I’ve talked about how I don’t particularly care for YA paranormal romance in the past. Largely because many of them use Twilight’s formula to reach their target demographic. So I’ll outline some of my least favorite tropes in the genre, and detail why I think they should stop.
Insta-Love: Now I know that fiction is just that, a fiction. It’s not meant to be real. It’s supposed to give you a nice little escapist fantasy and be a pleasant way to fill your time.
Romance novels have been doing it for years. A man and a woman meet. They share an automatic connection. Usually this comes in the form of a shared secret, a past fling, or just chemistry that sparks between the two. Most adult romance novels are geared towards baiting the reader, keeping them in the narrative until they get to what they came for- the smut.
Well with rare exceptions, most YA fare follows the same path, but sans the sex. The target demographic may or may not be sexually active yet, so most books play it safe and keep it clean, only flirting with the idea of intimate relations.
And unlike most romance novels, our protagonists don’t know each other. They meet and try to build a relationship from the ground up. Coming from experience, that’s hard to do. It takes a long getting-to-know you period. It takes discussion and hard work and a lot of time learning about the other person. YA paranormal romance tends to relegate the process to a few chapters. In particularly bad cases it may only be a few lines, or may not take place at all.
Its patently ridiculous to have your characters declaring their undying love for one another, when most of the time they don’t even know what the other person’s favorite color is.
In my opinion this happens because the authors don’t want to spend the time fleshing the characters and relationships out, they want to get down to the good stuff. Which are the scenes where their characters get physical (which in romance novels would be the sex, but in this case is probably steamy forbidden makeout sessions) and say romantic things to one another (aka vomiting purple prose all over the place.)
Insta-love is the result. The characters are attracted to each other despite the circumstances under which they meet (which are usually unfavorable.) They fall for one another despite one or both being a complete basket case. They have no conceivable reason to like each other or face down life-threatening odds together, but that’s what they do anyways. It’s plot contrivance at its laziest.
Bad Parenting (aka Village, you fail at raising that child): Parents are rarely in the picture in YA romance. Sometimes in the case of Twilight they are distant or played off as stupid. Sometimes they up and leave, as they do in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Sometimes they follow the Disney route and the protagonist is an outright orphan.
Whichever route the author chooses, the result is the same. Our protagonist (usually female) is alone in the world. Most often he or she is portrayed as mature and responsible for their age, because of their circumstance.
The love interest swoops in to “take care” of the protagonist, soothing their daddy/mommy issues in the process.
No one comes off as a good person when this trope is used. In DADBS the parents are so neglectful their children have no working electricity and are struggling to buy food for themselves. You sort of hate the parents.
In Twilight I feel horrible for Charlie swan who is trying to be a good parent, and is constantly shat on Bella. As much as she tries to narrate that he’s somehow too stupid or weak to understand her life, I feel for the guy. In this case our protagonist comes off as an utterly selfish asshole, who just doesn’t want her dad butting in. It’s petty.
Either way, someone is an asshole. Why can’t we just have good parents in YA romances?
And onto my second bit. Especially in paranormal stories there has to be a bit of obliviousness. Otherwise the masquerade would be broken and there would be bigger consequences to deal with.
However the amount of obliviousness that takes place in YA paranormal romance is staggering. Almost no one takes notice of things that are incredibly obvious. Abuse is overlooked. Neglect is overlooked. Rape is overlooked. Its just sort of sickening.
In my most recent review DADBS there is a staggering amount of neglect going on. Child protective services really should have stepped in in their case, since they can’t afford to feed themselves. Another kid in the narrative lives in absolute squalor, with a father who regularly feeds his addiction rather than his kid. This shit would not fly in the real world, and I don’t see why it should in the fictional world. If you’re going to bring it up, don’t use it as a means to tug on our heartstrings and make us feel sorry for a character. Use it to do move that character forward, or make a difference in the story.
This trope is so common it kind of sickens me. It’s plot dictated stupidity, so that the character looks that much better when they manage to struggle on alone, so desperately alone!
The Love Triangle: It’s annoying. It’s pointless, since the main character has to chose someone in the end, and shipping wars are ugly. Just stop doing it, please.
The Blank Slate: So often in YA paranormal romance the main character is given as little defining traits as possible in order to make it easy to step into their shoes. Which is fine if you are writing a Choose your own adventure story, but not if you’re writing an actual novel. I cannot empathize with the character’s struggle when I have no clue what motivates them. And no, jumping the main love interest’s bones does not count as motivation in my book.
Author insert: Along the same lines as the blank slate, many main characters are obvious author avatars, sometimes spouting verbatim what the author thinks and feels on a certain subject. It’s annoying and usually pretty cringey.
It is fine if the author wants to put an insert of themselves in as a secondary or tertiary character. If you want to root for your main characters from the sidelines by all means do so, but please do not make your obvious self-insert the main character.
You can see my Professional Fan Fiction essays if you want me to break that down in more detail.
Abusive Relationships: More often than not, the relationship portrayed as “ideal” in YA paranormal romance has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. Isolation, manipulation, constant put downs, snide remarks, guilt trips, moodiness and ultimatums.
Sounds like the typical male protagonist of a YA paranormal romance, doesn’t it? The fact that so many women claim to want this “ideal man” scares me. It normalizes this sort of abuse. Instead of painting the guy (sometimes girl, but rarely. Usually she is the controlled party) as the asshole he is, the narrative portrays his interference as sexy or in her best interest.
Not much else I can say. I just want more likable male protagonists in romance. And less whiny female leads.
Good setup, bad execution: This is actually the reason I started this this blog. I find so much potential in YA novels. Good characters are in there, usually in the supporting cast. The world-building and fantasy elements are usually very good as well. So why do they bomb so often?
Well it because of what I like to call the luvs. The setup is often shoved to the background in order for the main characters to have romantic asides. The actually interesting bits are forgone for the least interesting bits of the story, which is usually a budding romance between our main leads.
I see so much wasted potential in YA paranormal romance, and romance in general. I wanted to riff on stories sure, but I also wanted to point out how disappointing it is that they don’t live up to what they could have been. Some stories would never be great, but they could have been fun. Other stories could have been fantastic with a few more rewrites, and less plot stupidity.
It frustrates me more than a book that fails utterly. At least then it can become so awful it is entertaining. In books like these, its mostly just hard to sit through because I can see it had promise.
So those are a few things I hate to see in YA paranormal romance. If I think of or encounter more, I’ll be sure to write them down, but that’s all for now.