Author’s Note: I started writing a post about YA Tropes that I found problematic, but the list grew so long I decided to dedicate a short post to each topic. Also, I am a YA author and I love reading and writing this age group. But because I love it so much, I think we writers can do better by our readers. Hence why I’m calling out a few of these problematic tropes. Here goes:
Tropes in YA novels are commonplace, and calling them a trope doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently bad. Sometimes they serve a purpose and are accompanied by nuanced and in-depth writing that nullifies potential harm. But when you read as many YA books as I do (120+ last year) you really begin to see those repeated tropes as an endless parade of boring. Even worse, there are many that do actual harm to readers.
‘Not Like Other Girls’ and Perfect LI’s
There are a list of tropes that can be encompassed in or are related to the heading above. Examples:
- Hot Mary Sue’s who do no wrong
- She doesn’t know she’s gorgeous but she is; also One Good Makeover Will Change Your Life
- Never saw a guy/girl so beautiful
- Sweet Special Snowflake attracts the player who gives up their loose ways for SSS
- Guy dumps his catty/slutty/bitchy girlfriend for SSS
- Girl dumps her jerk/sexual predator/Neanderthal boyfriend for SSS
- ‘Strong and powerful’ LI’s who always tell the girl she’s gorgeous
- ‘Not Like Other Girls’
Let’s start with the ‘Not Like Other Girls’: Why is this so problematic? It’s a way to describe a character as not having traditional feminine characteristics (especially when those characteristics are possessive, mean and catty). But it also implies not so subtly that in order to be deemed worthy a female must reject traditionally feminine characteristics and be more like a man. It’s sexist. And it’s damaging to females (and males) in many ways.
The idea that to in order be more worthy, a female must be more like a man, is a concept that’s been around for a while. A long while. Even though woman throughout history have been placed in a delicate box of femininity (especially that delicate flower of white femininity) there has always been that insidious idea that to be worthy you must be more like a man (intelligent, rough, methodical, less emotional) yet women were also thought to be less if they exhibited those characteristics. It was an endless cycle that you couldn’t be worthy if you weren’t like a man, but if you were a woman who acted like a man you weren’t worthy either. There was no winning.
The NLOG narrative pits females against each other. It’s usually accompanied by catty/slutty/bitchy antagonists or ex-girlfriends (see Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes). It teaches females to want to deviate from traditional female roles (which is okay) but not under the auspice that they need to change in order to be accepted, that only girls who don’t like to shop, hate pink, and play sports are worthy of respect. But it also implies that ‘other girls’, as in girls who do like traditional female pursuits, are catty/slutty/bitchy. So don’t like make-up or you might be like ‘those girls’.
And as far as beautiful people and Sweet Special Snowflakes, let’s be real. Some of this is wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. No love interest is without flaws. In fact, no main character should be without flaws. Make things messy, make things real, make the conflict feel like it could happen to your reader. Wish-fulfillment and fantasy are great, especially since reading is an escape, but I personally could do with a little less of LI’s who always, every date, remember to tell you how pretty you are, take your hand, tuck the hair behind your ear. Every experience is different of course, but I can say for certain that I never dated a guy like this in high school.
I guess what I’m saying here is that while many of these tropes aren’t inherently harmful, especially if we see them once in awhile, they can become boring and potentially harmful if seen too much. Plus, it’s more of that lazy writing I talked about in my Stereotypes post. Make your characters less stereotypical, hold back on that authorial wish-fulfillment just a tad, and think about what message you’re sending to your readers.
More reading because I know you want it:
Should the “Special Snowflake” Trope be Retired and Left 20,000 Leagues Underground or Is It Still Fun? by Cait on Paper Fury (Read this one for sure! If only for the laughs and good times!)
Other Posts in this Series: