I swear if I read the words “destiny” or “rebellion” again in another YA novel I’m going to light the book on fire. Well, not literally, because I usually read on my Kindle but you get my point. So many YA sci-fi or fantasy authors are still trying to write the next Hunger Games. Writers and publishers alike hope to capture the success of that series by copying the formula. Here are 3 clichés that worked in Hunger Games but don’t necessarily need to be done to death.
1. The protagonist is the “chosen one.”
Having a main character destined for greatness was fresh back in 1977. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker was strong in the Force, just like the film itself, and predestined to bring peace to the galaxy. And he did just that. Him being the “chosen one” works well for that story. Nowadays, any hint of a protagonist in a novel who’s fated to overthrow some cruel Emperor inspires me to roll my eyes instead of to keep reading. I read a lot of YA and this cliché comes up uncomfortably often.
2. The protagonist joins the rebellion against the Empire.
Again, see Star Wars: A New Hope. As we all know, (if you don’t know, sorry for the spoilers. Why haven’t you seen this classic yet?) Luke joins the Rebel Alliance and destroys the Death Star, striking a major blow against the Empire. I sigh when I open a YA novel and read about the terrible (foreign-sounding made-up name) Empire and the rebellion lead by an older adult who’s hard on the protagonist. I’m sure there are other things that can happen in a fantasy or sci-fi novel, such as having the protagonist explore a new planet or continent.
3. The story plays out over a trilogy of novels.
For once, I’d love a fantasy or sci-fi novel to tell a three-act story in one novel. Perhaps, I’m a hypocrite, as I’m currently working on a fantasy trilogy myself; however, the following two novels I have planned will both be self-contained. I deeply enjoyed Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and felt the novel told a complete story in those 251 pages, though there were hints of a future plot for Ender and other characters. I later discovered Ender’s Game was part of a quartet of novels but I have no interest in reading the sequels. Card could have ended Ender’s story at the conclusion of the first novel.
Many YA novels feel incomplete because they’re part of a trilogy. You have to read the next two to understand what’s going on. That’s fine every once in a while, but, as a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, it’d be nice to pick up new novel, read it from cover-to-cover and get a satisfying conclusion. I understand the financial incentive, as well as the world-building investment, for an author to write a trilogy but I think a solid one-shot novel is enjoyable for a reader.
Thankfully, we’ve moved away from the post-apocalyptic trend. That genre got old real fast. There are only so many ways the world can end and those were all explored in a few short years. Zombie apocalypse? Check. Nuclear War? Check. Climate change? Done to death. Though, that last one keeps me up at night because climate change could actually cause the end of the world. Can we please make sure Marie Lu’s Legend doesn’t happen in real life?
In conclusion, if Star Wars were originally a YA novel trilogy it would have killed today and ultimately would have been turned into a multimillion-dollar film franchise. Too bad it came out in 1977. It’s time for us to come up with new ideas. Nevertheless, every now and then, someone publishes a wonderful novel that presents usually-clichéd fantastical themes in refreshing way. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is one such novel and I highly recommend it. Check out my review here. No matter what you write, characterization wins out in the end. I can forgive Tahir’s use of clichéd fantasy elements because her characters are so engaging and the writing is so tight.
As a writer of YA fantasy and sci-fi, it encourages me to see so many novels being published monthly in the genre. That means there’s a strong market for such books. As I write, I endeavor to avoid the aforementioned clichés and write a good story. Do or do not. There is no try.