Arts and Entertainment

Fantastic Tropes and Where to Find Them

A study on common tropes in the Young Adult Fiction genre and how they can be made fresh again.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Young Adult (YA) Fiction is a genre aimed at teenagers ages 12 to 18. It is focused on first loves, coming of age stories, and the often-hectic transitions from the wonders of childhood to the stresses of maturity. It encompasses a variety of storylines, from fights against a ruling dystopia, to couples growing to learn and love one another, to thrilling mysteries inside of a danger-driven world. It sometimes overlaps with science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, and plenty more, providing authors with ample opportunities for creativity. Ironically, however, the YA genre is most often distinguished by its tropes.

A trope is a literary device present across novels in a genre that takes the form of anything from a character archetype to an entire subplot. The YA genre is full of such tropes, as many writers have a tendency to mimic, or even copy, aspects of stories that are either popular or that they relish (imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, after all). I’ve loved YA fiction since middle school, but the frequency of these tropes can make otherwise interesting stories a dull read. Often, they stem from an idea that was once original and became popular through continued imitation by writers wanting to achieve the same effect, or who simply loved the idea so much they wanted to use it themselves.

But how can they be made fresh again? Just because a trope is common doesn’t mean it is inherently bad. Usually, the problem with tropes lies in their unoriginality rather than in their individual content. So, how can they be made new and interesting once more? Let’s examine some of the better-known tropes to see how they are used, and how they can be polished into something new:


This trope is everywhere: it is seen in “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling, and many more. Its frequent use has unfortunately caused it to grow stale over time.

The basics of this trope are quite simple. The protagonist is the only person able to accomplish a certain task, either because of their birth, a prophecy, or circumstance. In “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard, Mare is special granted special powers by birth. In “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson is deemed destined to save the world by a prophecy. In “Harry Potter,” Harry is fated to be the one to kill Lord Voldemort by circumstance. It seems like every time I open a YA book, I’m reading about a Chosen One!

Some stories would be better off with dropping this trope and giving their characters the initiative, rather than some outside force. It often seems as though being the Chosen One is substituted in lieu of character-driven motivation. However, that isn’t to say that this trope is necessarily bad. Yet, how can we make it fresh?

There are two great ways to do this: exploration and subversion. For exploration, the novel could explore every inch on how being the Chosen One affects a person. How does their view of the world change? Do they accept it? Do they crumble under the pressure, or grow arrogant with their newfound power? Furthermore, regarding subversion, the character can fight against their destiny to subvert the conventions of the YA genre. Do they agree with the end goal laid out for them? Would they be successful in preventing it, or does destiny always have its way?

The “Chosen One” trope is very useful in storytelling, but its frequent use has made readers come to expect it, and its execution is often formulaic in design: get chosen, try to complete a goal, and end up completing it by the end of the novel or series. Building on this format or subverting it entirely can both be used to provide some interesting characterization, explore deeper themes, and introduce interesting ideas about human nature.


“The end of the world” has been used as a danger in fiction for decades. It’s an easy way to raise the stakes: everyone knows that the destruction of everything we know and love is a bad thing, and nobody really wants it to happen (unless you haven’t had your daily dose of caffeine yet). “The Kane Chronicles,” by Rick Riordan, “The Mortal Instruments,” by Cassandra Clare, and “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs are all examples of stories that have used this trope as a way to motivate their characters to act in the face of danger.

The problem is that “saving the world” raises the stakes too much. Nobody can comprehend the annihilation of everything they know, and once these stakes are introduced, they instill certainty in the reader that the characters will succeed in preventing it. A great way to subvert these expectations would be to make the characters lose and have the world be destroyed (though unless you’re a real cynic; it might be a bit of a downer). However, the main way to fix this would be to take “the end of the world” a little more seriously. What are the characters thinking? Perhaps they are scared, or even numb to the idea completely. Someone might be having an existential crisis and pondering their place in the universe. Are there any final goodbyes? Maybe someone could call their loved ones to hear their voices one last time (likely without letting their loved ones know of the situation).

Plenty of stories that utilize this trope could be much more interesting if the plot had focused more on the character’s mental toll that the possibility of the world’s end takes on their characters instead of just throwing the possibility in to rouse the characters into action. The end of the world is less often used as an actual consequence and instead as a way to raise the stakes. Most people don’t want the end of the world to be a thing anytime soon, so unless they really hate the characters they’ll probably root for them. However, the actual possibility is hardly ever taken into account by the characters aside from, “Yeah, we need to stop this,” leaving the struggle feeling somewhat dry. If conflict is only introduced to drive the characters in a story, the story itself can come off as rather bland.


Two characters love each other so much that it hurts, and yet they must always be kept apart. It’s true love, and yet, for reasons beyond their control, they can never be together. “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clare utilizes this trope with Jace Lightwood and Clary Fray, making both pine for the other without allowing them to act on their love due to their circumstances at birth. “Forbidden Love” has to be one of the most common romance tropes in existence, and for good reason: it’s an incredibly useful device to drive the plot. Love alone often cannot sustain a story, and unfulfilled desire is a powerful hook to get a reader invested in a story’s outcome.

In a trope normally filled with misery and sobbing in the rain, why not make it a little more fun as a form of subversion? The characters could make a game out of it, perhaps. Their dynamic in public can be very different from that between them in private, too, using the shift to provide contrast between their internal and external selves. The entire situation could be because of something stupid (A’s dad stole B’s mother’s Thanksgiving turkey and now there’s a feud), or could have arisen from more serious circumstances that contrast with their humorous attitude (attempted murder). Forbidden romance, while normally a tragic tale, can very quickly become peppered with silly, happy-go-lucky hijinks. A humorous approach to this trope is a take that is sadly underused in YA fiction, though the situation can have a lot of comedic elements if the writer aims to utilize them.

None of the tropes mentioned here are bad; they are when they are used as a shortcut rather than an actual plotpoint. Being the Chosen One is a good way to motivate a character into action. The end of the world is an easy way to raise the stakes and have the reader care about the outcome of the story. Forbidden love is a simple way to maintain an obstacle between two characters and a common goal. The key to writing a trope in a fascinating way is to utilize it as an element of the story instead of as a simple plot device. They should be explored more thoroughly like everything else, used to their full potential in the story instead of being used as shortcuts.

How interesting a trope really is comes from how it is executed. They are overused for a reason: all tropes were originally new and exciting ideas that became very successful, prompting other writers to try and copy their successes. The use of a trope alone is not enough to ruin a story; the story is only marred when they are used as a cheat without exploration to further the narrative or character development.