5 Unexplained Tropes in YA Fiction

11:57 AM Gemma Fitz 6 Comments

As some of you know, I've been taking an adventure lately into the dangerous territory of YA fiction, my only map the reviews and recommendations around the blogosphere. Recently on this quest, I've been noticing that wherever I go, I see some of the same geographical features, architecture, plant life, and so on. And I don't really know why.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily have a problem with all these tropes. Some of them I dislike, some of them I like, some of them I don't care. I just think they're a bit overdone, and we seriously need some variety. So not only will I expose these cliches, but I'll give you some alternatives and variations. Let's get started!

Capture the Flag

  • Divergent
  • The Lightening Thief (Percy Jackson 1)
  • Variant
This one I just don't get. Sure, capture the flag is a fun game, but why is it such a popular component of YA novels? One would think that it's the only game in the world from the usage it gets.

Alternatives:
First off, why do you even have this game there in the first place? What purpose does it serve? And if it's to show off the protagonist's value, I'd say cut it. Put the MC in a real life or death situation, or break the abilities to us one by one, or let us know from the very beginning that he's awesome, but the whole trivial game idea is really overused. If you have some reason for making him play a game though, you have limitless options. Sardines, monkey in the middle, even follow the zookeeper to the zoo for those familiar with that game. Or why not a board game or a card game? 

Variations:
If you really have your heart set on capture the flag, though, at least give it a twist. Variant has already done a variation with paintball, and The Lightening Thief had monsters, but there are still lots of options available. You could add nerf guns to the mix, or make them play on ice skates or rollerblades, or make it a real war with guns and the intention of actually killing the opposition (this would be cool and horrible).

The Love Interest's Eyes

  • Every romance book or novel with a romantic sub-plot I have ever read
What's the first thing you notice in a person when they walk into the room? For me it's his face or his hair. For most love-sick teenage characters, it's his eyes. This really doesn't make sense to me. I don't even notice peoples eyes unless a) I'm looking really hard on purpose b) their eyes are really unusual or c) they're way to close to me to be comfortable. But every main character in a romance novel just has to notice those beautiful eyes before anything else.

Alternatives:
Be realistic. Is your character really going to notice how hot that guy is the first time she sees him? If so, would it really be the eyes she'd notice first? More likely she'd notice the hair, the smile, the way he talks, and be left with an overall impression of what he looks like, without picking out the details.
Variations:
If you really want her to notice his gorgeous eyes, though, wait til a little later in the relationship. Wait until she's already in love with him, at which point she might possibly be obsessive enough to stare at him long enough his eye colour. Or, if you're like me and enjoy making fun of tropes, do make the first thing she notices about the first hot guy she meets his beautiful eyes-- and then make him turn out to be the bad guy.

The No-Win Scenario

  • Divergent
  • The Kill Order (Maze Runner 0.5)
  • Red Rising
Here's a full description of the no-win scenario. Again, I don't really understand why this is so popular, but it is, the most common version being "kill friend or friend kills you". The protagonist usually chooses the first option, for varying reasons.

Alternatives:
Well, you could just not do it? Or you could write a possible-win scenario where there is a way out, but it would result in thwarting one of the protagonist's dearest goals, which I think could be just as emotionally powerful as actually killing the friend.

Variations:
Playing on the "kill friend or friend kills you" version, which readers seem to find the most cool, you could have the protagonist incapacitate their attacker with out killing him *cough*still-believe-Tris-could-have-done-this*cough*. Or you could have the protagonist choose to die rather than kill his friend. And he does die. And that's the end of the story.

The Love Triangle

  • The Hunger Games
  • Twilight
  • Everything ever? (It certainly feels like it.)
I am pleased to observe that around the blogosphere and the reading world in general, people do seem to be cracking down on this cliche. Not that I believe a love triangle is necessarily bad in every book, but guys. It's so overdone. Variety, people.

Alternatives:
There are soooo many ways to have romantic tension without the love triangle. You could make the protagonist have an over protective brother (or dad, but that's been done) who keeps chasing her boyfriend away. You could make the protagonist's boyfriend go to boot camp and not be able to contact her (this happens). You could do absolutely anything.

Variations:
Again, so many options. (Just please don't make one guy blonde and sweet and the other one dark and evil/mean/not the one.) Your MC could have a longstanding crush on a book/movie/TV show character and think that no man can ever live up to her ideals based on this character (this would be the most realistic, believable love triangle ever). Or there could be a typical love triangle, but both guys are total jerks/not her type and she ends up staying single happily ever after.
I have no idea what this is from.

The Identity Reveal

  • Divergent
  • The Lightening Thief (Percy Jackson 1)
  • Cinder (Lunar Chronicles 1)
The identity reveal is when a character is something special (a "divergent", a "half-blood", a lunar princess, etc.) doesn't know it, and suddenly discovers their special-ness partway through the story, usually after being told by another more experienced character.

Alternatives:
Just don't do it?

Variations:
You could always make the character fully aware of and maybe even comfortable with his identity (for example, BBC Merlin). Or you could make him normal, but he makes himself into something special through hard work.

What are some cliches you've seen and can't explain? Would you agree with my list? What are some other alternatives and variations you've thought of/tried?

6 comments:

  1. I feel like love triangles and the identity-reveal are the ones that bother me the most. >_< Usually the "secret" is too obvious or too unbelievable and it's just more of a "OH REALLY?" moment. gah. not a fan! And I agree we see a lot of Capture the Flag! Maybe...eh, they could play sardines? OH HAR HAR I CANNOT IMAGINE FOUR AND TRIS PLAYING SARDINES. *snorts* I actually like the No-Win-Scenario. Always makes me cry. xD
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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    1. Ah yes. I usually seeing the Identity Reveal coming miles away, so when it's finally officially revealed, I'm just rolling my eyes. Four would have to watch out where he hid, in sardines, if he doesn't want his claustrophobia to act up. xD The no-win scenario makes me cry, too, especially the "kill friend" variation, since I usually dislike the lead and love the friend they killed. :P

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  2. These are all so true! The love triangle is WAY overused, in my opinion. I actually haven't read too many books with a no-win-scenario, but I've definitely see the love interest's eyes one used many times (why does that even happen?). Anyways, these are all really good points. :) Also, I think it is really neat how you came up with alternative ideas to use instead of the cliches.
    Awesome post! :)

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    1. It's definitely in a LOT of stuff. That's the biggest problem with most of these tropes. Most of them I wouldn't mind if they were in a few books here and there, but when something starts showing up everywhere, then that's a problem. And I. Don't. Know. Seriously! What's with the eyes?? Well, I couldn't just leave y'all hanging with a long list of "don't"s, now, could I? :)

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  3. The eyes thing is a really good point. I couldn't even tell you what color eyes half of the people I already know have, let alone some guy I just saw walk into the room. :P

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    1. I only know my friends' eye colour when they tell me-- I never notice on my own unless I'm really, really bored. Thanks for commenting!

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