YA Romance Tropes That Need to Stop, Part 1
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Today, we're going to buckle down and talk about lo-ove. Or, more accurately, tropes we're tired of seeing in YA romance. I say "we" so that you're obligated to agree with me. That's how things work. Onward, minions!
1) The Golden Girl Tames the Playa
Okay, first, let's address how fundamentally wrong "tame" sounds. Makes me think of a wild possum you're throwing treats at until it decides to love you.
Does that work? *makes mental note to check*
Anywho, shy, meek, honor student Golden Girl falling for Notorious Man Ho doesn't sit right with me. At least, it doesn't sit right when he dramatically changes character for Miss Goody-Two-Shoes overnight. This is of course supposing that someone so shy and studious would even be interested in someone like him. Let's be honest; a lot of us reader gals have been the quiet and academic type, and we wouldn't touch guys like that with a ten-foot pole. The pole would catch something, and it wouldn't be a good time for anyone involved.
This is not to absolve the Golden Girl of all blame, however. That trope in itself is eye-roll-inducing, because it casts a bad light on anyone who takes their studies seriously. They're always painted as meek, weak-willed, downtrodden, and too good to have any fun (by fun, I don't mean snorting cocaine and running naked around the park. Calm yoself). Their hobbies always seem to include journaling their misunderstood feelings and maybe playing the clarinet (Why? No clue. All shy girls are Squidward).
This trope always ends the same. He shows her how to have fun by putting her through uncomfortable situations that are shown in a positive light (drinking, partying, meeting his friends who like to slap ass and experiment with drugs) and he in turn changes so much that he decides he'll be faithful to her forever. This is a character who's usually fresh out of another hookup at the start of these stories. Just . . . huh?
Alternative: Not-so-golden, awkward-as-hell, goofy weirdo girl who also happens to make good grades falls for the equally shunned and adorkably awkward loner guy because, yeah, they both get it.
2) So. Much. Angst.
Look, I get it. Being a teenager is an inherently angsty time. It's stressful and full of hormones, and if it's a paranormal romance, they're also dealing with ghosts or zombie werewolves. It's not a jolly time.
But! Genuine fear or anger is a separate thing from angst. Angst is that incessant cloud of brooding that usually comes with flipped-up jacket collars and gelled hair. A little angst is fine. A little brooding is warranted if they're dealing with some heavy shit.
But when one of the main characters (*cough* vampire dude *cough*) never seems to crack a smile or joke . . . it makes readers want to bang their heads against the wall.
Alternative: Maybe Mr. Dreamy Undead is sarcastic and funny as hell because, oh I don't know, being super everything isn't all that bad? Maybe he enjoys a good pun with his glass of people juice? Maybe the newly super-powered girl has fun with her powers rather than bemoan the fact that she'll never be normal?
3) The Bully Romance
Just . . . stop with this one. It's gross, unhealthy, unrealistic, and downright insulting. Why are we setting teenagers up to expect that insults, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse means a person is harboring romantic feelings for them? By this point, they should be beyond the "pulling your pigtails means they like you" phase. They're close to adulthood and none of that should be acceptable, in a relationship or outside of one.
"But he changes!" you protest. "He's not so mean after he reveals his pent-up love rage in a heartfelt confession!"
No. Nope, no, no. I don't care how sweet he is after. His behavior is not mature, excusable, or the least bit attractive. The same applies to female characters.
Alternative: Hey, how about a healthy, mature relationship where the love interest expresses their feelings by being attentive and affectionate towards the main character? How about they treat them with respect and kindness, because that's what you do when you love someone? Wouldn't that be crazy?
4) "I'm Not Going to Tell You Anything Because I Love You"
Ah, chief among the "conflict that could've been avoided" trope is the "I didn't tell you because you'd worry/ would get hurt / wouldn't understand / would think less of me" excuse. This takes a lot of skill to craft believably without the main character coming across unnecessarily obstinate.
To be clear, there are plenty of ways to do this believably. Secrets that are meant to tear a relationship apart or put it on rocky footing can absolutely be a source of conflict. But secrets that had no reason to be secret are a no-go.
Example: the female main character refuses to tell her love interest that she's in danger / being stalked / being hit on because "oh, I don't want him to worry." This blows up in her face later because, obviously, she could have said something at any point—it's not like any of that was her fault. But now they're both angry, he's possibly suspicious, and readers are left with a rift in the relationship that didn't need to be there.
Alternative: Secrets are saved for big, impactful reveals, such as "Luke, I am your father" moments. Everyday crap that can be discussed and moved on from in a single page is kept in the open.
5) Love Triangles
Aha! You knew this would come. I will rant about this trope until I'm red with justified book rage. Many others will, too, yet this trope persists. Why? How many teenage girls have multiple insanely hot guys drooling over them? How many adult women do? And why can't they make up their damn minds?
Okay, okay, collecting my thoughts now.
Love triangles never end well for anyone. I've read very few that didn't leave an awful taste in my mouth, even if the main character ended up with my ship (woo). There are so few ways to do this right and so, so many wrong ways.
First of all, the main character (we'll say a girl, since that's usually the case) runs the risk of looking like a Mary Sue when she's so perfect that she attracts not one, but two gloriously hot and usually supernatural dudes.
Fine, say readers buy that there's just something about her. She's the Chosen One. Now we're still left with the agonizing decision of, "But which hot guy??" Since it can't be an easy decision, because the love triangle must be a source of conflict, we get to see this main character flip-flopping from one guy to the next.
Whoops, any respect we had for her just went out the window. She's indecisive and unfaithful. She can't bring herself to level with either of them, so she juggles them both until she's ready to decide.
NOW. Sometimes I like the main character, and she is not, in fact, wavering. Occasionally, a love triangle exists simply because two guys are vying for her affection when she's already made her decision. Ofttimes, this second guy is her friend and she loves him, just not in the way he'd like.
So now we have two very painfully likable dudes, and even if we ship the one she picks, we feel awful for the second guy who got kicked to the curb like a sad puppy. He spends the rest of the book (or series) being way too sweet and mopey, so readers are still upset with the best-case scenario.
Alternative: There is ONE HAPPY LOVE COUPLE, THE END.
That's it for today, folks! Did you guys enjoy this post? Which YA romance tropes can you not stand? Let us know in the comments, or share this post with your friends!