YA Common Clichés series: YA Romance

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Today's Tune: Love Song

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 #4: YA Romance

This series may overlap my paranormal romance series a bit (since both contain, you know, romance), but for this series I'll be focusing on contemporary romance. That is, romance that takes place in the real world, minus the paranormal elements. One requirement I wanted to touch on: for a novel to be considered a romance, it must have a "happy" ending. The couple must end up together. Otherwise, it may be a novel with romantic elements, but it's not generally considered a Romance with a capital "R." Just so you know.

Romances are primarily geared toward a female audience. This is just a fact of the trade. Women read the most romances. Women also read the most YA. This is not a secret. Therefore, most romances are told from a female perspective. If they are told from the male perspective, it is heavily influenced by the female readership. That is, the male protagonist's voice is often pitched in a way that will appeal to women. He's wired for wooing, not for realism. This is an understandable cliché -- after all, the audience must be taken into account. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible to write a "male" romance, or to try to create a realistic male romantic interest. Which brings us to...

The male lead is Mr. Perfect McPerfectson. It's like the guy was engineered in a lab for optimal female seduction and romance. He's over-the-top and unrealistic. I do not mean to imply that teenage boys cannot be sensitive or romantic, because that is far from the truth. However, a common pitfall is to put too much effort into making sure the romantic interest is SUPER hot, SUPER sexy, SUPER sensitive, SUPER intelligent, SUPER romantic, and SUPER *insert ideal quality here*. It leaves the male lead feeling like a cardboard cutout. It's more well-rounded to ensure that he has some flaws.

Alternatively, the male lead is the Baddest Boy Who Ever Bad'd. We know this guy. He's an asshole. An un-subjective, complete, utter asshole. He's a jerk to our female lead, he's full of himself, he's insulting, he's crude, he's mean. But somehow, mysteriously, our female lead finds him incredibly attractive. Even when he tells her that her friends are stupid and that she should totally be into him because he's, like, so amazing, she eats up every word. This isn't your typical tortured soul with a heart of gold, which is actually one of my very favorite tropes, not gonna lie. He's more jerkass than white knight in disguise. Beware of this guy.

The couples are cisgender and/or heteronormative. Duh, right? The shelves are lined with male-female romances. Romances in which the girl acts feminine and the boy acts masculine. In which homosexual relationships aren't highlighted. This is slowly changing, but the fact still remains -- the bulk of romances come in pre-packaged "normal" gender roles. I'm not denouncing heterosexual romances, because that would be silly. Still, that doesn't mean we can't branch out. Romances depicting alternative sexualities are valid and necessary. If not homosexual/bisexual/pansexual relationships, than differentiated gender roles. Maybe the female takes a more stereotypically masculine role, or vice-versa.

In-text comparisons to classic romances abound. Your couple is on par with Romeo and Juliet. No, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. No, Catherine and Heathcliff. Helen of Troy and Paris. Their love is so epic, so star-crossed, so powerful, that it can be compared to these timeless classics. Look out... danger ahead. It's always problematic to allude to a tried-and-true classic in your contemporary romance. First, it immediately sets you up for an unfair amount of scrutiny. Second, your story better be something incredible to live up to the comparison. It's a recipe for extreme criticism. Reimaginings of classic tales aside, it's better to let your characters' romance speak for itself without the troublesome comparisons.

Love at first sight. We all know this one. In the metaphorical three seconds since they met one another, they're in love. They've had maybe one or two brief conversations, but they can't stop thinking about each other. The pull is electric, immediate, and powerful. Unfortunately, it's also usually unbelievable. There's no doubt that attraction at first sight happens. Chemical and physical attraction is a powerful thing. Still, it may be prudent to allow your romantic leads to get to know one another before the confessions of love set in.

Kissing and making goo-goo eyes come before all else. What's this about friends, family, and prior obligations? Don't people know that making out with the romantic interest is so much more important? No, it isn't. Even in a romance, the characters still have lives beyond their significant other. Allow them some space to be themselves, not just half of a couple.

The Love Triangle. Yeah, I went there. And yeah, everyone does this. It's an easy way to create conflict. Unfortunately, it rarely works. Mainly because it's almost always obvious from the start who the protagonist will end up with. It can be done successfully, but as with anything in fiction, must be executed well.

The Bitchy Competition. She's mean, she's vapid, and she has her eyes on the female lead's boy. Female degradation and competitiveness over male attention ensues. This is somewhat realistic, certainly, but that doesn't mean it's not demeaning. It's okay for the "other woman" to be painted as another whole person, rather than a one-dimensional, jerkwad antagonist.

What other clichés have you come across in YA romances?



{ TL Conway } at: July 20, 2011 at 10:23 AM said...

Very interesting post, Steph. I agree with all of these, especially the two extremes of the male love interest as either Mr. Perfect or Total Badass.

The other cliche I like to avoid is the opposite of Love at First Sight, where two characters start out HATING each other. C'mon, authors. Us readers know where this is headed. You're going to craft some tense situation where the guy or girl (or both!) will thaw that icy demeanor and they will soon fall in love...

{ Kurt Hartwig } at: July 20, 2011 at 3:45 PM said...

Scanning through book blogs just now. Vampires. Angels. Love triangles.

Leaving the intertubz to punch self in face.

{ R.C. Lewis } at: July 20, 2011 at 6:28 PM said...

Great post, and good for me to think about since my WIP is the most romance-oriented I've done so far. My teenage students have complained about each thing you mentioned at one time or another.

Now I'm off to read the earlier Cliché posts. Glad I found this blog. :-)

{ sprunty } at: July 20, 2011 at 9:15 PM said...

Mr. Perfect McPerfectson -- Ha! Super awesome name.

{ Emy Shin } at: July 24, 2011 at 10:33 AM said...

Love this post, Steph. I love romance in my YA novels, but the presence of many of these cliches can sour the reading experience for me -- especially the love at first sight thing.

{ Hana } at: August 6, 2012 at 4:21 PM said...

A) I hate love triangles, and true loves. Bravo
B) you nailed down male stereotypes down very very well
C)you are right... why no yuri/yaoi in a novel? (in case you wonder what yuri and yaoi is, it's lesbian content and gay content respectively)
You my friend, should write an essay about rare tropes & idioms that aren't cliched out yet. Some ideas to inspire what we could use for our stories, to spice them up.

{ linda } at: December 19, 2012 at 7:33 PM said...

Hey, I did a post on YA Romance Pet Peeves a while back, too! Looks like our lists have quite a few items in common. Glad I'm not the only one who finds those romance cliches unbearable! :)

{ Maria Hossain } at: January 18, 2016 at 9:44 AM said...

I know this comment comes in late but boy! When nothing from this list checked out in my YA romance, I let out such a loud "YES!" that my Mom practically glared at me. Sure my male protagonist is a bad boy but this is because he wants to draw his negligent parents' attention and because he suffers from middle child syndrome. Not to impress the girl who's anything but feminine gooey gooey eyed. Thank you for this hilarious yet useful post.

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