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Writing

How to Avoid Common Clichés When Writing a YA Novel

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Young adult fiction is a genre of literature that bridges the gap between middle-grade fiction (which is typically targeted at middle schoolers) and novels written for adults. It’s a popular category of books that engages not just teenage readers, but a wide range of age groups. In the beginning of the writing process for your own young adult novel, whether you choose to write coming of age or romance fantasy, it’s important to know how to avoid the common clichés that plague a lot of the YA genre.

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What to Avoid When Writing Young Adult Fiction

Clichés flood the YA fiction world, and an author should do their best to try and avoid them—unless they can provide a fresher take. Since YA is usually written by adult authors and not actual young people, this can sometimes make it feel like there is a divide between the YA author’s voice, and the voice of the character they’re trying to write. This divide manifests itself in the form of the same old YA tropes that can make your writing feel tired and not relatable to a young adult audience.

  • Character tropes. Young adult books have a habit of falling into the same old YA tropes: there’s a bad boy love interest from the wrong side of the tracks, or a strong female character who doesn’t know she’s beautiful until a guy tells her so. There’s the volatile angsty teenager, or there’s ‘the chosen one’ who is reluctant to be a hero until they realize they’re the only one who can defeat the bad guys and save the world. While some of these premises have turned into successful franchises, many of the characters in stories like these are often predictable: we know the defiant teen hero will eventually accept their destiny and save their people. These kinds of characters oversaturate the YA genre, making it feel more two-dimensional and lacking any real unique character development.
  • Plot tropes. Books like The Hunger Games or Twilight series have driven an influx of YA books about love triangles or love at first sight, which means your new take on the subject will have a lot of competition. The interests of young readers are often underestimated, believing them to be unable to appreciate more sophisticated subject matter. This can lead authors to stick with what they believe teens are still into reading, like problems with bad parents or a character discovering they have powers or are secret royalty. While your YA plots don’t have to deal with hard adult scenarios, they also shouldn’t be overwritten and generic just to pander to readers.
  • Overloaded quirks. Some YA writers will have young characters say things or behave the way they’ve seen across social media or in other YA writing. Making a male or female protagonist too quirky to be relatable contributes to the frustration that many YA readers feel about the genre. This applies to the kind of slang your main characters use. Teenagers don’t sincerely say “lol” to one another out loud, or start every sentence with “ugh.” Writing their dialogue this way makes them feel like cartoonish representations of how an adult thinks a young person speaks, increasing the distance between YA writer and YA reader. Quirks should only serve to enhance the character you’ve created, and not make up their entire personalities.
  • Adult perspectives. Teenagers are often driven by hormones and emotions—they lack the experience, logical thinking, or point of view that many adults do. When writing YA books, it’s important that the author keeps in mind the age range of their teen characters, and what a young person would be feeling and experiencing during the hard times of their own real life. All people were teenagers at one point, and it is the shared emotional truth of growing up that should be drawn from (not how an adult feels now looking back on it. In a YA novel, the story should be told from the teen character’s POV, increasing the chance that your main character’s voice will appeal and empathize with its young adult readers.

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