Welcome everyone! After a break for my midterm exams, I’m back. This week, I’ll be continuing my series on the issues with literature of the young adult category. Last time’s piece feels a little incomplete, looking back, and so I’ve decided to delve deeper into that sphere of discussion.
More specific than character types – general protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, and so on – are character tropes, which are essentially common attributes or even pre-set characteristics which a character may have, often for no reason other than to further a plot and act as a plot device.
Three extremely popular, which readers often either love, hate, or love-to-hate, are the ‘average-outsider-who-isn’t-really-average’, the ‘chosen-one’, and finally, the ‘love-triangle’.
Let’s start off by talking about the first trope. By ‘average-outsider-who-isn’t-really-average’, I refer to the main characters that are described as not like the other people in their school, work, or other environment.
Often, this main character is supposed to be different, but the traits or “quirks” that are supposed to set them apart really aren’t very unique. This can even result in what’s commonly called the ‘Mary Sue’/’Gary Stu’ syndrome – when the main character is special for reasons unclear, and the side characters do everything in their power to help the main Mary or Gary really hasn’t done much to redeem such efforts.
These characters have an unusual appearance, have many talents that just pop up when it is necessary, and are for some reason, more powerful than their peers. They might have a dramatic and tragic backstory, and if the character is a teenager, it is likely that they are an orphan. This is supposed to rouse more empathy and feeling towards the character to the point where it has become quite the cliché in this category of literature.
And if the author tries to over-compromise for this situation, it usually results in the plot being bent out of its way to make itself convenient for the main character. For example, the main character is a hero, who ultimately wins against the villain by spying. But if this “spying” is just conveniently-timed eavesdropping, or overhearing things they shouldn’t, then spying really isn’t one of their skills.
A few examples of these “Marys” and “Garys” in young adult literature can include Bella Swan from the ‘Twilight’ series by Stephanie Meyer, Nancy Drew by from the eponymous middle grade series about a girl detective by Carolyn Keene, and Clary Fray, the protagonist of the ‘Mortal Instruments’ series by Cassandra Clare.
This trope also plays into that of the ‘chosen one’. The main character, by some prophecy or fortune is the savior of the story and all the other characters go out of their way to make sure that the path is easy for this saviour.
I feel like this takes away from the main character’s development, because they never get to go through a situation that could reveal more layers or build their personality, instead, the plot ends up feeling forced and convenient.
The third and final trope I’d like to discuss today is that of the dreaded love-triangle. More and more, we see these in movies and Netflix originals geared towards young adults with the same cast over and over again.
In these stories, it’s typically a girl being pursued by two boys. The girl is usually some sort of Mary Sue, or is somehow “different” from everyone else. And her pursuers are of two broad types: the girl is forced to choose between the “boy-next-door-who-she’s-known-her-whole-life” or the “mysterious-new-bad-boy-who-intrigues-her”. Quite honestly, this trope can easily become problematic when it romanticises toxic relationships.
Some may argue that tropes in fiction and fantasy aren’t to be complained about, because after all, they aren’t real. But I feel that for any sort of story to be enjoyable, there has to be some relatable element for a character or plot to seem plausible.
That’s all I have for this week! See you next time!
You can find more stuff by me on:
read part one and two of this write up here: