Top Ten Worst YA Tropes

Now after my post on why originality is overrated, I thought it might be fun to flip my argument on its head and talk about some unoriginal ideas I don’t like. Partly cos I’m a HYPOCRITE but mostly cos it’s FUN! Also I recently read this book:

eve

I’m not gonna bother reviewing it, because frankly I don’t want to waste more time on it than I already have and there is literally nothing *new* I could possibly say about it. It was pretty much the definition of bland. So instead I’m gonna take this opportunity to talk about my least favourite tropes in YA.

*Rather-Obvious-Disclaimer: there are exceptions to every rule*

And honestly- I love to be proved wrong and find one of my most hated tropes done well. But *most of the time* these guarantee an eye roll or a despairing groan. So here are my top ten worst YA tropes with a few of the biggest culprits as examples:

  1. essenseSpecial Snowflake Main Character– this one often combines two of my least favourite tropes: the Chosen One and the “I’m a what?” tropes. Basically this character is super special, because they have a gift that no one else has, so they’re gonna save the world. Oh and they had no idea that they’re special- of course. In fairness, there are rare occasions when this doesn’t suck- but they are few and far between, so authors need to *stop using this trope* (unless you’re writing something like Carry On, then all is forgiven). An example of this is the Essence series- because my-oh-my this character is a special snowflake indeed.
  2. unbecoming of mara dyerInstalove– I’m gonna try and not let this dissolve into another rant like the last one- but c’mon!! When does this ever happen in real life?!? And let’s face it, it wouldn’t even be a good thing if it did- it would be super weird and creepy if your boyfriend of two days started declaring his undying love for you! That’s when you need to get a restraining order- *not* to start ordering wedding invitations. I’m looking at The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and so many others!
  3. The Plain Jane– I *hate* these characters. Not only do they come across as super whiny and annoying- but they also make no sense. I mean, they’re supposed to simultaneously be the ugliest of all the ducklings *AND* be the most desirable female with every single guy in the vicinity desperate to have your babies. Sorry, but to quote Cinderella Story:

you can't be both guys.png

The best example of this is Ana Steel in Fifty Shades of Grey. And all those hoards of attractive males brings me onto my next point.

  1. matchedThe Love Triangle– ahh the dreaded love triangle. Twilight made it popular and for some horrendous reason it hasn’t gone anywhere. Why? I have *no idea*. This bloody thing is everywhere and one of the worst offenders of this is Matched. Basically, it’s just an easy (and terribly lazy) way for authors to pad their plot with unbearable amounts of angst, as their main character frets over which wonderful person they’re going to spend the rest of their life with. And while we’re on the subject of the main character…
  2. selectionThe Nice-ty Main Character- you know the nice/nasty ones that kill you with kindness (you know the type). This is basically the main character who is allowed to be a total biatch, just because they’re so “lovely”. And we are constantly reminded how sweet and caring they are as they mess around two guys at once, two time and generally act like a whiny cow. And all the while, it’s somehow the guy’s fault that they can’t figure out their feelings. The perfect example is America in The Selection, because let’s face it she’s a right *insert-expletive-here*, but we’re supposed to believe she’s wonderful and completely selfless. Really? It’s totally selfless of her to spend 3 books choosing between two guys, is it?
  3. TwilightbookDouchbag Love Interests– and when we don’t have the horrible female leads, we have the horrible male love interest (sometimes we’re really lucky and get both, *ahem, Twilight*). These, often controlling, usually bullying and always brooding characters somehow steal the heart of the main character (*ahem, Twilight*- I could probably call this “the Edward Cullen Trope” after all). It’s like a recipe for domestic abuse. But hey, they’re good looking, so we shouldn’t worry about any of that. *Face palm*. And while we’re still on the subject of love, this is something that really drives me crazy:
  4. Bronzehorseman.jpgPretentious Characters That Recite Reams of Poetry– I’ve read a few lists ions ago, but haven’t seen this one about- probably cos most people like this. But honestly this just does my head in. I have never met anyone that does this in real life, but I swear, if I ever met someone that reciting whole poems was a good idea, I’d probably want to hit them too. Basically, this makes me violent- don’t do it, unless you want a banana aimed at your head. I could think of a ton of examples where this happens- Infernal Devices (although admittedly I like that anyway), The Bronze Horseman (yeuch!) and John Green makes so many pretentious references he may as well do it.
  5. aunt jennaNon-Absentee Absent Parents– okay, moving on from the romance in YA, this one bugs me quite a bit. I’m being fairly specific here, because I don’t mean the dead parents trope, which I don’t actually mind so much- even if it is overused. No, this one bugs me because it just makes the parents look really dumb. Basically, they’re the parents that are about but they’re so useless, they can’t tell their children have been entertaining demons in their room. Or even worse, the parents that know something is wrong, but still let their children run off to fight monsters. And cos I’m zonked, the best example I can think of is Aunt Jenna in Vampire Diaries (I know, I know, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead). This often combines with…
  6. City_of_Bones (1)The Dumbledore– you know, the parent/teacher figure that withholds information for mysterious *reasons*. Just because the author doesn’t want to reveal stuff too early. Usually, it’s parents who knew their child had powers but didn’t tell them. Often, they find out their parents knew all along after they have some near-death experience. Which always makes me wonder why on earth didn’t they tell them sooner- you know, maybe they could have avoided all this. It just makes me think they need parenting lessons, cos there are some secrets- like your father’s an evil maniac- that parents shouldn’t keep from their children. Much as I love the series, Mortal Instruments is guilty of this.
  7. shadow-and-bone_hi-res-677x1024Stupid Names For Evil Characters– so I don’t always hate this and I can forgive it most of the time (let’s be honest, I’m guilty of it too). I mean, I have to allow for the fact that dumb names like the “Dark Lord” or “THE EVIL ONE” will catch on when regular people are naming them. And this is usually okay if the villain has an alternative name (ie Voldemort). *BUT* what I cannot forgive is when the main character cannot tell that the guy with the obviously evil name is evil. And how no one else in the story picks up on it- I’m looking at you “Darkling”- how was that a surprise when he turned out to be evil for crying out loud?

Okay that’s my list. I almost put “The Brave Idiot” on here too- but I’ve warmed to that character in recent times, because I’ve read quite a few that are really good.

Agree? Disagree? What are your least favourite YA tropes? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you liked this post- stay tuned for something special coming next on my blog…

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69 thoughts on “Top Ten Worst YA Tropes

  1. kirstyreadsblog says:

    We’ve spoken about love triangles before so I won’t go into that but god do I hate special snowflakes/mary sues. Most of the books I’ve read have given reasoning for them being so, like Clary, but god sometimes even if they have a reason theyre still so annoying

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha yeah best not to get started on that again! :p Oh god yeah- they drive me crazy. Yeah I agree- there’s a fair number that are done brilliantly- Clary’s a good example- and I mean Harry Potter’s technically a chosen one, but he’s not a special snowflake cos he’s flawed and isn’t uber talented at everything! But *so many* are just dreadful non-characters, who we’re told are just brilliant at everything cos.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Louise / geniereads says:

    Imagine having a love triangle with a Plain Jane, that could possibly be the most annoying book ever. I hate love triangles so much especially when love interest who isn’t chosen is a nice guy.

    And I agree with you with the Pretentious Characters, especially in YA all those characters who make weird references and recites poems— it just doesn’t feel real sometimes. I’m still waiting to meet someone who actually does that in real life.

    THOSE PARENTS ARE THE WORST. I hate it when the story doesn’t have a great family aspect, especially all those unconcerned parents. 😑😑😑

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hahaha that’s twilight in a nutshell unfortunately. Yes!! Drives me crazy!!!
      Yeah exactly- I don’t mind the occasional quote, but when they’re a walking encyclopaedia it’s annoying! I’ve met people that quote excessively- but I’ll admit they never do it half as much as they do in books.
      YES! I remember meeting Anthony Horowitz when I was little and he said his first trick in a story was to get rid of the parents- cos they get in the way of the story. Which is true to a certain extent, but then they can act as good foils for the protagonist’s plans if they’re douchy. But why have them there if they’re not gonna do anything?!?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Louise / geniereads says:

        Oh my, that’s why I’ll never even try to read Twilight, EVER.
        Anything that’s too much can be really bad, but if just an occasional quote I also don’t mind especially when I can relate to the references.
        I agree, parents can actually be strong background characters and they should not be constructed just for the convenience of the plot, in my opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          hahaha good call!! That’s definitely fair- I don’t mind the occasional quote- but hate the non-stop back and forths.
          Exactly- and it’s worse if they don’t notice when they child comes in after midnight dripping with blood or something :/

          Liked by 1 person

  3. thesarahdoughty says:

    I think these can all be good if executed correctly. But you’re right, often times writers of the YA genre (and others) tend to overblow them as tools to further the plot without good reason. I’ve used some of these before in my books, but they were chosen carefully and with good reason (at least I hope) as to why things happened a certain way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. yourdaughtersbookshelf says:

    Many of these I can handle (sometimes they work in the story), but I totally agree with #8. The stupid parent-non-parent drives me INSANE. Really, you had no idea your only child was possessed? No clue that her boyfriend slept over all the time? Oblivious to the fact your son is failing school? I’m a parent and I have several friends with only children, and while they admit there are secrets, they are also pretty aware of their childrens’ lives.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jen Connelly says:

      In defense of the clueless parents–my oldest daughter was sneaking out of the house every night for almost a year when she was twelve before we realized it. She was climbing in and out of her window, and threatened her younger sisters not to tattle. We learned about it after the cops brought her home at 1am. I used to wonder about those parents with kids like that, then she hit middle school. Now I’m the parent with the runaway, (occasionally) homeless, sort-of-high-school-dropout stoner. Did I mention she’s 15? Having a kid with severe behavior problems and mental illness is exhausting.

      She gives me so much material for my writing, though. She once helped break a friend (a felon) out of a juvenile home. If that isn’t YA novel gold, I don’t know what is.

      Not that this excuses lazy writing of parental figures in books. Once we learned of her sneaking out, we did everything we could to keep her in (without much success) and tried to guide her onto the right path (with even less success). Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Ahh well- I didn’t mean general rebellious teenagehood of course- or having complicated things happen. I only meant parents in books that basically don’t notice their child has turned into a vampire or spouted wings- basically something fantastical and that would stick out like a sore thumb. Gosh- I hope everything works out with your daughter and I’m obviously not trying to play down or criticise real life issues. I’m really sorry to hear about all that and I’m really not trying to criticise actual parents that have difficult things to deal with.
        Well that definitely is- she sounds like a clever child and I hope things work out.

        Like

        • Jen Connelly says:

          Nah, it’s all good. I laugh at it all the time because what else are you gonna do? I just wanted to point out that sometimes kids get away with a lot more than parents realize, and that good parent sometimes end up with one of those kids. The whole thing has given me so many good ideas for stories. I’m definitely not offended.

          But I agree about the vampire thing–that cracks me up. I get why they do that stuff in books a lot–they need to get the parents out of the way so the kids can do stupid things they normally wouldn’t because their parents would stop them. Otherwise, they’d end up grounded for half the book, lol.

          Liked by 1 person

          • theorangutanlibrarian says:

            That’s definitely true. Ahh good, I’m glad 🙂
            yeah exactly- I mean, in some books, they may as well drag dead bodies out of their house and do weird ritual dances in their bedroom and no one notices! I don’t get it. Exactly lol- funny if a parent just went “I don’t care if you do need to save the world from the impending apocalypse- curfew is at 11- now get to bed!” It’s why a lot of authors do away with the parents early on

            Like

            • Jen Connelly says:

              LOL. That’s what happened on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After years of her mom being oblivious (as is everyone in the town), she finds out and grounds Buffy from saving the world.

              I think it all stems from the fact that teens tend to resent their parents intruding in their lives, so they don’t want to read about parental involvement–they want to read about kids doing stuff on their own.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. bambiquim says:

    You are certainly entitled to dislike whatever tropes you dislike, but I have to argue a bit about the following points:

    Instalove, while ridiculous, is not entirely out of place in YA. A lot of teens think they’re “in love” with someone they barely know. Infatuation might be a better term to describe what they’re feeling, but if a story is being narrated by a teenager, the word “love” almost should be used too frequently, if you are trying to write a realistic narrator.

    I do not think Stephenie Meyer popularized the love triangle. I read YA before it was hip, and the love triangle existed, in abundance, prior to that (for example, Judy Blume’s Forever, which was written in the seventies). Teenagers are often navigating the territory of relationships, and figuring out when you need to call it quits and when a new attraction might be worth taking a chance is something that even adults have a difficult time with; shit happens. And by “shit,” I mean love triangles.

    The douchebag love interest is a fair point, but is a general problem with the romance genre, rather than a problem that can be pinpointed as occurring in YA. I always think of the case someone made for Mr. Darcy (whom one of my ex-boyfriends once referred to as “Mr. Douchey”). While most readers enjoy Pride and Prejudice, the idea that you are going to be so special (Elizabeth) that you cause someone you think is hot (Darcy) to become a better person is not something you want to transfer into real life. In general, there are issues with at least one of the protagonists in a romantic relationship. And the way that those problems are overcome or ignored in a novel, a TV show, etc., should remain in the realm of fantasy.

    Interesting post; food for thought.

    Liked by 2 people

    • yourdaughtersbookshelf says:

      I agree – I think we now recognize love at first sight as infatuation, teens don’t have the experience. When I was a teen (OH, so long ago!), I fell in love at the drop of a hat. And I dated incredibly inappropriate boys. And I liked guys that liked someone else. (And, I am sad to say, I wrote song lyrics on my notebooks from sappy love songs, thinking I was SOOO profound. 😀 )

      Liked by 2 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Exactly- there’s nothing so bad about “lust at first sight”, as long as people realise that it’s not love! The second people start throwing round the l-word after they’ve just met, I’m out- cos then I’m out. hahaha we all did that- for me it was really really bad poetry. I know a lot of people say you should never give up on things, but I’m so glad I gave that up and just stick to writing what I actually like! haha

        Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yeah I get that completely, but I have to be honest *it doesn’t stop being annoying just cos it’s accurate*. I mean, it’s accurate to talk about people’s bathroom habits- doesn’t mean it should be included in a book. Plus, the fact is it’s not really love they’re feeling, which is why I said it’s not real. And as I said there are exceptions. But when it’s two people that have just met, who’s only conversation has been about their favourite colours, I tend to get wound up.
      Yes, I agree- I read it before it was cool too (or at least long before twilight) And I read Forever to- but I have to say I don’t see that as a love triangle- that’s called moving on from one person to the next. I get what you’re saying, but there is a line between navigating your feelings and moving on (like in Forever) and actively stringing on two people at once (like in a lot of YA- have you read the Selection or Matched for example?) Personally, I don’t think cheating on people or toying with
      their emotions is cool.
      That’s fair- it’s definitely a general problem in romance. Err I don’t think that’s what Pride and Prejudice is about though- Darcy is actually always a good person- Elizabeth just couldn’t see that because she was so obsessed with his faults. And the idea is that he has to grow to be a better person, as does she, so that they can both be happy- they are rewarded with each other’s love- which while I agree doesn’t transfer into real life, is Austen’s way of delivering a moral message. And actually flaws are fine- I’ll be a bit of a hypocrite saying I love the two douchbags in wuthering heights- but I do hate romanticised control freaks in general. It’s not so much being flawed, it’s the specifically unromantic flaws that they have. For instance, the kind of bad guy that gets in bar fights doesn’t bother me as much- but the kind of bad guy that sneaks into your house and watches you while you sleep… is creepy as eff.
      Thanks very much!

      Like

      • bambiquim says:

        It’s definitely not what P&P is about, but there is a romantic relationship between those 2 characters in the book. The fact is, both Darcy and Elizabeth change – he learns to be less proud, she learns to be less prejudiced, and they change in this way because they fall in love with the other person, and that love causes them to want to be a better person themselves. The potential issue arising from that reading is that just because you love someone does not mean they love you in return, and even if they do love you, it does not mean they are going to change for the better from it, which is an important point to add when reading the novel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          It’s not just because they fall in love though- it’s because by their interaction with each other they both realise they’ve behaved badly and that’s what makes them want to change. For Elizabeth in particular it’s not about proving herself to Darcy cos she doesn’t even like him when she has this realisation. And for Darcy he expects never to see her again and he even says that he wasn’t expecting to ever declare his love again. So it’s pretty clear that’s not why they decide to change. That’s all true, but it’s not true of Pride and Prejudice- if you’d have said it about, say, Grease, I’d have agreed with you.

          Liked by 1 person

          • bambiquim says:

            Just because they don’t change with the expectation of getting married does not mean that they did not change and become better people because they were in love/falling in love with other.

            There is also room for interpretation – did they really think they would never see each other again? Or were they secretly hoping they would, a la Jodi Foster’s character in Contact?

            But you’re welcome to disagree with me. Different readers have different interpretations of reading material, literary or otherwise, which is part of what makes reading a unique experience. The fact is, even if the story hardly supported it at all, someone out there has read P&P and disliked it because they thought it sent a damaging message, which I find interesting, despite the fact that I like Austen and I had never even considered the book in that light previous to hearing this consideration.

            Liked by 1 person

            • theorangutanlibrarian says:

              I disagree- they both change because they realise they acted badly- at this point, Elizabeth is categorically not in love with Darcy. And Darcy changes more because he respects her opinion than anything else.
              Well she surprises him at Pemberley- where he certainly hadn’t expected to see her. And he broke off the only mutual acquaintance they had in Bingley. (I don’t know that movie) Perhaps they were hoping they would- that would be entirely conjecture. Both were pretty mortified and thought the other one wouldn’t want to see each other again, so there’s an argument that they didn’t want to.
              Yes that’s fair to dislike P&P and think whatever you like, I just don’t think it’s an accurate interpretation- I think it’s fair to hear other interpretations and consider them, but not all interpretations are right and have to be backed up with evidence.

              Liked by 1 person

              • bambiquim says:

                Sure, but sometimes you do have to read between the lines. I have read P&P, I am not referring to the movie, and I disagree with your assessment that Elizabeth is “categorically not in love with Darcy.” Maybe I’m missing something, since it has been awhile since I read the novel, but that’s a fairly strong statement to make. Just because someone says they hate someone doesn’t mean they do. Being conflicted, and holding on to your earlier prejudice in an attempt to avoid being wrong does not mean you can’t be falling in love at the same time – though you’re certainly not going to admit that’s what’s happening.

                Liked by 1 person

                • theorangutanlibrarian says:

                  I don’t really agree with that statement at all- that’s not how analysis works- you need evidence to back up a claim. I’m basing that on the fact she rejects his advances and shows no predisposition to him early on- going out of her way to avoid his company. I believe she means it when she tells her father that she means never to dance with him. I also think there’s a little truth in her joke when she says “I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”. There’s nothing in the book to indicate that she feels anything but disdain for him before she reads his letter. That’s a true statement- but there’s nothing in the book to suggest that’s happening earlier- in fact the evidence points to the contrary. If she has feelings for anyone earlier in the book, it’s Wickham, not Darcy.

                  Like

                  • bambiquim says:

                    She definitely has a crush on Wickham when she first meets him. But as a writer myself, I do sometimes put words in my character’s mouth with the intention of the reader understanding those words are misleading. Having evidence to back up your claim does not mean taking every word a character says literally. You can’t do that with Humbert Humbert for example, and if you do, you will completely misunderstand the author’s intent. I think we will just have to agree to disagree on when, exactly, Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings for Darcy begin to feel warmer. I think your reading is very literal, which is fine; I just don’t agree with that reading.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

                      That’s true- but Humbert Humbert is the perfect example of a character whose words have double meanings- and where there is evidence of other things he says and does undermining everything he says. Point is- there is evidence in the book that *proves* you cannot believe what he says. He goes round raping, murdering and lying- which is why I have a reason to believe that he is misleading the reader. The reader doesn’t just decide to distrust him on a whim. If Elizabeth’s thoughts and actions indicated that she liked him, and she didn’t have a bit of a crush on Wickham, then there would be evidence to suggest she liked Darcy- since there is none of that, the idea that she liked Darcy from the start is pure conjecture. There should always be something to back up a theory- whether or not it is what they say or do.

                      Like

  6. Hilary @ SongsWroteMyStory says:

    This is great. I throughly enjoyed reading this one.

    I think the best part about this list is that all of these tropes can be really great (except Plain Jane – but that’s a matter if the author just accepting their character for who they are), but there are so many bad examples of each of these, or alternatively, they’re so overused, that we forget that it can be good. I’ve probably overlooked a number of books I would have loved, just because it talked about a love triangle on the back cover and it turned me off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. MyBookJacket says:

    Cannot tell you HOW MUCH I agree with your post. I’m reading Passenger right now and the love interest just annoys me so much. I want to scream because the rest of the book is ok and it was going so strong. Sigh. Alas, we have to tolerate these if we are going to ever read books.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

    “Really? It’s totally selfless of her to spend 3 books choosing between two guys, is it?”

    Oh, lol. She sounds so sweet and charming. -_-

    I agree with this list 100%. Love the examples, too; I’ll be steering clear of those I haven’t read yet, because yeah no.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

    All of these tropes are awful! Completely agree. 🙂 Literally none of them happen in real life (with a few exceptions), yet we settle for it in YA. 😀 The “Edward Cullen trope” is a great way of putting it. I can ignore the tropes if it works well in the book, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you! Yeah- I don’t get it!! haha thanks! I know people wrote guys like that before, but creepy stalker really came in vogue after twilight :/ god I hate Edward Cullen.
      oh definitely- I almost felt guilt about it, cos every time I wrote one I could think of an eg where it was done well! So I totally agree!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Zainab Sheikh says:

    Did you steal my diary? Did you? Because damn! this is everything I scream while reading a YA novel!!
    Agree with you on all of them. Especially America from The Selection. I hated how she played with two guys at the same time and acted whiny and stubborn.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jen Connelly says:

    Oh, no–I’m one of those readers that likes love triangles and all the angst that goes with them. *hangs head in shame*
    Unless they are really bad. *cough* Hunger Games *cough* (I don’t know how many times I felt like smacking Katniss and yelling, “quit stringing them both along and choose one already!”)

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha that’s ok!!! I definitely like some tropes that other people can’t stand- and having read quite a few of these types of lists, I totally get that not everyone finds the same things irritating. Besides, I like it from time to time- if there’s a good reason for it aka in Cassandra Clare’s books. haha agreed!

      Like

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