Writing YA: How to Reinvent Cliches

Everyone everywhere tells you to avoid overused cliches, and I admit I’ve vented about love triangles and Mary-Sues with the all the rest. It often seems best to dismiss cliches as nuisances, and work on making your story as original as possible.

Hear me out: cliches offer incredible writing opportunities.

Why reject a cliche that you can twist and turn upside down? Why not use them to make your readers expect one thing, and then blow them away by going in a completely different direction?

Here’s how I used twisted tropes and warped cliches in my debut novel, A Reign of Roses.

Cliche #1: Missing Parents

Why cut out the parents when they can make the most intriguing supporting characters?

In A Reign of Roses, Naverne and Cass are your typical teenage YA protagonists. Yet their parents aren’t irrelevant, dumb, or lost in the midst of a tragic past. Naverne’s father embarks on a dangerous journey to a rival nation. Cass’ mother seeks the truth of her family’s corruption.

Parents can have complex plotlines and backstories just like any other character, and something their involvement can add to, rather than distract from, the adventures of their children.

Cliche #2: I’ve Known You For Two Days But I Would Die For You

Quite unlike your typical YA male and female protagonists, Cass and Naverne maintain a happy, healthy friendship throughout the book, expressing only slight interest in the final chapters.

Books where the characters show immediate interest in one another aren’t usually fun to read about. If you’re going to give your readers a good romance, give us time to get to your characters first.

Cliche #3: I Didn’t Know I Had Powers

“Ordinary” main character realizes that they are secretly a wizard. An assassin. A shape shifter. A demon hunter.

Now flip that. Main character lives in a magical world full of people with amazing powers, yet they are born ordinary.

Sometimes, the incompetence of a main character can make for an equally interesting story. The powerful “Superiors” in A Reign of Roses can create objects out of magical mist. Cass is born without this power, making him an anomaly in his natural world and a shame to his family. In addition to the story’s villains, he must confront societal obstacles.

Cliche #4: The Heroes Are Always Right

We all know the soft-hearted hero who can’t do anything wrong, or the Dark Lord who’s evil simply because that’s who he is.

Yet good and evil are almost never distinct in real world situations. Few bullies think what they’re doing is wrong; even the meanest people find ways to justify themselves. Villains need redeeming characteristics as much as heroes need flaws.

When Cass and Naverne’s families both lay claim to an ancient crown: it becomes more and more unclear who has the right to rule as the story proceeds and more information is revealed. This encourages the readers to think more carefully about the story and root for heroes and villains alike.


I hope you found this article helpful! A Reign of Roses is currently in the querying stages. I will continue to provide you with updates as they come.

QOTD: What are your least favorite tropes in YA fiction, and how can you reinvent them?

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