by Cookie O’Gorman
What is a cliché, and why do people always say it like it’s a bad thing? “Trope” is a word I didn’t know until a few years ago. I didn’t realize there were these preordained categories of romance. Though I’d enjoyed and read several of them, I never knew there was an actual term. I feel like tropes, stereotypes, and clichés are sisters-from-another-mister. Although a ‘trope’ is simply a short, punchy label that tells you in a few words what to expect in a novel, they also come with certain reader expectations. These expectations need to be met. To satisfy the reader, certain elements must be present—or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
And this is where the cliché comes in.
Some people love a good cliché—if it’s done well. Personally, I love it when a book takes a cliché and flips it on its head. I like to write that way as well.
For my newest body positive YA romance CUPCAKE, I took several clichés and intentionally tried to upend them. I think it definitely enriched the story.
1) No Makeover. Ariel (aka Cupcake) is a phenomenal baker, a movie addict, and a reluctant princess when she gets nominated to Homecoming Court. Oh, and she also just happens to be plus-size. With this kind of setup, you might expect certain things. A big makeover scene, a plot centered around weight, the character to hate her body. But CUPCAKE doesn’t have any of that, and it was an intentional choice. I wanted to write Ariel as someone who already loves herself. She doesn’t have a problem with her weight. She’s a genuinely happy, sweet soul, who just happens to be plus-size. A teen girl who is plus-size and loves herself. An MC who doesn’t need a makeover or to lose weight to “earn” her happily-ever-after.
2) An Imperfect Hero. Rhys, my male main character, is the golden-boy quarterback. He’s popular, beautiful, and you might expect him to be perfect…but he’s not. Rhys is surly. He’s always frowning. He can’t dance (something Ariel quickly learns as they practice for Homecoming lol). He isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. But he’s also not your typical jock/jerk. He’s thoughtful and quietly kind. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say Rhys has a secret and flaws, and they make him so much more than just the ‘hot quarterback.’
3) Good Female Relationships. In YA—heck in stories in general—I’d noticed that often times, the female MC doesn’t have the best relationships with other females. Honestly, a lot of books I’d read had the best friend committing some kind of betrayal (often cheating with the MC’s love interest or doing awful things out of jealousy). I knew I wanted to showcase different positive female relationships in CUPCAKE. Ariel and Toni are BFFs, not only in name, but in action. They support each other throughout the book. Ariel and Lana are both members of Homecoming Court, but Lana really wants the win. She’s goal-driven, competitive, and she wants that crown. However, in my opinion, Lana breaks the stereotype—or cliché—of the “mean girl.” We simply have two very different characters with different aspirations, and it’s a beautiful thing to see Ariel and Lana’s relationship grow throughout the book.
4) Supportive/Present Parent. Again, in so many YA books, the parents are either absent or have a contentious relationship with their teen. You won’t find that in CUPCAKE. What you will find is a supportive mother/daughter relationship. Ariel and her mom have real love for each other. They are interested in each other’s lives.
5) Acceptance. I think it’s important to show characters being accepted. A cliché you’ll often see in teen movies and books about plus-size characters are people who don’t support them. Especially with a plot where the character is nominated to Homecoming Court, it might be a prank or joke (which definitely goes through Ariel’s head). There may be a lot of people who don’t accept the character because of their weight. But in CUPCAKE, I wanted to change this up. Ariel is liked. She is supported by her mom and classmates. She is loved and accepted, curves and all.
My point is clichés don’t always have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s good to know what they are so you can put your own spin on them. I hope these anti-clichés resonate with readers, and I hope people will love CUPCAKE! Comment to be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card.