Tropes in Young Adult Literature by Taylor Simonds

I might be an “adult” (whatever that means), but one of my favorite genres is always going to be Young Adult fiction. There’s a reason that many of these books appeal to the masses on such an unprecedented level: there’s just something about the way fictional teen characters throw themselves wholeheartedly into everything life throws at them (with uninhibited emotion and fearlessness bordering on recklessness), that just makes such a compelling narrative. YA fiction is also my favorite genre to write for many of the same reasons.

When I started work on the novel I’m writing currently, I compiled a list of every YA trope I could think of in order to establish what had not only been done before, but what had been done most commonly. (If this process sounds familiar, it’s because the Spider-Man: Homecoming team did the exact same thing based on the other Spiderman movies before putting together the film). My motive was to make sure that I didn’t rely too heavily on tropes that had already been done before, but this list could conversely be used as a reference point for what audiences (and publishing firms!) clearly often like to see in a book. Just consider this your one-stop-shop for (almost) every plot device and character trope YA books have become notorious for.

1. The Love Triangle, especially when one member is new and mysterious, while the other is an old friend.

2. The Clumsy, Awkward Female Protagonist: If she’s going to be awkward, make sure that it’s a believable awkward. Teenagers are usually awkward enough on their own without having to trip over their own feet all the time.

3. The Kids Who Don’t Act Like Kids: This one is tricky, and I blame TV. The problem with having characters on shows that take place in high school played by young people in their twenties, is that that level of maturity has now become the norm. Real fourteen-year-olds don’t just get to run all over the place, at all hours of the night, with no consequences. They’re flawed and uncertain. They don’t always make the right choice the first time because they act impulsively.

4. The Big Important Event that you Know Is Important Because the First Letter Is Capitalized: Think the Reaping in The Hunger Games, or Choosing Day in Divergent.

5. A Mysterious Dystopian Government that Wants to Control Everyone This is the kick right now. You know how for a while it was vampires, and then there were zombies everywhere, and then there were all those sad YA romances where one or both of them had a life-threatening illness? Well, one of the most recent trends has been dystopian.

6. The Villain Who’s Bad Just Because the Author Says So: George R. R. Martin did the best interview about this point. Well-developed villains don’t believe that they are wrong. They might seem like they’re just evil for no reason to a young teenage protagonist, but they should still have some backstory (even just in your own development) to explain why they would choose to do what they’re doing.

7. The Chosen One: Self-explanatory.

8. The Checked Out Parent: When the protagonist’s parent is irresponsible, immature, or useless as an excuse for them to not be involved in their child’s life and drama.

9. Finding Out the Big Plot-Defining Element: Like that the protagonist has powers, or is in danger, or needs to save the world, and they’re immediately onboard and chill about it. REAL PEOPLE FREAK OUT ABOUT STUFF LIKE THAT.

And finally . . .

10. Really Uncomfortable Romantic Descriptions: These involve face-touching, lip-biting, shortness of breath, and pretty much anything involving the actions of fingertips or eyelashes.

So there you have it. The choose-your-own-adventure recipe for the basic young adult novel. Use this information as you will.

Happy Writing!

Taylor Simonds is an Orlando-based professional editor and writer. She is currently a contracted manuscript editor for Write My Wrongs and a staff writer for CollegeFashion, and has previously worked in writing and editing for Anaphora Literary Press and MuggleNet. She is a fan of all things literary and is never without a book, but in her free time she can most often be found wandering Disney World, vintage shopping, or working on her first novel, which she wishes would just finish itself.
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