Since I started the month writing about why I write YA fiction, I’m ending it with cliches I hate in YA fiction.
All the adults are mean, stupid, or unrealistic.
All the characters in a book should have an understandable motive for how they act. In YA fiction, the adult characters should be as well developed as the teen ones. If the father of the main character is cruel to him, the author must provide a reason other than it’s convenient for the plot. If the parents don’t know what their teens are up to, it shouldn’t be because they are too stupid to realize their kids are into trouble.
This kind of character motivation was brought home to me by my friend, author Cindy Thomson. I wrote about this in my post “Digging Deeper into Characters”. With both your major or minor character, you need to ask why characters act the way they do. I think this is especially important when developing a villain. She does things because she’s bad isn’t a good reason.
In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, Sheriff Acker hates the family my main character belongs to and goes outside of the law to deal with them. Why? Because some members of the Lody family are con artists, and the sheriff assumes all Lodys are bad. But why does he go outside the law? Because he thinks like a Pharisee. He believes he acts so perfectly in both his personal and professional life that he can accurately judge when to use extra-legal methods to protect law-abiding citizens from anyone he labels a criminal.
When any of my characters isn’t behaving correctly or won’t behave at all, I need to ask why. Over and over until I come up with a realistic answer.
In YA book after YA book, the main setting is a private school. In Christian fiction, it’s often a private Christian high school. A variation is for a kid in a private school to lose her money and be forced to attend a public school. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think most American teens never attend a private school, certainly very few attend a private high school. My kids don’t. The teens in my church don’t.
I see some advantages for this setting. The teens have less oversight if they board at a private school, giving the author more room to get them into trouble. It’s also an easy way to employ the fish-out-of-water plot: poor, deserving teen wins a scholarship to snooty private school and is set upon by rich brats. (By the way, why do so many YA books deal with rich brats? Do publishers or authors thinks poor kids don’t have interesting problems?)
Although authors can use this setting well, new authors should find other ways to get their characters into trouble or throw them into uncomfortable situations. The private school is growing old. And I think readers would appreciate seeing characters in a setting more familiar to them.
Your turn. What cliches do you hate in YA fiction?
Really interesting points! I sometimes grow weary of the endless buildup to an inevitable romance. When the couple is obviously going to get together, but obstacle after obstacle after obstacle slows down the process. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings and less drama….
I don’t like the romance genre at all, so I can’t say how I feel about the inventions of obstacles on the road to happily ever after. I could get behind a story where the couple postpone their wedding because they are special agents and must race to prevent terrorists from blowing up something like the St. Louis arch. That seems like a reasonable obstacle to happiness.