Sooooooooooo it's been a while since I've created a post for this series. Let me remedy that!
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 #5: YA Science FictionScience Fiction YA is on the rise! And so are its clichés. There are still certain stigmas around sci-fi, and those unfamiliar with the genre may find themselves gravitating towards certain tropes that they think are really clever and original, but are actually extremely commonplace to those in the know. So let's get started, shall we?
Aliens and Outer Space. This is the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of science fiction. Space Operas. Doctor Who. Star Trek. Star Wars. Stargate. Starlotsofstuff. And there's nothing wrong with that! Stories set in galaxies far, far away are popular for a reason: they remind us of the newness of discovery, the great big universe outside ourselves, and stakes that are literally bigger than Planet Earth. However, a lot of newer SF writers don't even consider the broad range of science fiction that exists closer to home. Robotics! The Matrix! Genetic engineering! War simulation! If you equate SF with aliens only, look a little deeper.
The Future. A great deal of science fiction takes place in the future for obvious reasons: a lot of the science we think up hasn't been invented yet. Fair enough. But there's a lot of fun to be had in historical and present-day science fiction, as well. Even if your story is set in the future, you can still play with it. Think Firefly -- a futuristic society flavored with old-school Westerns.
Artificial Intelligence is Evil and will Kill Us All. Yeah. Everyone's scared of robots. We get it. But there is so much more philosophy about humanity and life to be explored here!
Fancy techno-gadgets. Some of these will likely be unavoidable, especially if your story is set in a futuristic society where there's, you know, futuristic technology. But sometimes writers get caught up in the cutesy technobabble and just like to throw out gadget names willy-nilly without the gadget actually adding to the atmosphere or the plot in a functional way. It's also sort of off-putting when everyone talks completely normally except for the forced techno-slang.
Morality, religion, and culture haven't changed in 1000 years. Sometimes writers forget that society shifts over time. We don't hold close to the same ideals and societal structures that our ancestors did 1000 years ago. Why are your futuristic characters still acting like 21st century teenagers? You don't have to go completely off the deep end, but some world-building and consideration of how society has changed is in order. You can even revert to an early set of ideals if it makes sense for your story.
Deux Ex Machina-style knowledge bombs. Some really heavy-level shit is going down. Something's about to explode. An airlock is about to open. The world's about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Whatever. Everything looks bleak. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a character (usually the main character) realizes they had the knowledge needed to avert disaster the whole time. Amnesia. It was hidden in their brain by SCIENCE. They have a computer chip in their neck. He was THE ONE all along. Something. POOF. Knowledge granted, crisis averted. This is a tension-destroyer and a letdown. Beware.
The bad guys are mutated, alien, malformed, or otherwise gross. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. This trope strays dangerously close to (or outright embraces) the notion that Good = human/perfect/abled/racially ideal and Bad = abnormal/unattractive/racially diverse. Be so, so careful with this.
Alien species are almost always bipedal humanoid, with the exception of the occasional cute fuzzy breed. Why's everyone in the universe gotta look like you, huh? Extra bonus points if the opposite-sex alien the protagonist meets is "even more beautiful than a human."
An alien species, the government, or a mutated race take over human bodies and use them as hosts/vehicles. One of the many forms of mind control often seen in science fiction.
Crippling plagues. Something is introduced that could (or does) essentially wipe out humanity as we know it. Bonus points if the protagonist has super special impervious DNA and the Powers That Be want to experiment on them for a cure.
Evil Scientist is toying with Very Bad Science that he should not be messing with. Chaos ensues. There's always some evil guy who wants to try his hand at this illegal or morally reprehensible science. There's little gray area here -- whatever the guy is doing, it's always viewed as bad. Why not turn this one on its head and show the positive side?
Most science fiction heroes are male. If there's a female, she's "breathtakingly beautiful," old/unattractive (and thus evil), or a pure Action Girl. This dynamic is shifting with YA, since YA is largely geared toward female audiences and written by women. Still, this is a trope to be wary of.
I see white people. So many white people. Futuristic societies are often largely Western-culture based, often American specifically. The majority of the cast is white, with perhaps a few signature minority members or alien sidekicks. Having white cast members in and of itself is not a bad thing. It's when every important character, powerful character, or good character is white that it becomes an issue. Futuristic societies would likely be a lot more diverse than your typical white-bread American town.
The main character is a super genius. Like, a SUPER DUPER genius. Mega smart. The smartest. Everything comes quickly and easily to them, and everyone wants them to be the center of their secret government organization or rebel movement. Maybe they're even the youngest captain of a starship EVER. Be mindful of not making things too easy for your protagonist, whether it's through super powers or super smarts.
What other clichés have you come across in YA science fiction?