THE 10 MOST COMMON TROPES IN NEW ADULT LITERATURE


[Girl] is running away. Running from her dark past, her demons, the terrors that arise at night and threaten to consume her. She has come where she hopes no demons have followed. She is looking to start fresh. New beginnings. New friends. New life.

[Guy] is trouble personified. His every move seems to hint at something dark and dangerous that [girl] can't put a finger on. (* Extra points for tattoos.) He isn't one for commitment, and anyway commitment is the very last thing she needs. She has turned a new leaf and danger is no longer part of her life. Ultimately, what she really needs is to stay away from him.

But sometimes, staying away is easier said than done.


Sound familiar? Here's why.



1. The deep, dark, troubled past


If your forays into the world of New Adult (contemporary New Adult in particular) are as frequent as ours, then you have a pretty good idea as to why this has been named the number one trope in NA fiction. In fact, at this point it has become such a staple that it might become more of a prerequisite for a book to be classified as New Adult.

The protagonists are people just like you, except their lives are infinitely harder than you can ever imagine, because they come from a past so dark and tainted, that it's turned them into introspective loners who believe themselves incapable of love.

There's an inherent dualism in this matter that precious few authors tackle successfully - on the one hand, the protagonist is a character one might meet anywhere. In fact, they are the character that we might actually be, which plays on the issue of relatability. On the other hand, the depth and the degree of their "DDTP" (deep, dark, troubled past) are oftentimes so severe that the identification factor goes right out the window. It's a fact that we all come with a past and our own share of burdens. It's just as equally a fact that we do have issues in our past. But in real life, precious few people actually have a past that jaded. Personally, we find that we can swallow this trope successfully, provided that we read a different book between our tropecentric reads, to break up the monotony of it all.

     1a. Failing to put a name to the issue in first person point of view


This is another issue that authors often fail to tackle with any real conviction. Most of the NA books are written from a first person point of view. As such, we as readers are supposed to be privy to the innermost thoughts and emotions of the lead character. Even so, the majority of the time, said character will only drop (not-so-subtle) hints that their past is dark and troubled, without ever actually alluding to the event(s) that made it so. We can only suspect that in this scenario, the authors tend to cling too dearly to the mystery aspect of it all. The author thinks they're teasing you and keeping you on the edge by never revealing what the traumatic event actually is. This can really only work successfully on those new to New Adult, who are still unfamiliar with how this trope works. And even then, they usually guess within a few short chapters, while the character spends most of the book skirting around the issue. Sometimes, it can be argued that a character is so troubled that they're employing defense mechanisms, and in doing so avoid even admitting to themselves that the event had ever occurred. But really, if they keep referencing how damaged and insecure "THE EVENT" had made them, there's simply no way that in their heads they aren't thinking of, or naming, said event.

2. The virgin and the player


First and foremost, this trope doesn't only belong in NA literature for sure. This is a trope that is centuries old. The historical romance not only employs it frequently, but depends on it to play on the gender differences of the time period the books are set in. Having said that, the NA genre is well on its way of exploiting it the most.

The girl doesn't necessarily have to be a virgin (though frequently she is). But she is always fresh, new, green to the ways of the world and so sheltered (when it comes to sex and relationships) that you suspect she grew up in a covenant. She shies away from revealing clothes, she isn't too fond of raucous parties, she prefers to spend Friday nights with a book. Every so often, she'll be so far removed from any thoughts of sex that she'll reveal she's never even masturbated. This sets her apart from every other girl in the universe, and it's this quality that the male lead will find so "unique", "refreshing" and "different", and will eventually fall in love with.

The problem with this half of this trope, of course, is:
  a) This behavior in college-aged girls isn't all that uncommon. Sure, the vast majority still goes to parties, dresses provocatively and even (gasp!) has one night-stands. But the opposite isn't on the verge of being extinct, either. Think about it. At least some of the NA readers are the living embodiment of this trope (which is perhaps why we identify with NA fiction in the beginning). And as a senior in college, I can readily testify that it took me a grand total of two months in my freshman year before I found a group of like-minded individuals (girls, mostly) who I bonded with. To every ten girls who party, there are about three who don't. The female protagonist isn't all that special for choosing to forgo the proverbial "college experience".
  b) Usually, after establishing this trope, the author feels no need to establish any other unique, distinguishing traits for the lead character. She's special just because she's virginal, when all other girls have been around the block. This trope becomes her entire personality and the rest of the book will revolve around this fact. The male(s) will repeatedly inform her how "refreshing and special she is" because of it, the female(s) will repeatedly attempt to change her, with little to no success. All of the rest of her personality will fall short to make way for this trope.

The other half of the trope ("the player") is equally as faulty as the first. Even when feminists aren't screaming at the book and flinging it across the room in fury at the double-standard, there are still obvious issues to be found. The male protagonist is the player to put all other players to shame. He's Lothario the likes of which the world has never seen. In fact, he has so many notches in his bedpost that the bedpost is in danger of crumbling to splinters. It's all become just a tad dull for the hero of our story. He can go out and just look at a woman, and her panties will drop. He's well aware of this fact, and it's made him all the more self assured. Now, either our Casanova has grown tired of it all and wishes to connect with someone deep down (enter the heroine of the story) or he'll be "trolling for another lay" when he comes across our heroine and is so floored that he'll find himself changing his wicked ways soon thereafter.
Never mind the fact that males in their early twenties have hardly had enough time to bed every single female on the face of the planet.

3. The gay male friend and the slutty female friend


The title says it all. We don't really know how this trope came to be, or why it's become such a staple. Both versions of the trope will serve no other purpose than to encourage the heroine, be there for her, cheer on her relationship when it's good and bash her love interest when he (inevitably) screws up. If they do have lives of their own, they are secondary to that of the heroine, and will either be referenced from time to time, or not at all.

The gay male friend is so over the top in his fabulousness most of the time, that it becomes either ridiculous or borderline offensive. And not only that, the love interest will only be okay with this friend because the friend is gay and is therefore not a threat. Also kind of offensive, in the grand scheme of things.
The slutty female friend mostly serves the purpose of underlining the already-mentioned virginal aspect of the heroine through comparison. Depending on the book and/or the author, the heroine will or won't subconsciously judge her, but she will always repeatedly marvel at how her slutty friend is so free with men, and how easy it is for some girls while it's so hard for herself to "give herself" to another person.

*Sidenote: We're using the term "slutty" ironically. Slut-shaming is a whole different post yet to come.

4. Adonis and Aphrodite


Both the male and the female leads are some of the most gorgeous human specimen the world has ever seen. Their beauty is limitless. Their beauty is, in fact, universal, so much so that every single person of the opposite (and sometimes the same) gender will want in their pants. Even if the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is acknowledged somewhere inside the story, it'll be studiously ignored when it comes to this trope. Not one person will be able to resist this physical allure the leads exude. And expect to be reminded of the love interest's good looks repeatedly, in glowing adjectives.

If combined with "the virgin and the player" trope, as it mostly is, this one is particularly difficult to take in one's stride. Because the male lead will know he is attractive (and use it to his advantage) while the female lead will have no clue and will doubt it regardless of how many men assure her of it. In weaker storylines, the heroine's self-consciousness will be the only thing standing in the way of her happily ever after.

5. Instalove


The trope that Young Adult fiction has already made famous, especially in books published in the past decade or two.

This one, too, is relatively self-explanatory, though it comes in many forms. Most of the time, the heroine will find herself awed by the degree of the love interest's beauty and the air about him, and she will reflect on it, drink it in, use it to justify otherwise inexcusable behavior, mention it, dream about it, until she comes to realize - she's loved him from the first time she saw him. Never mind that these first encounters are often either embarrassing or disastrous, and never in a good way. She looked into his gorgeous golden/chocolate/sapphire/emerald/aquamarine/cerulean eyes and she just knew. The hero, likewise, if the story is told from his point of view (whether in the next book which will be a retelling of the first one, or in alternating POVs in the first one), will be given a voice that is supposed to make him sound the type to suffer no fools and to take no nonsense. He is jaded, damaged, tragic, he doesn't have time or doesn't consider himself worthy of love (the heroine), but he will either become a stalker from their very first encounter or he will be constantly thinking about her about as much as she is about him, until the realization dawns that he's loved her all along.

Other times, this trope takes on a more esoteric note, where both leads will feel an almost physical kind of absence, an emptiness in their soul, that will suddenly fill (dirty metaphor? We think so!) the moment they lay their eyes on one another. After all, he/she is so unique and they have to figure him/her out!

6. Love Is The Answer


This trope isn't as glaringly obvious as the ones listed above, because, unlike the rest, it deals not so much with the presence, but rather the absence of something. Namely, it deals with the absence of real-life issues.

We as NA readers/writers/aficionados frequently find ourselves defending NA fiction as being "so much more than YA with sex". New Adult fiction, as the name implies, encompasses the age group from late teens to mid-to-late twenties. It centers around people who are learning what it means to be an adult, in all its gore and glory. As such, it should be qualitatively different from the Young Adult genre. NA literature should encompass everything that "new adults" face in their bid for independence and stability in this new role they've been given. It should cover the issue of separation from one's family, the issue of being on one's own for the first time, the issue of learning to manage one's own life (bank statements, bills, food, laundry, all those things we become glaringly aware of in college). It doesn't make for a fascinating story as such, but it lays solid foundation for a plot to be built upon.

More often than not, however, the main and only issue the book will tackle will be an issue of finding love/finding one's soulmate. All their other problems will stem directly from this one. If they struggle at school, they'll do so as a result of a bad breakup. If they are insecure, it'll be in the context of "am I good enough for him/her". And not only that, any other issues of a psychological/practical nature the lead might have will be resolved once they finally learn to love and find this one in a million who is just right for them.

7. Highly unusual names


Sometimes, being a virgin just isn't enough. Being more sheltered than most girls her age doesn't give the heroine an edge she needs to truly stand out and justify the story centering around her in particular.

Enter an absurdly unusual, never-before-heard-on-the-face-of-the-earth name.

The same might hold true for the hero, but NA seems to be directing this trope more towards its female leads. In its mildest form, this trope will manifest itself in a less common unisex name. The heroine might even get a flat-out male name (if so, it'll usually have some very unintuitive spelling to make up for it). But the most popular, and the most well-used kind of names for female leads in New Adult are those which make her sound like:
a) she comes from a different planet
b) she is more B.C. than A.D.
c) she was raised by elves/demons/fairies/an ancient pantheon of deities
d) she was a brooding teenager who hated her parents and loved obscure music and changed her name at 18; she now shares the stage name of an underground symphonic metal band's backup pianist during their central European tours.

And now that the unique name has been added to her unique virginity and her deep, dark, troubled past - the heroine is justified. It makes perfect sense than any man would want a girl like this. It makes perfect sense for the story to be about her. And if she is infuriating as a protagonist, if she is weak-willed with no noticeable development throughout the book(s) - remember her unique name and remember that it's a metaphor for her personality. You're just failing to see it.

8. Wealthy (male) leads


This, too, is nothing new in the world of literature, although it's becoming more prominent than ever as of late. And whether you blame "Fifty Shades of Grey", "Twilight", the impressionable minds of authors or the lack of selective reasoning within the publishing industry, in the end it boils down to the same thing. The male lead is obscenely rich. He is making so much money that he can afford to spend it lavishly and frequently and never even stop to think about it for a second. (At the same time, he spends so much time around the heroine that you genuinely have to stop and wonder when he has time to make any money at all.) In a show of virtue which should endear the readers to the heroine, she will come from modest roots and will vehemently refuse any attempt of the male lead to shower her with money and gifts. She said no several times! She can't possibly help that he insists on it anyway and won't take no for an answer. In the end, she'll be living in a lap of luxury right along with him, but in such a way that her moral compass will still be pointing north, and you could never accuse her of (gasp!) enjoying presents, because she never asked for it, you guys!

9. Unrealistic sex


She's a virgin, but that's okay. She's found the right guy, and as long as he's the one, the sex will always be magical. Her first time hurts for no more than two seconds, and it's more of a dull, subdued sting than it is actual pain. And after the five-or-so seconds have passed and even the sting has entirely subsided, she is ready to be crowned the queen of rodeo. You go, cowgirl!

10. Damsel in distress meeting


You know, the one where she nearly gets raped and the dashing male lead rescues her? Never mind the dashing male lead is coming across as a creep at this point as well. The moment they bond over this rescue attempt, all doubt is erased, forgotten, gone for good. He is the knight in shining armor and his intentions are forever noble and pure as a result.

We'll give NA this much - that this trope is selective, and seems more frequent in NA books bordering on Adult romance, or in works of authors who favor ceaseless drama throughout their books. There have been quite a number of NA books, too, where the first meeting is far less intense, and far more hilarious, than this one. And we tend to prefer those.




We apologize for the abundant sarcasm, small rants, potential references to books you've read (we swear we were targeting none in particular, but if you can think of one that has them all, we imagine it was an interesting read to say the least), poking fun, finger-pointing and any and all cliches we've used while enumerating other cliches.

We felt this needed to be said, and can only hope at least one prospective author comes across our list and any other lists out there and gives it a thought. Tropes aren't a priori bad, or necessarily evil. So many tropes have surfaced over time that nowadays, everything seems to be a trope of sorts. Aristotle believed that there are only four different types of plot in existence, and every work of fiction falls into one of the four categories, with its story being no more than a variation of those plots.

But we believe in striving for originality, or at least making an excellent appearance of it.

We also believe in opinions (as demonstrated above). So by all means, feel free to share any tropes you might have come across with, or else argue why those we've listed aren't really tropes at all. We encourage rants about particular books or (sub)genres, characters or situations, and regardless of the title in question, you will always find a sympathetic ear in us. :) God knows we've had our share of discussions on the subject.

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THE 10 MOST COMMON TROPES IN NEW ADULT LITERATURE
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3 comments

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12 May 2015 at 16:37

Great post. This is pretty much everything I'm annoyed by when reading (sloppy) NA novels. Which is a shame, because there are good ones out there. Let's indeed hope authors read this list (or read enough novels themselves to recognize the tropes) and strive for originality.

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25 May 2015 at 18:05

We absolutely agree, Petra. It's becoming increasingly harder to find diamonds in the rough when it comes to NA, because the market is oversaturated with only slight variations of these tropes time and time again. But once found, those diamonds are so, so worth it. And what makes them stand out is avoiding the same old.

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Anonymous
7 May 2016 at 20:49

Here's the thing: Original doesn't sell. People scream how they don't want the same tropes and cliches, but when you give them something unique, they don't buy the book. I've learned to pay attention to what my readers do (aka buy the same storylines over and over again) rather than what they say.

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