In 2022’s Three Months an acerbic teen awaits the results of an HIV test. Pop star Troye Sivan gets to be funny, vulnerable and sexy. His smooth vocals dominate the soundtrack. He and his repressed love interest, Viveik Kalra, have charm for days. But the screenplay is full of predictable YA tropes. (Mild spoilers ahead.)
LGBT+ media is having a moment. We’ve seen queer teens come of age and fall in love on major streaming services. Love, Victor and Young Royals are waiting in the wings. The grown ups will get their chance this summer when Fire Island, Uncoupled and the new Queer as Folk air. The summer festivals will showcase a new crop of queer independent films. Before that I wanted to look at some common story beats.
The Protagonist. Are they an extrovert? An introvert? Experienced or virginal? Closeted or out and proud? Some get agency. Others simply react to the world around them.
The Love Interest. Usually the opposite of the protagonist. A popular athlete, bashful cinnamon roll, angsty closet case or some combination. If they’re idealized or quirky it’s a romance. If they turn out to be a jerk it’s a coming-of-age drama. If you’ve got one of each you’re in a love triangle.
The Best Friend. Goofy comic relief. A token minority. A straight person with a hopeless crush on the protagonist. A confidante and fierce defender. They’re often taken for granted. This will force them to stand up for themselves in the third act.
The Family. Troye gets saintly grandparents and a mean religious mother. Many boys will have a conservative dad or flaky sibling blocking their path. Sometimes they’re grieving a parent who recently passed away.
The House Party. An excuse to get the cast together and the hormones churning.
The Coming Out Scene. Sometimes voluntary. Sometimes against their will. Almost always heart wrenching. They audience is expected to cry here.
Bicycles and Water. They represent freedom, nature and escape. Places where queer people can be themselves. Troye rides his tandem bike alone until Viveik agrees to hop aboard.
Sex. Yea or Nea? It depends on your target audience. Better Nate Than Ever and Heartstopper avoid the question entirely. This makes them safe to share with a very young audience. Troye, meanwhile, eats popcorn off his lover’s chest. Nick and Charlie would never.
The Third Act Melt Down. The love interest has left, the lie has been exposed, or the protagonist has been outed. Everyone has abandoned them. Or, more often, they push everyone away in a fit of cathartic rage.
The Redemption. Will the hero make a grand declaration of love? Make peace with the friends they pushed away? Stand up to an antagonist? Or simply hold their partner’s hand in public?
The Hook. There’s nothing wrong with tropes. But the story needs something to make it stand out. A mystery to solve. An unusual setting. A challenge to overcome. Films tend to stick to high school halls and summer vacations. Novels have branched out into fantasy and sci fi settings.
What are some examples of tropes done well? Which YA stories avoid them entirely? What media would you share with your younger self? What would be your ideal queer YA story?