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The A to Z of YA tropes we love to hate to love


Tropes aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, we could rattle off a long list of books where the trope is so obvious it hurts… and we can forgive it because the book is BADASS! It really doesn’t matter how big or small the trope is, it’s how you use it.

wink

But it’s also important to know what you’re looking for. So here’s our A to Z of those more common tropes and cliches found in YA. 

a-to-z-of-ya-tr_842_7e68af83de74e94959d605981c8fcad017ed35b0

A is for… Absent Parents – We wrote about this in ‘Is there still a missing parent problem in YA?‘ But it’s definitely a thing though. It’s there. Whether the parents are dead, or MIA, or too dysfunctional to be around, it’s a common problem for our YA protagonists. Poor lambs.

aww

Unless its an important thematic concern for the story, it does sometimes feel a little off that these characters have literally zero input from a parental figure.

If it’s logical, we’re down with it.

B is for… Bad Boy woos Good Girl – Be still our beating hearts, we do LOVE a bad boy. This is total fantastic escapism at its best. And it’s used time and time again, usually to great effect.

damon TVD

Note: There is a difference between ‘bad’ boy and ‘abusive’ boy.

C is for… Calling parents by their given names – What is this? Who does this, actually? Parents are mum and dad, or other variations of. Not Dave and Patricia. Why? Why is this a thing? It’s not cool. It’s creepy. Stop. Stop it.

parents

D is for… Descriptive faux pas – These are the descriptions of a character that make us cringe every time. We could play a drinking game with some books. The things we’re looking for include:

  • Raised eyebrows
  • Lip biting
  • Nails cutting into palms
  • Penetrating stares
  • Eyes you can swim in (pools)
  • Snake hips (EUW!)

eyebriw

E is for… Eyelashes – This gets to be separate from above because OMG we’ve lost count of the amount of lads who have lashes for days. It’s lovely. But not every dude makes a swish-swish sound when he blinks.

spongebob

F is for… F*** free will – Reserved for fantasy/dystopian settings where free will has been removed. Again, something that we don’t mind reading, as long as its well rationlised. We want backstory, history, a strong reason why. Don’t feed us the “it just is” line, k?

dont tell me what to do

G is for… Great big swords. These things are HEAVY! And yet, characters new to sword fighting, or fighting in general, seem to have no problem picking up that broadsword and swinging it around for hours.

sword

H is for… He’s perfect! Or what is also known as the ‘cookie cutter’ boyfriend/friend. There’s nothing remarkable about him other than the fact that he’s PERFECT in every way. And put on this planet to perfectly romance the protagonist. Hair flicks and brooding stares all round. There’s probably a classic car or motorbike involved somewhere too.

I is for… Instalove – This old chestnut. The moment these two characters meet it’s love. Intense, full on, angsty love. There’s no getting to know each other, just BOOM! End game.

romeo and juliet

J is for… Just an evil person – The villain is plain evil. Rotten to the core. Twiddling mustache and cackling laughter. They have little motive other than to destroy to world, take over the world, or something along those lines.

villain disney

We prefer our bad guys a bit more complex. Kthxbai.

K is for… Kill kill, die die – So much bloodshed, and not a single sentence to reflect on the implications or consequences of it.

kill

We adore a badass protagonist, but we like them even more with a sense of morality and human conscience too.

L is for… Love triangle – When you want to scream at the pages for the character to just make her mind up already! Because it’s almost always, without exception, a female who can’t seem to choose between two guys (lucky girl).

love triangle

We don’t mind love triangles so much, if they make sense. Usually when one part of the triangle is a million miles away, or possibly dead. It’s just darn painful when it’s dragged out…

M is for… Mary Sue – The freakin’ Mary Sue. She’s so perfectly perfect it makes our ears bleed. And yet, somehow she doesn’t realise it. She thinks she ugly despite the contrary being obvious. And hey, look, that new guy, the hot one, he’s totally into her. Everyone loves her, actually, despite what she says or does.

unacceptable

Life is pretty darn fantastic for the Mary Sue. She’s probably got a secret super power too. But she’ll be too scared to use it to its full potential.

N is for… Names – Why they gotta be so strange? If it’s fantasy then we’ll forgive the weirdest and most fabulous names. But it’s different when you crack open a contemporary and every single character has a “hip” name. Amethyst, Clementine and Moonbeam can all get on a bus and leave.

friends

O is for… Older, wise mentor – “Yer a wizard, Harry.” The person (usually a guy) who tells the protagonist what they are and sets them on a journey of self-discovery.

yer a wizard

Often offers some kind of end goal too: Kill the bad guy, collect the important artifact, survive the next 24 hours.

P is for… Prophecy – It has been predicted in the stars, runes, cards, that this person will be the chosen one and will bring about the end of the world before saving it. At least twice.

prophecy harry potter

Q is for… Quirky BFF – She’s probably a thousand leagues cooler than the protagonist with her kooky dress sense and alternative taste in music.

quirky

There might be a lip ring involved, or a rare/odd hair colour. Perpetually more sassy than the main character.

R is for… Reading – Oh we LOVE a main character who loves their books. And since readers are, well, readers, its safe to assume they like books too. BUT it’s a common personality trait for a protagonist.

i love to read matilda

They love books, they love reading, and they probably want to be a writer. (What was the problem here, again?)

S is for… Skin colour sins – Describing someone’s skin as “coffee”, “cafe latte”, “cocoa”, “chocolate milk”. If you can put it in a cup, then it’s a good indication that you need to find a different comparison.

stop

T is for… The Chosen One – It makes sense for the main character to be the main focus of something big. They SHOULD be the chosen one. But it can sometimes feel too convenient, true?

chosen one

U is for… Unlimited pain threshold. Stuff hurts. This is one for our paranormal/fantasy heroes and heroines. If you get kicked in the ribs, it will hurt for a long while after.

no pain

Same goes for broken bones, cuts, bruises even. It all hurts. There’s no way they’re up and fighting fit the next day (without magic involved at least. Keep the skele-gro away from us though!)

V – Vampires – It’s still too soon. These need to be put away for awhile. We’ll bring them out to play once we’re bored of the current supernatural creature trend.

vampire

W is for… Whiteout – Or, why is the POC always the sidekick?

true blood

X is for… Xplain much? – “X” WORDS ARE HARD! But this is for those times where there’s a serious infodump at the beginning of the book.

frustrated

It’s usually SF or Fantasy, and it’s important, however there’s no need to throw it all at us in the first few pages, yo.

Y is for… You can’t sit with us! – The mean girl and her squad who has no other purpose other than to cause misery to the main characters.

mean girls

Z – Zombies – see ‘Vampires’.

zombies

We couldn’t fit ALL of the tropes and cliches here, so if we missed one that you love to hate, tweet it to us @maximumpopbooks

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Written by Sarah Clare

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Sarah is the Lead Writer and Design Queen here at Maximum Pop! Sarah holds an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University, and a BA in Creative Writing with English Literature from Marjon (BIG UP THE MARJON MASSIVE!). Sarah joined MP! after seeing an advertisement for writers on Instagram – because where else would a design master find their dream job?

Sarah is currently working on an expose on Draco Malfoy in her spare time. But not if his father hears about it.