Ah yes, I can’t tell you how many times I hear people complaining about clichés in fiction whether it’s fantasy, young adult, romance, or any genre really. Clichés and the writers who utilize them are everyone’s favorite punching bag. Why just the other day I saw this meme:
and thought…Oh shit, I’ve written something like that myself!
Now put down your pitchforks and let me explain, and we’ll take that meme line by line.
The first line to consider is that most young adult literature is designed to appeal to a particular demographic. Young white girls are one of the biggest consumers of young adult fiction, especially romantic young adult fiction. There are readers who look for characters that they feel are very relatable to themselves or there are readers who want characters that are completely different from themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a preference for one or the other, or even an equal appreciation for both. The important thing is that there is something for everyone, which of course is sometimes a problem. Some readers do feel left out. I would like to see more diverse MCs in YA literature because there should be! But, I don’t instantly hate a work of fiction just because the MC happens to be a “young white chick.”
Different? Special powers? Now I don’t get why that is a bad thing at all. I hate boring, bland main characters who are completely devoid of personality or ambitions (well ambitions outside of hooking up with their love interest). I have read a lot of fiction where the main character is as bland as a dry piece of toast, and it does not do it for me. But I’m sure what this is referring to is known as the “magical girl” cliché, or where the character is the “chosen one.” Whether or not this is bad depends on how it is written. Does an ordinary person rise up to become someone powerful and special? Does someone work hard to become this “chosen one” or were they just born special? And is being the special chosen one a good thing, or a bad thing? It is also important to note that this “different somehow” or “special” or “chosen one” cliché is found just as equally among male MCs in fiction and is not nearly as often derided as when the MC is female.
What? How dare a YA fiction heroine have a love interest in what’s clearly marked and marketed as a romance story? How dare that hussy? (Sarcasm alert). Look, it’s not a secret. Most people read for escapism. There’s a reason romance is such a HUGE genre. We want a cute guy to notice the heroine. We want to imagine a hot love interest in our mind. I mean, come on, when was the last time you got interested in a story when the main character’s love interest was described as:
“He was the hottest middle-aged balding man on my bowling league. The way his stomach hung out over his pants, and those pit stains on his shirt just drove me wild. I wanted to get all up in that back hair.”
Hey, I’m sure that does it for someone out there, and no judgment if that’s your thing, but let’s be real, it’s not for most of us.
Another boy also? Well, that pertains to the need for drama. What fuels the plot in a YA romance? Sometimes it’s a love triangle or an unrequited love trying to break apart the two main characters in an attempt to add drama. Personally, I prefer more complex plots, and I absolutely hate love triangles where the heroine just loves allll the boys and can’t make up her mind. But, again, that is personal taste. Some readers clearly like that stuff – a lot – or they wouldn’t make and sell so much of it.
Save the world – fuck yeah! I want a woman who saves the world! Why is this a bad thing? (Once again, why is this only a bad cliché when girls do it, but not boys? Look at all of DC and Marvel and you’ll see tons of men saving the world, and that’s fine, but a female heroine in fiction does it, and now we have a disgusting cliché on our hands).
Is it a cliché thing? Yes, but not all clichés are evil, some are just a familiar trope, a special YA romance variation on the classic Hero’s Journey. If you’re not familiar with the Hero’s Journey, I suggest you read yourself some Joseph Campbell (I could write 50 blog posts on his work alone). But here’s the condensed version of the Hero’s Journey:
Sound familiar? That’s cause almost all adventure stories follow this formula. It’s the oldest method for telling stories, that’s why it’s been done so much, and YA literature follows its own tried and true formulas as well. Human beings just tend to write the same stories over and over again. There’s an old saying “There’s nothing new, everything has been done before.” And whether or not you believe that, you have to admit some of these old clichés are inescapable.
Are you tired of it? If the answer is yes, that’s fine; you have a right to be. It is nice to find the occasional story that deviates from all the above clichés. But it’s also a fact that these clichés are never going to go away because there always will be people who enjoy them, and hopefully skilled authors who are willing to take those tired old clichés and add new twists to them.
In fact, if you’re an aspiring writer, that’s a great way to get some inspiration. Think of some tired old cliché that you’re absolutely sick of seeing and challenge yourself to write a story where you take that cliché and do something with it that no one has ever done before, or at least that you’ve never seen anyone do before. You might surprise yourself.
With the most recent series I’m working on, I am very guilty of pretty much all the clichés in that first meme above – well, except my work isn’t YA focused. Yep, guilty as charged, but I don’t feel bad. Defensive? Obviously, I made a blog post ranting about it. Regretful? Not at all. You see I knew I was appealing to a particular audience. I’m sure some would call that “selling out for fame and profit” – of which I have received neither by the way. And while I am trying to reach out to people who tend to gravitate towards those tired old clichés, I am also trying to offer them something that’s the same, but with a different flavor. I do try to take the old conventions and change them in new ways to offer my readers something that appeals to their already established interests, but gives them something new to keep them interested.
At the end of the day there’s no accounting for taste, but if you feel that writers today aren’t appealing to you, specifically, as a reader, then why not create something new? If you’re an aspiring writer, take your frustrations with clichés and use it as an opportunity to be a mold-breaker. If you want something better, sometimes you have to make it yourself.
What do you think? Are there any clichés that you are absolutely sick of seeing in fiction? Are there any clichés that you just never seem to grow tired of?