Cliches. They are something many of us immediately roll our eyes at. There’s an immediate negative connotation to them. But things are cliché for a reason. Some of the best plot devices are considered cliché only because of their prevalence. But why are they prevalent? Because they work. Sure, they can be a cop out at times, but think about the books where some plot device was unique but not well executed? A well used plot device isn’t just cliché. It’s a great element, like the following ones.
The Love Triangle: This one works, especially in YA, because confusion is so prevalent. In a world filled with what ifs, even later in life, where is the assurance you will make the right choice? Without knowing more about either romantic interest, how can you pick the right one for you?
Losing a loved one to a car crash: I know this runs crazy in books, but is it really so horrible, when you consider that one of the top killers throughout the age groups is car accidents? They happen instantly, without warning. Seemingly innocent crashes kill people, while other horrible ones somehow has people walking away. They are unpredictable in scope and outcome. But the damage that remains is lasting. It’s something that everyone can relate to, something they understand. What good is a “unique” way to achieve the same effect, when it might not have the impact on readers?
The Reappearing Ex: Whether it’s the ex who suddenly shows back up or an old fling that didn’t mean anything, character’s pasts come back to haunt them often. And having it be something intimate is one of the most effective ways to not only twist the reader towards the character who is suddenly finding this out, but force that character to really face some hard things. As readers, we learn a lot about not only the character in question, but the romantic interest whose ex is suddenly back for more.
The cheating best friend and boyfriend: This one happens often, where the main character ends up finding out that their boy/girlfriend has kissed/slept with their best friend. The reason it’s so common? It’s painful, and it’s real. There is always that fear of losing your boy/girlfriend. And what hurts more than finding them with the one person you thought you could count on? This one challenges not only the relationship, but the friendship, both of which are important.
The “Chosen One” Concept: There are a lot of books, especially in the fantasy/paranormal section, where the main character is more special than everyone else. They are “The Chosen One.” But if someone besides the main character was the special one, why are we reading about the main character? A lot of the purpose of the book would be lost if we’re seeing it through someone else’s eyes. It’s a sidekick for a reason- because they are on the side, not the center.
Poor Girl/Rich Boy (or Poor Boy/Rich Girl): Basically, love between the social classes. But this has hints of forbidden romance to it, particularly when the families have a hard time with it. The differences in how the pair has grown up will influence their relationship, and the things they do also is affected by it. Not to mention, particularly on places where there is a clear difference between the classes, finding someone in a different class is new and exciting. It adds a new element for both the couple, and the reader.
Those are just some of the bigger ones that I’ve noticed. Maybe it seems repetitive, but how many o the books that had those same concepts did you still enjoy? When done well, they are just devices to keep things moving. They are something we understand, and something that doesn’t distract us from the actual purpose of it because the device is something new.