YA common clichés series: paranormal romance

| Monday, April 11, 2011
Today's Tune: Giving Up the Gun

Starting a new series today. Let me know what you think :)

One of the best bits of advice you will hear as a writer is to read, and to read a lot. Particularly within your genre to familiarize yourself with its tropes, clichés, and what's currently selling/being published. So, I read a lot of young adult literature, which is kind of its own beast. It's a specific genre, but within that genre are any number of subjects. I'm hoping to break them down and highlight some of the more common clichés (read: stuff that is so overdone it's boring and predictable) within each area.

The goal with this series is not to ridicule, but to inform and inspire a break from the usual in today's literature. Also, clichés do not automatically make a manuscript or novel junk. If used sparingly and mindfully, they can work.

Subject #1: YA Paranormal Romance

I know, I know, this is an easy target to start with because the market has been over-saturated with it for the last few years and it's been under a lot of scrutiny blahblahblah. But writers are still writing it, publishers are still buying it, and it's still rife with so many clichés.

Vampires, Werewolves, Fallen Angels, and any other mystical creature you can find in 20+ different books in the YA section right now. - Okay, so this is a given, right? Paranormal fiction almost always includes paranormal creatures, and these are the go-tos. Vampires in particular are so overdone at this point that you can find virtually any variation you can possibly think of. Vampires who sparkle? Done. Vampires who are really aliens? Done. Vampires who are fat and nerdy? Done. Does this mean you can never write a vampire story again? No, it doesn't. It just means you're up against a seriously steep mountain and a seething mass of competition. What's a Paranormal Romance writer to do? Two options: 1) think of new creatures, or 2) make the already-done creatures so different that it makes your work stand out. But be careful -- you don't want to come up with something so wacky that it only serves as a gimmick, or some creature so bizarre that its difficult to find it sexy (see: Loch Ness Monster).

[Edited one out here because I no longer agree with it or feel it's an issue -- this post is now two years old!]

The Hero/Main Love Interest is a Bad Boy. No, seriously. In the sense that he kind of wants to kill the Heroine. - This one's been talked absolutely to death in recent years, so I'll be brief. There's a certain timeless appeal to the "Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold" trope in romance. No denying it. However, there's been a recent rash of YA where this trope is taken and morphed into, "I want to kill you. Let's fall in love." Needless to say (but I will anyway), this relationship dynamic is... problematic. And disturbing. And it's been done more often than many people are comfortable with.

Sometimes he's also a real jerk. - Like, a REAL jerk. Not in an "I'm just being a smartass to hide my TRUE FEELINGS from you" kind of way. In an "I am absolutely awful and condescending and mean to you, why do you still like me?" kind of way.

OR: he is so perfect and nice and wonderful that he's boring and unbelievable. - Wish fulfillment and fantasy, I know, I know. But poetry AND flowers AND fancy jewelry no teenager could really afford AND a sensitive artist's soul AND a super-hot body AND a "sense of humor" AND he wrote her a song AND he never gets mad AND picnics at sunset AND his favorite book is The Bell Jar? Too much. Way too much. He's a teenage boy, not a robot programmed for optimal female swoonage. Or is he?

If someone's stuck in a teenager's body, they act like a teenager. Even if they're hundreds of years old. - See Emotional Maturity Is Physical Maturity. I mean, if your love interest is 100+ years old, obviously you can't have him acting like a lascivious old man. That would be creepy. But you could also, I don't know, let the love interest be the protagonist's own age? There's something a little tired and strange about having someone who's technically 306 years old be romantically and sexually attracted to a teenager, I'm sorry. This sort of thing *can* be explained away (example: their life cycle is different than the human cycle and 300 years technically IS their "adolescence"), but it could also be fun to experiment and play around with. Maybe have a character who's a crotchety old lady stuck in a teen's body. Could be fun.

Everyone's pretty. Except maybe the bad guys and/or teenagers who are mean to the protagonist. - Self-explanatory, I would think. Sometimes it's okay for characters to look like, you know, regular people. And physically unattractive = bad is so, so shallow.

Everyone is clueless. Especially adults. - No one notices people having a fireball battle in a dark alley? No reports on the news? Mom and Dad are so oblivious that they don't notice sprouting wings or changing eye color? Really? Really? If people aren't noticing these things, you have to explain why.

Oh, these bruises and cuts? I, uh, fell. - WHY DOES IT SEEM LIKE EVERY PARANORMAL ROMANCE HEROINE SAYS THIS. No one in the world believes this line. NO ONE.

The protagonist is almost completely useless. - In Paranormal, it's assumed that we're going to be dealing with some weird shit. Generally, weird shit that puts our protagonist in danger. Yet again and again we read about these teenage-girl protagonists who are weak, flimsy, helpless, clumsy, meek, and unable to fight back against The Big Bad. Good thing the Hero's there, right? We don't have to make our protagonists superhuman -- that's not the requirement. Having a "hurtable" main character who is absolutely capable of dying raises the stakes. But just because a protagonist isn't superhuman doesn't mean she can't be capable, or wily, or able to fight back somehow. Always remember whose story you're writing. Is it the Hero's story, or the Heroine's?

Alternatively, the protagonist is the specialist snowflake who ever specialed. - This cliché edges dangerously into the Too Perfect To Be Allowed zone. It's also extremely common. The protagonist has some unique power or ability that no one in the ENTIRE PARANORMAL WORLD has ever seen before. Usually it's a highly desired trait and the protagonist is immediately good at it. It's also the ONE THING that could have possibly saved the day. It's generally an easy and convenient way to make the protagonist stand out amid the crowd and can be pretty cheap if not fleshed out appropriately. See also: she's the first and only girl the Hero has ever met who he's been seriously attracted to. He's never had a crush before, really? Hrm.

Attempted (or, in some cases, completed) rape or torture of Heroine. - This is a trope that pops up again and again in romance in general, but seems to have a special place in Paranormal. I have serious issues with this trope, so much so that I probably can and will write an entire post dedicated to it, but for now I'll try to keep it short. This trope is used to garner superficial stakes and sympathy for the Heroine, and she is almost always saved (just in the nick of time!) by the Hero. My main issue with this trope lies in the way it's used. Very rarely is it used with the appropriate care. There's often a lot of creepy subtext about virginity and purity and the potential of the Heroine to be "ruined." Really, it's just an easy way to disempower the Heroine, leave her at the whims of Something Evil, and then have her saved. For which she will be eternally grateful to the Hero, of course. Because you owe your love to your savior. Treat with care. Always, always treat with care.

"Borrowing" legends from another culture to bend to your own whims. - Celtic, Japanese, Aboriginal, Egyptian, Roman... it's all been done. Usually poorly. Margo of the Bransforums recently wrote a wonderful post on this very topic that you should most definitely read. This gets a little bit sticky when a writer wants to use a creature most commonly found in a certain culture's mythology (see: fairies/faeries), but the more important point to keep in mind is doing one's research and not including another culture just for the "magical Native" superficial storyline. When using this sort of trope, it's very important to try and find a member of the culture you're portraying and ask if they'd mind giving their opinion on whether you're being patronizing/offensive or not.

Have you caught any overused tropes in YA Paranormal Romance you'd like to share?


{ Magan } at: April 11, 2011 at 1:32 PM said...

Lol, LOVE this. I couldn't agree more! Except I didn't know that there was a vampire story in which the vampire was actually an alien! What story is that?

{ Robin_Lucas } at: April 11, 2011 at 1:42 PM said...

Agreed. Fully!

Isn't it an oxymoron? A helpless heroin...

{ Andrew Leon } at: April 12, 2011 at 3:46 PM said...

Alien vampires are fairly common in movies, so it doesn't surprise me that it would pop up YA, although I haven't run into it myself. Of course, I don't focus on YA in my reading, either.
I mean, I still haven't even been able to force myself to read The Hunger Games, because I just can't get behind the premise of the story.

On the topic of clueless adults: It's always compounded by the protagonist keeping knowledge from said adults. That's one reason I like Harry Potter, the kids do actually go to the adults once they figure out they can do that. It's refreshing.

Good post!

{ Gennifer Albin } at: April 15, 2011 at 12:41 PM said...

There are certain hot buttons that show up in summaries that result in an immediate putting back of the book. I think word of mouth is key to paranormal romance success, because I rarely pick one up without a recommendation.

{ cookie } at: May 13, 2011 at 1:55 PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
{ cookie } at: May 13, 2011 at 2:02 PM said...

*scraps paranormal love story involving the loch ness monster and a hunky vampire*.

There is a manga called Absolute Boyfriend that is about a "perfect lover"--a robot designed specifically to meet the clients needs, although even he has flaws. It's really funny.

{ Carradee } at: May 23, 2011 at 10:54 AM said...

"Maybe have a character who's a crotchety old lady stuck in a teen's body. Could be fun."

Oh, that is. It certainly is. ^_^

No mention of the biology class trope? Where the bad boy harasses the narrator in bio, sometimes with the teacher's help?

And what about the narrator's utter lack of "…Weird" when she discovers how old the bad-boy-trapped-in-teen's-body is? I've had friends marry guys over a decade their seniors, some of them still in their teens at the engagement/wedding, and I felt weird about it at first. I got used to it, but it took some exposure to get there.

kelly at: July 16, 2011 at 8:18 AM said...

a character that is so perfect that apart from being too protective and occasionally digests blood, is the 100% perfect boyfriend. He's not to everyone else and is mostly only super-nice to the girl, who is inevitably a plain jane... he invariably refuses to fall in love with her, since "she deserves better" and then realizes he wants her, falls in love with her and then protacts her against the big baddies... also I hate it when the plain jane heroine is picked on in school by the pretty, perfect, mean cheerleader type, who dates the jock...

Anonymous at: March 27, 2012 at 3:24 PM said...

The heroine acts like a naive idiot or does silly things like stalking the creepy guy from biology class in the middle of the night in a seedy part of a city without telling anyone where she is. Where are the heroines with backbones or a sense of suspicion? They sometimes have dark stories, but those histories don't seem to influence their actions the way they should.

{ S.J.S } at: November 16, 2012 at 8:44 AM said...

I enjoyed your post. While I was reading it I thought a more appropriate title than "YA common clichés series: paranormal romance" would've been: The Clichés of Twilight ;)

{ Penelope Reece } at: December 9, 2012 at 8:11 PM said...

Loved you post. Very informative. I'll keep this in mind before I publish any YA paranormal romances.

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