Love nature and animals. Is bold and confident. Have passion for music. She can be ignorant and stubborn sometimes. She wanted to be right all the times.
    Main Character's Twin Sister: Book nerds. Is strong minded and passionate. She isn't like typical book nerd which is quiet and anti-social. And she wanted to become journalist when she grow up. But she can be too honest and truthful and would hurt people feeling.
    They were born in Brazil, but their parent was killed in gang shooting when they are very young (They aren't completely out of the sight, the twins will learn more about their parent) . They moved to lives with old lady who is palm reader. She taught them all about the Great Prophecy. And she taught them how to see future and use the crystal ball. Then the old lady died and the twin moved to England to the couples who are actually most famous warriors in fantasy world. They already adopted two other girls before the twin.
    The Main Character will be part of the prophecy, but she won't be only one who defeat the bad guys.

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  58. Excellent story idea, Anonymous. Definitely something i'd adore reading.
    I came up with an idea which basically is an alternate world. Once every five years, a few young adults will be granted the ability to dream morph, the ability to turn into a mythical creature in a dream. After having the ability for 10 years, you are able to turn into that form while awake (in rare cases). When the most recent people were chosen, they ended up sharing a world, rather than having one for themselves and they each discover a threat which threatens the dream and waking world. They need to piece together the story to figure out who this threat is. I haven't decided on characters so ideas are welcome. Give me feedback

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    1. Just correcting my own comment, but remember how I said in a dream? I mean in any dream they want. To dream of the creature, they go on a long nature trip to find which element they connect to, then once they find the element, they put a representation of that element (E.G, Earth-Leaves, Fire-Ashes, Air and water-???). The representation is kept in a special locket unique to everyone and if you go to sleep wearing the locket, and voila! (I may change it up a bit). It is very common to see people wearing the lockets regularly for luck or to build confidence or protection. (Or to show off)

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  59. I think that characters have to stop worrying about their relationships when they are trying to save the world. I mean is trying to keep your boyfriend/girlfriend is less important then saving the world. reading all these story's about relationships... how do you write a story without them?

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  60. I like the good boy, bad boy wants girl triangles, but it always ends up with the good boy getting the girl. Oh you forgot a cliché... here it goes............. the student and teacher romance yuck. in a book series I'm reading called Michel Vey there are no clichés. cliché is just a way to make your story writing predictable. love triangle; either one character does something to change the girl's mind, one dies or the" bad" boy is not worth it and girl picks the good boy.

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  61. As much as I hate all of these cliche's, here's a spin to the love triangle cliche I want to see; Two guys like one girl but she shows no interest in them. They think that she likes girls so they dress as girls. She still shows no interest. Then the two guys fall in love and realize the girl was asexual. That would be very interesting to see.

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  62. Loved this post! I get so sick of seeing these cliche characters in YA. I did use #4 though, but I put a (hopefully) new twist on it. My MC is an orphan in a land where a last name can decide your status, fate, and occupation. The only thing is, he has none. But when he gets a chance to earn himself a name and a status, he leaps upon it. But instead of feeling unworthy and not at all special, he is special because A.)he's a Firemaster(means he can bend fire), and B.) He's the Emperor's son(I know, I know, Star Wars, but I'm working on it.), and C.) His mother was part of a secret organization called the Fireguard--a group of dragonborn(dragon riders).
    A lot to take in, but it's part of a big trilogy of allegorical fantasy(it's the story of the bible in fantasy.)
    And #7 just drives me nuts! Yes, we all love a good anti-hero, but does he have to be a total creep?(We're all looking at you, Edward.) I personally have a "bad boy" character as my MC's companion, but he doesn't have black hair or dark eyes, he's unusually tall but not bulky and hugely muscular, he is handsome but he's not a player, and instead of being "mister popular" or "mister misunderstood" he's an outcast, because he's a half-blood elf. And he doesn't brood. Yes, he is grimmer than most, but that's for a reason. He's had to survive on his own since he was nine, something that in my world, is not promising.
    And yes, my two guys do hate each other at first, each afraid that the other will find out his secret(fire bending and being a half-blood), but they eventually grow to be friends. As for my girl character, no love triangles(reserve those for worlds you're not alternately running from wolf-riders and huge armies or being chased by dragons and hearing the dragons conversation as to whether to eat you or not).
    Again, thanks so much for the great articles!

    ~Sarah

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  63. Another great post! I love the fact that you mentioned the "strong" female character. For the sake of feminism, a lot of people consider it almost a taboo to criticize those characters, but you just said everything. They are mostly jerks. I'm trying so hard not to do that with my leading female character in my WIP! Thanks for the reminder about it. I'm currently editing my first draft and this is the perfect time to fix character development. =)

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