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. Because...you 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.