Cliches in YA (Janet Gurtler)
Describes something in a clever/cliche way to create identifiable visual images. Trite/overused expression of idea. Person/character whose behavior is predictable/superficial
Sayings are trendy/popular - get overused and become dated
Why should they not be used?
Overfamiliar, lose impact so reader has little to no emotional response
Cliches exist because it’s short-hand, easy for people to understand/grasp
copy/paste into it and it’ll pick up all the adverbs, weak words, oft-misspelled, homonym, preposition end, passive, cliche
familiar/repeated symbol, theme, motif, style, character, etc
Ideas, plots, stock characters that are overused -> worn-out plots or characterizations become cliche. Vampires, zombies, etc
How do you know what cliches are in your genre? Read ravenously in your chosen genre. No substitute for seeing what authors are writing about and what readers are reading
Yes, everything’s been done, but every author has their own take
Make your story/characters fresh, unique twists, new similes, metaphors etc.
Voice: the way the character speaks, what they say as well as how they say it.
Wisdom from Nathan Bradsford: "it’s not enough to start a story with a high school girl swooning in the midst of the cranky new kid’s smoldering stare. what’s different about this world and about these characters? it’s not enough to start a story with a character who has to save the realm/galaxy/kingdom from disaster. What’s different about this world and this character?"
Publisher’s Weekly: "it can be about anything... as long as the voice is great." (Sara Crowe. her client Nina LaCour has the right kind of narrative voice)
Producing a distinctive voice is harder than adding in fallen angels/risen zombies to an otherwise standard romance “Pulling off that really authentic, quirky, individual voice is definitely hard to do.” Jenny Bent “When it’s done right, it reads as deeply sincere, it’s not something you can fake.”
Other critical ingredient is just as tricky: “Everybody is looking for stories with the hook that will allow them to break out of the pack.” Laura Rennert. Bourret agrees: “It’s always going to be easier to sell a high-concept idea because it’s easier for publishers to sell a high-concept story to readers. There’s a real challenge when you can’t describe a story in one sentence.”
Cliches from the desk of agent/author Mandy Hubbard: Dystopian societies, teens who control the elements, meeting the boy/girl of your dreams -> literally! S/he is in your dreams and then you meet him/her, really bad epic fantasy, MG books about bullies, teaching bullies a lesson.
Daniel Ehrenhaft - Soho Press Editor: Post apocalyptic YA thrillers (involve a brave outsider) “Don’t quote me because nothing makes me happier than being surprised and proven wrong. I could get a post-apocalyptic thriller submission tomorrow that blows my head apart. I wouldn’t want to discourage that. Cliches don’t bother me so much. Stupidity and laziness bother me.”
Leah Hullenschmidt, Former Sourcebooks Fire Editor: Dystopian, mean cheerleaders & football players, love triangles, damsel in distress, drinking/partying/slang,
Todd Stocke, Sourcebooks VP Editorial Director: Interested in cross-over, YA thriller/horror/historical, etc. Everyone’s hoping for the big cross-over books where the audience is big outside just the teen audience. In my experience that’s very, very hard to predict. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, and I’ve yet to see a magic formula.
Joelle Anthony did a popular Top 25 Cliches for YA a few years ago, some are still relevant:
Issue Books - being preachy, drugs are bad, sex will give you diseases or make you pregnant
Adults are clueless or act as guides, who don’t participate in teens life, conveniently absent (often necessary to the plot/character development).
A tiny scar through the eyebrow, sometimes accompanied by an embarrassing story
Virgin lead characters
Sick-Lit (John Green)
Is there something wrong with teens reading books about death & suicide? Why do teens read realistic books like SPEAK, or Jay Asher -> reminder that life could be worse, like curling up with a sad movie and weeping because it feels so good when you stop.
Paranormal: having powers appear when puberty starts, girl who discovers she’s actually a vampire/fairy/demon hunter princess and is actually the biggest/baddest one of them all and is better than the people raised to do so, love triangles, majority/entirely of the book taking place in a boarding school for teens with magical powers
Dystopian: Big Brother/The Capital for the younger generations which is iron-fisted with brainwashed masses and one person that wakes them up and leads a rebellion, romantic relationship leads to the reformation of the society, love triangles, trilogies (1st book: immediate reality, 2nd book: aware of struggles greater than them, 3rd book: overthrows the society)
Overused cliches in YA
Authors show their age by naming characters names they grew up with. Also, teens somehow obsessed with pop culture/bands that the authors grew up with. Outdated references to tv shows, music teens today probably never heard of or wouldn’t reference (best place to find names: Facebook, Twitter, Heatsheets)
Really pretty girl who was no idea she’s pretty
Character moves to a new town or starts a new school
The beautiful best friend who gets all the guys but doesn’t want them
The one-touch Google answer that solves everything (at the end of the book)
Alternatively the problem could have been solved by a quick Google search... or asking a question and not assuming...
Stalking as a sign of affection
Diversity - comparing people of color to food.
Bully with the abusive father
The mean cheerleader/mean girl
Mary Sue character who everyone loves
Quirky best friends
Love at first sight (maybe have a conversation before you plan to die for each other)
Phrases and Attributes
Lifting his shoulder (alt/shrug)
“I let out a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding”
Characters who chew on their lip or tongue in times of stress - usually until they taste blood
Characters puking from stress
Raising one eyebrow
Blasting Away Cliches
Replace worn-out phrases with your own original ones. Write your own observations. How do you, personally deal with anger/stress/etc? Pay attention, and write it down/use them. It’s more interesting to feel sad when you can use it later.
Examine the world around, notice things. Write down times you’ve been afraid, happy, horrified, jealous, etc
Give those strong feelings to your characters with your own flavour and wording. Better yet, adapt the words and phrases to fit the characters in your world.
What kind of analogy would a teen drug dealer use, versus a teen honor student? Even better, make them way something unexpected.
*Do character exercises with Donald Maass (what is the one thing your character would never ever do/say - and then make them do/say it).
Diversity issues: gorgeous white girls prominent on covers. Non-white characters hidden in shadows, their face obscured, and or distorted in some other way
Trends and identifying genre