I know quite a bit about story, and I want my YA novels to overdeliver on reader expectations. Most authors would say, avoid tropes and cliches and give readers something fresh.
That rarely works in popular fiction.
Or entertainment of any kind. I’m watching the Goosebumps movie right now. It’s a meta-story, about lots of other stories, but the entire thing is still constructed based on classical story architecture; something YA fiction is remarkably consistent about. Other genres can stray towards more innovative plotting.
YA fiction uses tropes. The Goosebumps movie has to introduce all these tropes quickly, while being chased by monsters. There’s a lot of similarity between my books and The Goosebumps movie, but I wanted to make a checklist before I forget.
- Protagonist moves to new town.
- Mother or father is missing.
- Meets a boy or girl next door with a secret.
- The boy/girl has a luxurious house that looks like a mansion.
- They explore someplace fabulous/get taken to a magical place.
- There’s a goofy sidekick for comic relief.
- There’s a disapproving and scary mother or father that’s controlling (but turns out to be not so bad).
- There’s an antagonist who plans to cause chaos and hurt people, who must be stopped.
- There’s a MacGuffin (something they need to do – in the Goosebumps movie, they must find the RIGHT typewriter before Stine can write a new story and recapture the monsters.
- They are being chased, but stop for little flirty moments. Accidentally brush up against each other, flirt, but then something scary happens and they’re interrupted.
- The girl/boy has a supernatural secret, there’s something different about them. The hero finds out and is surprised.
- They have to go on a journey (through a cemetery).
- Big confrontation in public, at a school dance, when everybody else can see how awesome they are, and that only they (the weirdo misfits) can save everyone.
- Moments of heroic self-sacrifice for the person you love.
- The plan you thought would work gets foiled by the enemy, and they run.
- Everyone else finds out that the girl/boy is a freak. “Yes, I know, but I don’t care,” says the hero.
- They distract the enemy with a decoy and trap. They win a battle and celebrate, but the main antagonist survives.
- The return to that special, magical world before, but now it’s overrun with monsters and violence.
- The “passing the baton” scene, where a veteran monster-killer hands the main weapon off the the new hero and tells him to finish the story.
- The “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene, where the hero faces his darkest fears and is helpless.
- The hero realizes that, to save the world/accomplish his mission, he has to give up the Thing He Wants (probably the new love interest). “Maybe if I hold on tight enough-” “You have to let go.”
- They win… but the hero/love interest dies. The price of victory was the hero’s happiness.
- The hero/love interest comes back; the hero is happy and fulfilled.
- Ends with a twist; the hint that the story isn’t over, that some new villain is out there.