And yet, we see how successful books/movies can be with/despite clichés. So...how come we gotta be the ones to write all new, uncommon stuff? Maybe I want to write a story about a parentless teenage girl who ignores the sweet, pimply little fella stalking her and falls for the bad boy (vampire/werewolf/jock/guitarist) who ignores her, reforming said bad boy with her love so that they end up on a double date to prom with teenage girl's gay BFF and her former arch nemesis, the perky blonde hiding deep-seated insecurities.**
Okay, so, that was filled with "clichés," but I kind of want to read that story.
Maybe the problem is that we've come to believe common equals bad.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But from a $$$ standpoint, it seems to be pretty dang okay***. Not in the sense that you should now write a book about a pale girl named Jella who moves to Spoons and falls for a vampire named Eddie Sullen (that's fan fiction--and a whole other blog post); but in the sense that so many big sellers have derivative qualities and "clichés." Ideally, you can write an original, entertaining and gloriously lyrical story without a single cliché and make MILLIONS of dollars. But. Why exactly are you trying to eradicate all sense of the familiar? Are you really that opposed to prom? To gay best friends? To teenage girl MCs?****
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the use of clichés. Neither am I condemning it. Per se. Yes, actual clichés, especially in abundance, can be annoying. That's hard to refute. But I think we need to be careful how we fling the cliché word around. That is, the blanket categorization of common elements in YA as cliché (and bad bad!) seems a bit careless to me, not to mention confusing, given how many successful books we've seen with said "clichés." If we were to strictly judge our manuscripts by the lists of clichés circulating the Internet, how many of us might feel compelled to rethink our stories--even if they're not filled with trite expressions, plots, and characters? Or worse, feel like we suck and should quit writing to go work in a pickle factory?
Let us not equate common with trite, my friends. A teenage girl MC is common in YA because, well, a lot of teenage girls read YA. So it makes sense it's common. In a Hello, Of COURSE kind of way. Just as it's common to have prom at the end of books (especially teenage romances), because prom is for many teenagers a meaningful event. Okay, fine, truth is most of the YA I write takes place in locations where lockers and prom and cafeteria lunches don't exist, but I was a misfit nerd who hated high school and constantly dreamed myself out of that location, so non-school settings and dangerous situations are just what I like. But if prom and hallways and homecoming makes sense for your book, and you like it, by all means, write those elements into your stories. And don't feel guilty about it. The key is to have language, plots and characters that feel original, even if the stories include prom and a vegetarian, clumsy teenage new girl at school who falls in love with the Chosen One destined to kill/eat her. In other words, write stories that are awesome (and that you love), regardless of the never-ever-don'ts they include.
Obviously, readers don't want to pay for the same old thing. They want to pick up a new story and feel the love they felt for an old story. If you can reproduce those emotions in readers without a single "cliché," AWEsome. Pip pip, cheerio. But it's totally possible to write good, original stories with common literary elements because it MAKES SENSE FOR YOUR STORY and not because that's just whatcha do in YA. Clearly, don't overload your manuscripts with every common element--that's just a parody waiting to happen.
Then again, do it if you want. Maybe it'll sell. Just write what you want to write and what people want to read. Not what you think will pass for an MFA thesis (unless you're writing an MFA thesis whether for grad school or because you really, really want to, in which case, ignore me completely.) I realize this advice (which is, after all, just a matter of opinion), is contrary to all the FOR-CRYING-OUT-LOUD-YOU-MUST-NOTs on the Internet and in your craft books. But I figure readers are hungry for good, memorable stories in all shapes and sizes. That's it. I believe in fiction as a matter of craft, and I work very hard to perfect it. But I work even harder to please potential readers in a way that feels right to me, and sometimes that entails ignoring the must-nots.
*There is no such toilet bowl, proverbial or otherwise.
**I'm not sure what happens to little fella. Let's assume he turns out to be the bad guy all along.
***This is assuming that you give two kadoodles about $$$. Perhaps you write only for yourself, or for free, in which case, well, carry on. Cheers.
****FYI, I don't advocate the use of token characters of any kind. That's just insulting and generally diminishes the quality of your characterization. So, there you go. A must-not. Oh, the irony.
In the event you did not see yet, the winner of the signed hardcover of WANDERLOVE by Kirsten Hubbard was posted HERE. Thank you to all who entered! Stay tuned for the next giveaway.