Sunday, February 23, 2014

Authors Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner on YA tropes - What has been overdone and what can be saved?

On YA Tropes - What’s been done to death, and what can be saved?

Let’s face it. YA lit has grown into a juggernaut in the past five years. Successful series like The Hunger Games and Twilight have inspired thousands of aspiring writers (including Team Mad World) to throw their hats into the YA ring. A veritable avalanche of both traditionally published and indie published YA books has come crashing down on the marketplace. Now, the natives are getting restless. Although the YA boom is relatively still young, readers and bloggers are already complaining that clichés abound and tropes are overused. The truth is, they’re not wrong. Here’s our take on the “big three” and how we’ve chosen to handle them in the Mad World series.

1. Weak/Klutzy/Milquetoast Female Protag

You know the type. Maybe she’s the new girl in school, eking her way through life while dealing with supersecret unresolved trauma. She’s a mousy, shy violet who, despite her astounding un-specialness, manages to attract the attention of the most drool-worthy guy residing in her area code.

Team Mad World despises this trope, though without it, we probably never would have started writing Mad World. We created Astrid, our female MC, in response to the weak female MCs that seemed to be popping up on every bookstore shelf. Astrid’s damaged, but she doesn’t let that turn her into a dishrag waiting to be saved by a hottie. She’s smart, compassionate, capable...and also more than a little snarky and judgmental. Every character has to have flaws, but the flaw doesn’t have to be an all-consuming cloak of feminine passivity.

To be fair, the Mad World series does include a character who wraps herself up in many of these unfortunate stereotypes. We initially created her as a counterpoint to Astrid, but as the series progresses, she begins to come into her own. And her transformation isn’t attributable to a hottie who saves her, but to her own realization that she’s a person who’s not to be trifled with.

2. Overly-Simplistic Dystopian Regime

We started writing the Mad World series about a year before the dystopian craze was in full swing. But as Hunger Games imitators began flying off the shelves, we couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the thoughtful subtlety and world building of books like The Giver.

If we’d known beforehand that YA Dystopian was going to be all the rage, we might have steered away from including a “regime” in the Mad World series. But we’ve managed to avoid the now tired cliché of an all-powerful evil empire of merciless adults by populating our regime with three-dimensional characters driven by complex motivations. Those behind the Mad World regime don’t always agree with each other and sometimes get tangled up in their own bureaucracy. We’ve also added a layer of historical fiction by tying the regime’s history to real events and historical figures. By giving our regime a realistic context, we’ve made it less simplistic and more believable.

3. The Love Triangle

Girl meets boy and it’s love at first sight. But wait...there’s another boy. A boy she didn’t notice at first because he’s the dark, smoldering, polar opposite of boy number one. Who will she choose?

This kind of hetero-centric love triangle truly has been done to death. Very rarely can it carry a plot and even when it’s served up as a side dish, it feels like a distraction from the main course.

But readers love love, and lust, especially when it parades itself as love. We don’t want to get all Freudian, but these two complex emotions are often at the core of human behavior, particularly hormonal teenage behavior. Writers will never be able to kill the love triangle. Thus, our best option is to subvert it. We’ve buried a love triangle deep within the Mad World series. It’s so atypical that most readers probably won’t even see it until it’s standing right in front of them in all its unexpected glory.

If you have questions or want to chat more about YA tropes, feel free to leave a comment, email us (, or send us a tweet (@madworldseries).

Young Adult Paranormal
Date Published:
October 2012

Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Astrid’s roommate cuts herself with anything sharp she can get her hands on and Max’s roommate threatens him upon introduction.

Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. Sometimes he can move things without touching them. Sometimes he can see people’s voices emanating from their mouths. Teddy also thinks that some of the Wakefield staff are on to him.

At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity?

Buy links

Also available at MuseItUp Publishing

Author bio:

Erin Callahan lives with her husband in the bustling metropolis of Hooksett, New Hampshire, and works for the federal government. She enjoys reading and writing young adult fiction, playing recreational volleyball, and mining the depths of pop culture for new and interesting ideas. A year after graduating from law school, she found herself unemployed and took a job as a case manager at a residential facility similar to the one featured in Wakefield. Though she worked there for just over a year, the strange and amazing kids she met will forever serve as a well of inspiration.

Troy H. Gardner grew up in New Hampshire and graduated with a B.A. in English/Communications with a dual concentration in film and writing from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He spent ten years working in the banking industry dreaming up numerous stories to write. When not writing, which is seldom, Troy busies himself jet-setting from Sunapee, NH to Moultonborough, NH.



  1. Your book sounds terrific. You've got me curious about the atypical love triangle. Loved the advice, too.