Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Overused Themes in YA, PART II

To recap: I read this article by Joelle Anthony, called Red Hair Is Not As Uncommon As You Think.

She listed tired themes in YA fiction, and it really got me thinking.

I'm revealing her list in a series of fives. You can find the first set, here.

The second set, is below.

6. Characters that like retro music-generally of the era that the author was in high school. Guilty. But let me explain. When using music references, I choose artists/songs that stand the test of time. Or, I make up trendy sounding band or song names. Also, hubby is a musician and total music snob. In high school he and his friends only listened to 70's bands, and to this day claim that era is when all the "good music" happened. So I kinda developed one of my characters after him. How about you?



7. Irresponsible parents, with main character who end up paying bills, cooking, cleaning etc. In a YA writer's defense, how else are we supposed to get the adults out of the picture? But yeah, it's kind of overkill in YA books. One example I can think of where the parents are both "absent" is in SHIVER, but there are plenty more. I actually like reading stories with decent parents, and I've definitely tried creating more responsible, loving parents in my stories.



8. Female characters obsessed with Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Bennet in general. Yes, I've noticed this. It's about making a connection to a "classic love story". I call this the Bella/Stephanie Meyer effect. When I walk into Target, I cringe seeing the classic, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, with a hug sticker slapped on it that reads, "Bella's favorite book." A ploy to get kids reading? Sure, but enough already!


9. Main characters who hate math. I've got a couple of theories about this one. As a sweeping generalization, I'll say that writers are no mathematicians. So we may create this kind of character as a math cop-out (hey, less to research). Also mathematicians aren't seen as sensitive types, so it's not a good trait for the school hottie. But it is for the nerd who turns into a hottie. :D



10. A main character with only one good friend. The plot almost always includes the compulsary argument scene, leaving her to eat lunch alone for weeks--usually in the library. The one book that comes to mind is SOME GIRLS ARE (such a great book). But I get why this is a theme. It ramps up the intensity and drama.


The point, again, is that themes are bound to be repeated. Be more creative and make your story your own!

See you on Thursday!

23 comments:

Jen Daiker said...

Wow! I'm actually starting to feel good about my YA novels! It seems that I'm not an over-user. Yay!!!

Most of my novels have more than one friend, at least one parent is present at all times (or was at least loved if they had passed on) and music isn't something that normally creeps up unless it's apart of the era!

Matthew Rush said...

Excellent breakdown Christina! I think you're right though, there is nothing wrong with using themes and archetypes that have been used before, as long as you don't overdo it and you do it well.

Little Ms J said...

Doesn't everyone suck at math? Oh, no? Just me. Well.

Cheyanne said...

I agree with all of these, but especially number 6 bothers me. I guess it's because I am very much a child of my own generation (my parents don't' listen to music) so I know NOTHING about stuff from the 70s, 80s, etc and it really annoys me when I read about teenagers who are obsessed with music I can't relate to.

As for the Jane Austen thing, OH COME ON, EVERYONE LOVES JANE AUSTEN! LOL

Great post. I wish I had that DVD set...

Christine Fonseca said...

Love this series. It has been something I have been thinking about as I read book after book - and they all seem to blend together. Nicely done.

Debbie said...

I think you may be on to something with your math theory. My son who wants to be a writer is terrible at math and I can just imagine him inserting a like-minded character into one of his novels.

Anne said...

I think I'm safe from most of these! *whew* I agree with you on the math. We just don't use that half of our brains like we should. :)

Maddy said...

How funny!! I think I've read books that have had all these themes crammed into one book! I just chuckled reading about the "Bella's Favorite Book" sticker. That would warrant an eye roll from me :)

Lourie said...

I don't like most of the music my daughter listens too. It's not bad or noisy (usually) it's just not what I like anymore. I think I would go with making up names and people. But then, Lady Gaga...how can you beat that???

Decent parents?? You mean we still exist?

I have never noticed this before...but now I will have to look the next time I am at Target. Haha.

Math sucks. Nuff said.

Yeah there is always some sort of fight.

Is there going to be more on this? I find to be very informative. And my wheels are spinning more and more.

Melissa Gill said...

Some of these seem a bit lazy to me, but it all depends on the writing. I just read "The Things A Brother Knows" terrific book, the main character is a contemporary teen who loves the Beatles. But it all seemed very organic to the character, not forced.

the Jane Austin/Wuthering Heights thing I thing is just lazy. Not challenging the reader to know any other classics, or the writer to investigate others that might have more interesting themes.

But I really can't wait for all contemporary heroines to claim "Twilight" is their favorite book. While this is a totally realistic assumption, I hope to be more original myself.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm having such fun reading these outloud to my daughter. Sometimes she just laughs.

(Florida) Girl said...

Confession: #8 made me giggle. Probably because I qualify.

Cheree said...

Great list. I have to agree with #10. I've seen that a lot in YA novels.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

This is pretty funny! Now I need to go back and read the other half of the list. The music one made me giggle. A little transparent, huh?

blueviolet said...

#8 really annoys me too!

Clara said...

Guilty of 6 and 7! Great post, my dear!!!

Melissa said...

I think I missed the first of this post series- something I will be rectifying!

In real life, I am a MAJOR music snob. I'm obsessed with music and people are sometimes (most of the time) shocked by how much music I know (like can sing lyrics too). I'm totally obsessed but I keep it out of my writing (or have so far) because so far I haven't written a character who is actually obsessed with music. IT's just not a part of their characters.

Well, my MC lacks parents in my novel but that's because one of them is dead and the other one....well she never met - he was gone before she was born. That being said, I have future novels lingering where parents and family play a huge role because my mom and her family are such a huge part of my life and I'd really love to write an MC who had that kind of support!

Well, I guess I get out of the only one friend thing because I have seven mainish characters (in my head anyway) and they all become friends - more or less - by the end.

To be honest... I don't really get the Jane Austen thing....


Have a great day!

Matthew Rush said...

My dashboard said you had a new post, but now it's gone. Sad.

Krispy said...

LOL, I love this series. I've definitely seen these recurring in the YA novels I've read, but as you say, they're not always done badly.

The one that really gets me is absent/irresponsible parents. I get that the YA MC needs to be able to get out and into trouble and such, but if the parents are going to be there w/o actually being there, I think I'd prefer the author to just go with the other much-used orphan theme. Then at least I'm not sitting there wondering what is up with these parents???. Or you know, think of a creative way to get the parents out of the way (long business trip? captured by the Bad Guy? MC goes on long trip?).

The ONE good friend thing also annoys me, but not as much as absent/irresponsible parents. This might just be because I have a few very good friends. And anyway, I know it's hard to have that many characters running around if they're not going to be integral to the plot.

Meredith said...

I think YA is all about growing up and pushing away from the family into the individual space (if that makes sense), so I understand why absent parents are tempting. But I'm always more interested when the parents are physically and emotionally present and have tension with the MC.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great breakdown.

I'm guilty of the absent/irresponsible parents. You're right though, I had to get them out of the way. LOL.

Solvang Sherrie said...

The thing with the parents makes me crazy. In middle grade, they're usually dead. I mean, the amount of orphans in children's literature is SO not ridiculous!

Carol Riggs said...

Yes, these are definitely overused! Good list, thanks. :) Hmm, do I use them? Maybe sometimes. I did have a responsible (single) mother but I broke her ankle on a skateboard, mwuah-haha. That got her out of the pic quite nicely.