Writing Tip — Cliches I Hate in YA Fiction

readw-515531_1280Since 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 StrangersSheriff 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.

Private Schools

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?

Writing Tip — Digging Deeper into Characters

gardenw-1176406_1280Sorry this post is short, but I just returned from vacation and didn’t have time to write a full post. So here are two posts on keeping journals for your characters. Both posts suggest ways to dig deep into your characters to discover hidden qualities and quirks.

I will add a new lesson I’ve just learned from my friend Cindy Thomson. We met to brainstorm writing ideas, and she asked about two minor characters in a short story I wrote. They are a couple in their sixties and have a poisonous marriage. Cindy asked why they were still married. I had the answer for the wife. She’s a retired, prosecuting county attorney and likes to win. Initiating a divorce would be admitting failure. Now I have to come up with a believable reason for the husband to have stayed in the marriage.

Cindy said to keep asking why questions. Why does the husband endure his wife’s domineering ways? When I get answer to that, ask another why questions based on it.

One thing that always helps me in character development is thinking of real-world precedents. We all know of long-time marriages where neither spouse seems happy. Knowing that such marriages exist in reality helps me build my literary one. I know I am not creating a character or relationship that readers will think is unbelievable.

How do you dig deep into characters?

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