9 plot points that show up in EVERY SINGLE teen dystopian story
When “The Hunger Games” burst onto movie the scene back in 2012, it instantly became a pop culture phenomenon. And whenever something captures the imagination of the people, it doesn’t take long for other creators to jump on the bandwagon. From “Divergent” and “The Mortal Instruments” to “The 5th Wave” and the upcoming “Fallen,” female teen heroes are all the rage.
But now this Young Adult dystopian zeitgeist is beginning to feel like “Groundhog’s Day.” Each new universe feels like we’ve traveled down this road before. Earlier this year, I created a Mad Libs with which readers could create their OWN YA world.
In a post-apocalyptic world, a girl named _______ lived with her family. They made the best of a bad situation by loving each other unconditionally. Then one day [catalyst] happened and [closest family member] was lost/in danger. Only the girl named _______ with her luscious hair and [unique color] eyes could rescue them. Taking only [sentimental object] as a remembrance, the girl vowed to train for her new life and survive [catalyst]. But then boys happened. Specifically [Boy A] and [Boy B]. While complete opposites, the girl was attracted to both. Though not equally attracted, with preference usually given to [Boy A]. Insert 200 pages of angst over choosing a boy, becoming hyper-competent at [skill of choice], and saving [most important family member]. In the end, [closest family member] comes to irreparable harm for “realism.” The girl and [boy of choice] wander into dystopian sunset. PTSD optional.
Yet that only scratched the surface of the similarities between all these series. After the jump, HitFix Harpy collected nine of the most egregious tropes that should be stricken from all future Young Adult fiction.
#1: The beautiful “average” heroinePhoto Credit: LionsGate
You know the drill. Our heroine is a Plain Jane™ who just happens to have lusciously long but stringy (aka pin-straight) hair, eyes that are a unique color, and is model thin (due to malnutrition). Yet somehow she’s maintained her curves in “all the right places” and draws the attention of the hottest guys in her immediate area despite having no social skills or a flirtatious bone in her body. Her internal narrative will never acknowledge her looks are anything above “passable” despite her apparent supernatural attractiveness.
#2: The reluctant SaviorPhoto Credit: LionsGate
Born to the working class poor of this future dystopia, our heroine knows she’s Nothing Special™. Until one day, her powers/talent/genetic lineage is revealed and it becomes clear only she can save the world from imminent destruction. Yet our heroine does not want this responsibility. There must be some mistake. It doesn’t matter that she’s mysteriously adept at whatever skill is necessary to win this battle or stop this strange glow in the sky or complete the ritual. Nothing will convince her to leave the safety of her mundane life…except that boy maybe.
#3: The arbitrary Sorting HatPhoto Credit: LionsGate
In the future, all decisions will be made based on a single trait/emotion/skill. People lived in cordoned groups surrounding their defining characteristic. During the heroine’s Coming Of Age Trial™, she will be forced to abandon the only home she’s ever known after a test that determines who she will be for the rest of her life. There is no way to appeal the decision and dissenters will be dealt with…severely.
#4: The asymmetrical love trianglePhoto Credit: Lotus Entertainment
The heroine might be a Plain Jane™ but then she meets Boy A and everything changes. She is immediately drawn to him and thinks it might be love. Yet she knows she is unlovable because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful and Boy A must be paying attention to her out of pity. Of course Boy B has been friends with the heroine since childhood. With the onset of puberty, he suddenly looks super hot. The heroine doesn’t know what to do! Trapped between these lustful feeling for Boy A and the sturdy friendship blossoming into love of Boy B. Who will she pick? Hahaha, just kidding. It’ll (probably) be Boy A.
#5: The loved one in perilPhoto Credit: LionsGate
Everything was going fine for the heroine — on a sliding scale of “fine” in a post-apocalyptic wasteland — until the Catalyst happened. During the event, her mother/sister/brother/family pet was placed in a position of peril that only the heroine has the power to stop. Now she will journey outside of her comfort zone to make sure nothing terrible happens to her family member that is being held hostage…either literally or metaphorically. In the end though, it won’t matter. The heroine will save the day, but said loved one will be lost or irreparably damaged anyway.
#6: The absentee adultsPhoto Credit: Columbia Pictures
There are no responsible adults in a dystopian future. Whether orphaned or simply the product of negligence, the heroine has no trustworthy adult in which to confide. Interestingly she is not alone in this. Every single teenager charged with joining her crusade is sans parental figure that gives a damn about their safety. Sometimes the adults are beat down by the system, sometimes they’re all dead from a mysterious ailment that only targets those above a certain age, and sometimes the teens are forcibly separated from their families and tossed into a pit/testing facility. Regardless, only high schoolers can save the world.
#7: The pseudo-tough guy/galPhoto Credit: LionsGate
Usually the heroine but can be any number of sidekicks/comic relief/love interests. The narrator goes out of their way to explain how this guy/gal is the baddest of the bad, uber skilled in combat, and able to out-strategized even the most hardened war veterans. And yet…we never see their talents in action. It happens off-book or the heroine is knocked unconscious for the big final battle or the particular set of circumstances needed for the guy/gal to show off their moves never arrives.
#8: The unexplored wildernessPhoto Credit: LionsGate
Outside the walls of Civilized Society™ are vast swaths of uncharted forest/desert/No Man’s Land from which none have ever returned. Perhaps it’s the remnants of a vast Metropolis gone to seed in the aftermath of destruction. Or perhaps it’s just a huge track of irradiated land that will kill those unwary enough to traverse its hills. But rumors persist! Somewhere out there the Others lurk, waiting to upend the structure of society with radical ideals like “freedom” and “democracy.” Better to stay safely within the walls rather than risk falling in with these alien creatures.
#9: The corrupt authorityPhoto Credit: LionsGate
Whether a corporation or a government, totalitarianism is the name of the game. People can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, therefore they must be controlled and contained by a barbaric system of checks and balances. After all, the Ancient Ones™ from the “before times” relied on democracy and the rule of the people to make decisions and that’s what landed everyone in a dystopian wasteland to begin with! Now be quiet, stop questioning where your neighbors were taken, and eat your suspiciously compact nutrient ration.