You’ve heard them over and over again. You’ve read about them till your eyeballs bleed. They’re awful, repeated, and easy to use. What are they? YA Writing Tropes.
In case you’ve been asleep, I’ll define a trope. Trope – A writing crutch. A literary motif. A cliché. Overused types of characters.
Sometimes you simply can’t hide from them. You very innocently pick up a fun new read and gahhh….trope. They’re practically everywhere. While the story *might* have been acceptable, even great, there was a trope. A fun complaint to lodge with an author: the mythological Mary Sue characters. The Brooding YA hero. The destined relationship.
Why do they keep popping up? Just to torment us readers? Ruffle writer’s feathers? WHY?
Here’s why. They’re easy. What’s so easy about them? Because we’re lazy. We want to tell stories and avoid the nitty-gritty. Skip the details and just give me plot and character growth.
If you’re writing an epic tale, you’ve probably used a trope without even realizing it. In a rush to write a plot, the trope just ambushed you. But we’re here to slay that trope. So grab your ink and swords, and let’s get into battle.
8 Tropes Trying to Kill Your Character
Orphan, Dead Parent, Single Child, etc
This trope is incredibly overused but STILL popular! How???? Because it’s so simple. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Feyre Archeron. All dead parents. All bestselling stories. *Tris Prior also tried to use the dead parents things, but apparently killing the parents in the middle of the story doesn’t work as well.
Writers like orphans. No complicated relatives. And you can just villianize the still-living ones. The Dursleys. The emotionally gone mother. The absent father. And voila! Your character is now independent. No need to explain messy families and relationships. They’re an empty slate.
This is just lazy. And we’re all guilty of it.
Instead of killing off parents, why don’t we write a story that includes the family? Even Harry needed a family, so enter the Weasleys. Family >parents/siblings< is good. Your character needs them. You can use them to propel the story. Family won’t bog your character down.
Hunting or other forestry skills
I’m tired of hunting characters.* It’s just boring. BORING. I think(?) we might be using hunting as a way to show strength and skill. But the entirety of your bravado and skill isn’t measured by being able to use a bow. Just look at one of our favorite heroines…Hermione! No bow and arrow in sight.
There are plenty of other skills out there.
Maybe cooking? I mean it’s not as cool as actually killing for dinner, but cooking takes skill. Real bravado.
Or roller-skating? That’s super hard. If I see someone roller-skating, I know they have some definite skills. Also gardening. Serious levels of commitment and talent.
Just do something other than hunting, please? Thanks.
*not hunting the characters. but characters who hunt. Though if the character is hunting, I might hunt them down.
Everything they touch is golden
This character becomes nauseating rather quickly. Nothing is hard. Learning to fight, getting in the spotlight, talking to boys. There is no skill they cannot master immediately.
This is the MOST frustrating part of an incredible amount of YA books. Instant success. Magic injuries that heal super quick. One humiliation for a million billion public triumphs.
Simply unrealistic. And honestly, it’s not fair to the rest of the real world. For those of us actually working hard to succeed.
Instead of the Harry Potter story, tell the Neville Longbottom story.
Terrifying New Social Interactions
The hero of our story suddenly finds themselves in a new crowd! Everything is new, they don’t know what to do. Enter the love interest, and life is great.
New surroundings force people to grow, true. But they are simply overused. Sometimes a familiar setting can be just as unsettling.
In fact, some people love new crowds and challenges. What about those extroverts among us who hate normality? Raising my hand, jumping up and down waving.
How about a character who actually wants to be challenged but can’t find a “new” group to shake up their world. That would be interesting. Maybe. I might just be grasping at straws.
Surprised by Superpowers
Now this one is just terrible. And boring. And predictable. Our main character suddenly finds out that they are amazing. Gifted. Magical. Born to save the world.
Yawn. I saw it coming from page one. I know it’s useful. A way to develop your character, grow them into what they’re meant to be. But, we all grow in our real lives without magical hidden powers. I think your character can too.
Do something DIFFERENT. A character trying to destroy their hidden powers. On purpose. Maybe they NEED to get rid of their talent to save the world? I don’t know, I’m not writing this book. But if you end up writing it, make it DIFFERENT!
Also Known as “The One Who Was Promised”*
The princess has been hiding or missing for years, and now she’s found! And she so happens to be the main character! Also, saw this one coming from page one.
This one can sound super original in your head, but when you start writing it down, it falls flat. How about the princess who turns out not to be a princess? She got swapped at birth, and she’s just the peasant. With nothing. No one wants to marry her now. What’s she going to do? How’s the royal family going to treat her? What if she and the real princes both had the ability to save the kingdom?
A word on the Chosen One prophesies. Very few people are answers to prophesies. If there’s a prophesy/foreshadowing in your story, it’s clear really fast who it’s talking about.** So, no suspense or great surprise. Instead, just tedious destiny. And I really don’t like character’s fate being decided through prophesies. I’d rather see them grow and make decisions independently.
*I just want to know who promised these people. And why. Was there no other option? **Unless you’re writing A Song of Ice and Fire
Mates Forever Together. Or I own this person forever.
I’m ready to be done with this trope forever. Girls can live happy lives without a boyfriend. Or mate. Or whatever you call it in that fantasy you write. They don’t need magical partners to save the world.
Also, guys are not on a perpetual search for true love. People can think about other things.
Relationships happen. But I’m weary of romance dominating stories. Forcing every character to find someone or HORROR! They’re single.
Can’t we just have one single hero? Someone who really doesn’t care about a boyfriend because the world is literally ending and that just doesn’t matter right now.
Or maybe the world isn’t ending. But they just have bigger fish to fry. And getting kissed isn’t a priority.
We can only deal with one problem. Racism.
Racism is evil. It’s not a good thing and it continues for far too long.
But it’s not the only problem in the world! So many books deal with issues of class, race, and prejudice. Can we deal with other problems too?
I get it, race isn’t incredibly hard to tackle in fiction. You don’t need a compelling conflict to create race issues. Because humans are naturally prejudiced. And we have a long history of racism to borrow for fictional world building.
But there’s other problems, guys! Religion, environmental conflicts, genetic engineering. Deal with something other than race, please.
Now that’s just 8 tropes. I’m sure there are plenty more. Probably quite a few in my book as well. Now a question to start a night-long argument – Are all tropes bad?
Not really. I’ve enjoyed quite a few books with tropes. Yes, I’m guilty. I think using one trope isn’t going to ruin your credibility. But if a story uses 4 or 5 or even all 8, it’s just too much. I want to shake up the story. Swap out a plot line or two. Make it somehow different.
And now you can. Cause you’re the writer!
What trope do you want to kill?
How is your story different?