Monday, August 10, 2015

Cliche or Classic? Why I Challenge Another Blogger's Take on Overused Literary Devices in YA

by Kasey Tross

The other day on Pinterest I came across the following link that one of our own very successful MMWs, Lana Krumwiede, had pinned:

Because my current WIP is YA, I decided I should take a look at this list. When I did, I got a little bit annoyed (not with Lana- she didn't write it, she just pinned it!)

Now, part of this was because, as they say in the Book of Mormon, "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." Yes, I'll admit, I got a little bit cut. I have some of these cliches in my book. 

But then I thought, Wait a minute- are they cliches or are they common because they're relatable and entertaining? 

1. First, the whole "teen angst" thing. Personally, I get a little bit irritated when I'm reading YA fiction and the main character is behaving like a mature, responsible adult. know, they aren't. They're teenagers. And while I am a healthy, well-functioning adult, I was a hot mess as a teen. I was a brat-and-a-half to my family, though people on the outside would have been shocked to know it. I have yet to meet a parent of a teen who says their child is an angel (even those whose halos I think I can see over their heads) and never talks back and is even keel all the time. Unless you have teenagers living in your home, I would avoid calling teen angst a cliche. The struggle is real.

2. Next the girl who doesn't realize she's pretty until a boy tells her so. I just read a book with that very thing in it (Delirium by Lauren Oliver). I didn't mind it one bit, because I related to that. When I was a teenage girl I had fairly good self-esteem- I didn't think I was a dog or anything. But yes, the first time a boy told me I was pretty I was like, "Whoa! I really AM pretty?" I don't think this is an uncommon thing for teenage girls. And besides, I still like to be told I'm pretty, because there are still times when my confidence falters, and it still boosts my self-esteem to have that external validation. Does that make me shallow and weak? Maybe. Oh, well.

3. Characters involved in love triangles- Hannah Heath says, "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." Umm...that's why it's called FICTION, right? What girl doesn't want to be wanted by not just one, but TWO guys at once? I mean, if you're going to escape into a fictional story, it might as well be fun, right?

4. The Chosen One- Okay, I get that. I can see how it gets old. But who doesn't want to feel special and unique and needed and wanted, to be validated just for existing? Again, this is an example of the escapism that I think is okay for YA literature. Plus, it's a great set-up for all kinds of character growth.

5. Next, the one with horrible parents. I had awesome parents but I thought they were horrible because I was a teenager. Is that not normal?

6. Strong female character- yeah, I get where she's coming from with this one. Strong does not need to be equivalent to standoffish or obnoxious. 

7. The brooding bad boy- Once more, it's FICTION, right? Like, escapism? Fantasy? The reason this guy is so popular in fiction is because as women, it makes us feel absolutely all-powerful if we can take this brooding bad boy and get him wrapped around our little finger. I mean, the super hot vampire that wants to suck your blood so bad it hurts but he can't because he is just so madly in love with you he would rather die than hurt you? My teenage self is saying, "Yes, please!!"

So here is my question, friends: Am I just totally missing something here? I feel like there is this great question YA authors need to ask themselves: 

Am I writing to entertain or to teach?

Can you do both at the same time? 

Do we need to get away from these "cliches" so we can change the lives of teens and expand their hormone-riddled minds, or should we be writing to them so they can relate? 

Should we avoid these common characters and plot lines because they are overused and stale or can we keep including them just for the simple reason that they're fun?

Should we be pushing teens outside of their comfort zone or can we meet them where they're comfortable, because as teens the world is so uncomfortable?

Am I just being obnoxious? I would love your two cents on this, guys.


  1. I rarely comment, and I apologize if this is long. I agree with you. Some things are ineffective or less interesting because of overuse, becoming cliche, but some things are common because they are interesting or relatable. I read a lot of YA. i've seen these things used very well, and i've seen them used poorly. It all depends on the story, and the emphasis these things are given.

    I listen to a podcast led by a favourite author of mine - someone i really admire. He says (repeatedly) that fantasy races like elves, dwarves, dragons, goblins, etc, are overused and fantasy writers should branch out more. Oops - my novel is full of them. But this same author says (repeatedly) to write what you love, regardless of what others tell you. You will write a better book when you do it from your heart, rather than trying to play to what others say.

    It pays to keep track of trends and what the market is looking for, but popular opinion can also change on a whim. I say write what you love - there will be critics, but there will also be others who will love your story as much as you do.

  2. I agree...I think a couple of those could go away, like the teen angel and the strong girl, lol. I mean, why did so many people LIKE Bella in Twilight? She was obnoxious! ;) But I definitely think one reason to write YA fiction is to help teach as well as entertain...

  3. Bella bugged me too. I'm not much on the bad boy cliche. Bad boys are bad boys and they don't change, no matter how much the girl tries to change him. Bad boys/girls represent potentially abusive relationships. I'm fine with the other classics. Good insight on this post :).

  4. Great thoughts, Kasey! I feel it's all how you write the characters that make the difference between cliche and not. And people being sick of teen angst??? Um, then they're actually just sick of teens. COME ON!

  5. Just letting you know I was here, I don't have anything to add so I am now leaving

  6. Strangely, Bella didn't bug me. She did in the movies, but not in the books. Sometimes it felt like she was me--the author did a good job of capturing a lot of the teenaged girl angst, and then thrown into this fantastical world, all of those things would be compounded.

    I think a huge part of the problem people have with YA, is that they are adults, reading books intended for teens.

    Great post!

    1. Yes, exactly. And I liked Bella in the books too. I was terrible at every sport, and I have always been incredibly clumsy, so I totally got that. I hate it when people compare Twilight to Harry Potter. HP is really amazing children's literature; Twilight was never meant to be that. It's a fun, fantasy thing. It's dessert. Stop expecting it to be brussels sprouts.



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