YA Fantasy Clichés: The Tropes We Love and Love to Hate
From chosen ones to love triangles, YA fantasy is full of tropes that readers either adore or despise. While some may argue that these clichés are overused and predictable, others can’t get enough of them. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the most common YA fantasy tropes and why they continue to captivate readers.
The Chosen One
The Chosen One trope is a classic in YA fantasy. It involves a protagonist who is destined to save the world or defeat an evil force. This character is often marked in some way, whether it be a birthmark or a prophecy, and must go on a journey to fulfill their destiny. While some readers may find this trope predictable, others love the sense of destiny and adventure it brings to the story. Plus, who doesn’t love rooting for an underdog who rises to greatness?
Ways to Subvert The “Chosen One” Trope
- The Chosen One’s Redemption: The protagonist starts as a villain or antihero, but through a series of events, they discover their true destiny as the Chosen One. They embark on a journey of redemption, striving to make amends for their past actions while fulfilling their newfound role.
- The Failed Chosen One: The protagonist was initially believed to be the Chosen One but fails miserably in their first attempt to fulfill their prophecy. They struggle with self-doubt and must learn from their failure, finding alternative paths to eventually fulfill their destiny in unexpected ways.
- The Multiple Chosen Ones: Instead of a single Chosen One, there are multiple individuals who possess the potential to fulfill the prophecy. The story explores the dynamics and conflicts that arise among the chosen individuals as they compete or collaborate to fulfill their shared destiny.
- The Chosen One’s Sidekick: The real protagonist of the story is not the Chosen One but rather their loyal sidekick. While the Chosen One possesses great power, they lack the necessary wisdom or skill to navigate the challenges they face. The sidekick becomes the true hero, using their resourcefulness and intelligence to guide and protect the Chosen One.
- The Unchosen One: The protagonist is mistakenly believed to be the Chosen One but discovers that they were never meant to fulfill the prophecy. They struggle to find their own purpose and identity while the actual Chosen One remains hidden or unknown, eventually revealing themselves to save the day.
- The Chosen One’s Rebellion: The protagonist, upon realizing their destined role, rebels against it and actively works to subvert or overthrow the system that appointed them as the Chosen One. They question the authority behind the prophecy and seek to redefine their own fate and that of their world.
Love triangles are a common trope in YA fantasy, where the protagonist is torn between two love interests. While some readers may find this trope overused and predictable, others love the drama and tension it brings to the story. It also allows for exploration of different types of love and relationships, and can add an extra layer of complexity to the plot. However, it’s important for authors to handle love triangles carefully and not rely on them as a crutch for a weak plot or character development.
Ways to Subvert the Love Triangle Trope
- The Role Reversal: In a twist on traditional gender roles, the love triangle involves two individuals of the same gender vying for the affection of a third person of the opposite gender. This reversal adds a fresh perspective to the dynamics of attraction, relationships, and societal expectations.
- The Mutual Agreement: Rather than being torn between two people, the protagonist finds themselves at the center of a love triangle where all three parties are aware of each other’s feelings. They decide to enter into a unique arrangement where they openly communicate and negotiate their emotional boundaries, leading to an unconventional but consensual relationship.
- The Non-Romantic Resolution: The love triangle is resolved not through romantic choices, but rather through a deep exploration of platonic love and friendship. The three individuals realize that their connection transcends traditional romantic notions, and they choose to support each other as friends rather than pursuing a romantic relationship.
- The Self-Discovery Journey: Instead of focusing solely on the romantic aspect, the love triangle becomes a catalyst for the protagonist’s self-discovery and personal growth. The three characters navigate their complex emotions and develop a deep understanding of themselves, ultimately realizing that their own self-love and self-fulfillment are more important than any romantic relationship.
- The Shared Love: Instead of one person having to choose between two individuals, they discover that the two rivals for their affection have developed feelings for each other as well. The love triangle transforms into a complex web of interconnected relationships, where the focus shifts from choosing one over the other to finding a way for all three to navigate their shared emotions.
The Villainous Authority Figure
The villainous authority figure is a common trope in YA fantasy, where a powerful figure such as a king, queen, or other ruler is the main antagonist. This trope allows for exploration of themes such as power, corruption, and rebellion. However, it can also be overused and predictable if not handled carefully. It’s important for authors to give their villainous authority figure depth and motivation, rather than simply making them evil for the sake of being evil. Additionally, it’s important to avoid making the authority figure a one-dimensional caricature and to show the complexity of their character.
Ways to subvert the villainous authority figure
- The Misguided Mentor: Instead of being an outright villain, the authority figure genuinely believes they are doing what’s best for the protagonist. However, their methods and decisions are morally questionable or misguided, leading to conflict and the protagonist eventually realizing they must challenge their mentor’s authority.
- The Reluctant Oppressor: This authority figure holds a position of power but is deeply conflicted about their role. They understand the corrupt nature of their authority but feel trapped or obligated to uphold it. They secretly aid the protagonist’s resistance while maintaining a façade of oppression, helping them in their quest to bring down the system from within.
- The Trapped Pawn: In this twist, the authority figure appears as the primary antagonist, but it is revealed that they are under the control or manipulation of a more sinister force. Their seemingly villainous actions are a result of being forced into submission or having their loved ones held hostage, adding complexity to their character and allowing for potential redemption.
- The Hidden Protector: Initially presented as the main antagonist, this authority figure enforces strict rules and ruthlessly suppresses any opposition. However, it is eventually revealed that they are secretly working behind the scenes to protect the realm or organization from a greater threat, sacrificing their reputation and becoming the villain to ensure the survival of those they serve.
- The Authority Figure in Crisis: Instead of being inherently evil, this authority figure is dealing with personal struggles, trauma, or mental health issues that affect their judgment and behavior. Their actions may seem villainous, but it becomes evident that they are in desperate need of help, leading to a moral dilemma for the protagonist—whether to defeat or assist them.
The Magical School
The magical school is a beloved trope in YA fantasy, popularized by the Harry Potter series. It allows for a sense of wonder and discovery as the protagonist learns about their magical abilities and the world they inhabit. However, it can also be overused and formulaic if not executed well. To make the magical school trope fresh and engaging, authors should focus on creating unique and interesting magical systems, as well as exploring themes such as friendship, loyalty, and the struggle between good and evil. Additionally, it’s important to avoid relying too heavily on the school setting and to incorporate other elements of the world into the story.
Ways to Subvert the Magical Schoop Trope
- Unreliable Magic: In this twist, magic is unpredictable and unreliable. The school becomes a place where students struggle to control their erratic powers, and the curriculum revolves around finding ways to manage and mitigate the unintended consequences of magic gone awry.
- Mundane Protagonist: The story follows a non-magical protagonist who is hired as a teacher or staff member at a magical school. Through their unique perspective, the narrative explores the challenges and conflicts between magic users and non-magic individuals in the school environment.
- Magical School Dropout: Instead of the protagonist excelling at the magical school, they decide to leave the institution before completing their studies. The story then focuses on their adventures and personal growth outside the confines of the school, highlighting the unconventional paths and alternative means of magical education they pursue.
- Anti-Magic Academy: In a world where magic is generally accepted, this school takes a different approach. It trains students to combat and neutralize magic, viewing it as a potential threat. The students learn ways to counter spells and develop strategies to protect themselves and others from magical harm.
- Modern Technology and Magic: The magical school embraces modern technology alongside traditional magical training. Students explore the fusion of magic and technology, creating enchanted gadgets, coding spells, and using virtual reality simulations to enhance their magical abilities.
The prophecy is a classic trope in YA fantasy, often used to add a sense of destiny and importance to the protagonist’s journey. However, it can also be overused and predictable if not executed well. To make the prophecy trope fresh and engaging, authors should focus on creating a unique and complex prophecy that isn’t just a simple “chosen one” narrative. Additionally, it’s important to explore the consequences and limitations of the prophecy, as well as the moral implications of fulfilling it. By subverting expectations and adding depth to the trope, authors can create a compelling and memorable story.
Ways to subvert the Prophecy Trope
- The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The prophecy foretells a disastrous event, but the characters’ actions to prevent it are actually what bring about the very outcome they were trying to avoid. Their efforts unwittingly set the events in motion, creating a tragic loop of cause and effect.
- The Shared Prophecy: Instead of a single prophecy, there are multiple interpretations or versions of the prophecy, each held by different factions or characters. These interpretations conflict with one another, leading to rivalries, alliances, and unexpected twists as the characters strive to determine which prophecy is true.
- The Prophecy’s Unintended Consequences: The characters interpret and act upon the prophecy with good intentions, but their actions unknowingly lead to unintended and catastrophic consequences. They must face the repercussions of their actions and find a way to rectify the situation.
- The Prophecy’s Unconventional Hero: The prophecy names a seemingly unlikely or unworthy hero who defies traditional expectations. The protagonist must confront their own doubts and insecurities while proving that they possess the qualities necessary to fulfill the prophecy in their own unique way.
- The Prophecy’s Hidden Agenda: The prophecy is not meant to be fulfilled in the literal sense but serves as a smokescreen for a hidden agenda. Uncovering the true motives behind the prophecy becomes a central mystery, challenging the characters to question their assumptions and uncover the real power players behind the scenes.
So there you have it, dear readers. The tropes that make our beloved YA fantasy novels both delightfully predictable and frustratingly clichéd. But let’s be real – we secretly adore them. They’re like our favorite guilty pleasure snack; we know they’re not exactly nutritious, but we can’t help devouring them anyway.
Remember, tropes are the spice of life in the fantasy genre, and they keep us coming back for more. So let’s celebrate the clichés, laugh at their absurdity, and appreciate the creative twists authors manage to throw our way.
Until next time, keep turning those pages and embracing the fantastical journey that is YA fantasy!
Want to learn more about tropes and how they are used? Check out this website.
Up Next: Why you might need a writing coach