I'm Tired of Cardboard Cutouts

12:49 PM


Hello, random mini-rant.

really i was just too lazy to make a graphic today.
Basically today I am going to whine about a thing I always whine about, because I've been reading a lot of books lately -- let's be real, I'm always reading a lot of books -- and I have many frustrations. Frustrations with YA, mostly. look out for the upcoming YA bashing, oh yeah.

I'm tired of cardboard cutouts. 

Tell me: does this sound familiar? Girl moves to new town/school. Girl is an outcast, possibly with some mental illness issues. Girl meets broken sarcastic geeky-but-still-cool boy. They fall in love. They go to parties. They get drunk a lot and make stupid reckless teen decisions. One of them probably dies at the end. 

Or: Peasant boy in fake-medieval-England land has always been ordinary. Until he finds out that he's not -- he's actually the lost prince, or the chosen one, or whatever, and he must go on a quest to defend the land. He acquires excellent fighting skills on the way. 

Or: Girl has always lived in this dystopian sci-fi with Capitalized Nouns everywhere. Girl is an outcast who thinks the society is rubbish despite the fact that she's never known anything else and has no reason to have questions. Enter dark brooding boy and also The Rebels. Girl leads the rebellion. Etc. 

It kinda feels like I've been reading the same three or four things lately. Don't get me wrong, I love YA. That's mostly what I read. And there's some genuinely good, unique stuff out there that's blowing my mind. But most of it leaves me feeling...a little bit like someone just put their own character names into the basic plot template and ran away with it. 
sorry, but it's true.
Maybe I'm just really really picky and critical. Lots of people like a lot of these books that I found wildly cliche. So maybe it's just me. I really don't know.

But here's the thing: I really feel like we can do better than that. 

We've been given a world full of unique stories and unique people. More than that, we've been given an endless imagination with which to come up with even more unique worlds and people. So why does it feel like we're writing things over and over and over? 

(Now, I recognize that there are trends that sell well -- and there's nothing wrong with catering to those trends! If you see that dystopia is in and you decide to write a dystopia, that's not bad. But there's a way to take those genre trends and make your own fresh story out of it, I'm sure. I've seen it lots of times.) 

I don't necessarily have an answer to this, or a suggestion to fix it, writer though I am. It's just something that's been bothering me lately. I don't want another contemporary that reads exactly like John Green. I don't want another Hunger Games. I don't want the dark and brooding mysterious love interest; I don't want the "ordinary girl" with the extraordinarily quirky interests that no one else has. (Again, I don't need more John Green.) Authors are people with their own experiences and ideas and personalities, and I want to see that come through! I'm tired of reading Divergent over and over again. Maybe that's just me. But that's how it is. Why aren't we thinking outside the box more? 

I really don't know, but it's starting to get on my nerves. And I'm DNF-ing more and more books because of it. And I just...don't know. 

Rant over.
mic drop!

Have you been seeing a lot of cliche/cardboard-cutout YA recently? Or not? What do you think about this whole thing?

25 comments

  1. Oh, gosh, I know exactly what you mean. I don't read nearly as much YA as a I used to, and even though I love the good ones to bits, the bad ones can be so, so, frustrating. One of my biggest pet peeves is that almost every YA book has some kind of romance tacked on, even when they're much more interesting relationships that could be explored. And a lot of the plots are very cookie-cutter. There's nothing wrong with writing a story that's been done before (it's impossible not to, actually) as long as you find some way to make it your own, and as long as it feels real. Even if they're fantasy or sci-fi, I want stories to capture some of the reality of being a teenager, and lately I haven't found a lot of YA books that do that.

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    1. Yes! I don't mind romance, but it's always such a big deal when it really shouldn't be, and I just want a good new story, y'know? It's a shame that we have to read the same plots over and over as long as you can put your own spin on that.

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  2. Gosh, I feel you. As much as I love YA, it's getting frustrating. And then when I go to write, I find myself tending towards those trends, because my mind has been so filled with them. But I don't want to be another cardboard cutout, so then I just end up frustrated with myself and it's a long, viscous cycle. Ugh.

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    1. *vicious gosh what is wrong with me XD

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    2. Yeah, it's starting to frustrate me a lot and I'm not sure what to do about it. Sigh.

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  3. This is essentially why I've developing a dislike for all dystopian books (they just plain annoy me these days). Fantasy I don't mind so much, since I usually enjoy it, but it has to give me something different or shiny if it's also going to follow the basic young hero journey/trope.

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    1. I know, right? I like dystopia a lot, but I get annoyed reading the same thing over and over and over and over again. Ugh.

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  4. I definitely agree with this, and it's why I so rarely read contemporaries. They all seem way too similar to hold my interest for very long - and even when there are some that are partially unique, the high-school-party, new-girl tropes they always include still serve to downgrade the plot, in my opinion. Therefore, I stick to fantasy - there are plenty of problems with uniqueness and stereotypes in the fantasy genre, to be sure, but because of the fact that ANYTHING can happen in a fantasy I've personally found a slightly larger variety of things. All genres (especially dystopian) have this problem, though. :/

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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    1. I know, right? I wouldn't be opposed to reading more contemporaries if they weren't all the same plot repeatedly.

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  5. Yaaas! A Time to Die was like a super interesting original version of the dystopian one, like it was fresh.

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    1. That's been on my list for a while now! I really need to get to it.

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  6. Here's an idea you'll probably hate. Choose a great literary classic from the 19th century. Read it carefully, with the intent of truly understanding the book. Then analyze it. Discuss it with friends and others who love the work. What point is there in reading 20 (or more) throw away novels over the summer? Throw away novels written by throw away writers are a terrible waste of your time.

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  7. I have been reading a lot more books recently (like 2 or 3 pfft) but not to the point where I am frustrated with YA. The major problem I have with YA is the romance. Ugh. Boring Girl meets Interesting Boy, they fall in love (as if!) and of course, of COURSE they have that inevitable sex scene near the end because we teenagers are super crazy and are not able to function properly without seeing one inside a YA book.

    Also, everyone gets in a relationship. That is utter nonsense. Especially when those people are always geeky people. Yes, we geeky people can get into relationships but not as easily as less geeky people. Or nerdy? I dunno. I know what author I'm talking about. *side eye*

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  8. Same tho... That is why I am very picky about which YA novels I buy so I don't have to cringe over tired plotlines and characters. Honestly, I wish people would write stuff that was true to them instead of trying to follow trends. *has an epiphany* Actually, people should just do that in general, and everything would be so much better... Great post, Aimee!

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  9. I feel you, man. This is why I don't read a lot of YA. I know there are a lot of great YA books out there, but to find them you have to swim through a sea of Chosen Ones and Broody Rebellion Boyfriends, and I just don't enjoy dealing with that most of the time. (I'm sorry I'm not very coherent, I've been gone to camp with some of my youth group and like 1300 other teens all week and I'm emotionally and mentally shot.)

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  10. I soooo agree! Why bother writing if you are just going to do what EVERYONE else is doing? I would suggest that the way to fix it is to stop trying to follow the latest trends in a different way and set NEW trends, create NEW styles of writing, and strive to do something NO ONE has ever done before. Being different and unique is also easier if you have a unique message straight from your heart and your own experiences (not someone else's!) to share.

    P.S. I kinda don't read YA for that reason and also because a lot of it is so inappropriate. I just read adult fiction and go to write my own YA!

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  11. I'm completely with you on this. I love YA, but I've found myself getting more and more discouraged because so much of the YA I've been reading over the past few years just hasn't been particularly special or original. There are so many minds out there with so many unique experiences, and it doesn't make much sense to me that writers end up writing so much of the same stuff. Part of me wants to figure out why, but also part of me realizes that it probably wouldn't be fair to sign motivation, but it's still frustrating. And I really hope I'm able to break out of the mold, for the sake of my own sanity more than anything, because I do want my art to mean something. It's not really worth it for me if I'm just writing the same thing that everyone has already read a dozen times before.

    Thank you for sharing! :)

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  12. Yes. Very important discussion. (I said more then accidentally deleted the comment :( )

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  13. I would like to like YA more, but... nope.

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  14. THIS. I completely agree 110%. One of the best things about reading is diving into a new world and having your imagination swept away, but if every single book is almost completely the same then it doesn't impact you nearly as much. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous post! <3

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

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  15. *highly approves of this post*

    The dystopian cliche annoys me the most. I mean, I thought by now people have figured out that the same story has been written like 196454 times already and they don't need to rewrite it for the 196455th time??

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  16. This is what causes most of my reading slumps.

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  17. Excellent observation, and I agree that this is a serious problem.
    I recently went to a writing convention where a panel of editors also brought up this problem. They told everyone in the room that they wanted to stop seeing so many cliches. When I asked how to avoid writing a cliche since there is no such thing as an idea that no one has ever had before, I received a very helpful answer. According to them, the best way to avoid writing cliches is to take any of the common tropes and turn them on their head. These were editors of short stories, and apparently they see a lot of stories about people on the edges of cliffs contemplating suicide. A way to turn that on it's head would be to maybe write about the poor person who'd have to clean up that suicide...

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  18. This post made me both laugh and cry a little inside. It's just too real... But at least I'm not the only one who's feelin' the pain!

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  19. I TOTALLY AGREE. It's possible to write something that's relevant but still entirely original. Actually, that's preferable. It's always better to be original, especially when it comes to basic plot lines and character types. >_>

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