Saturday, February 14, 2015

Discussions Only We Know: Repetitive Themes

Discussions Only We Know

Repetitive Themes

Today we’re talking about repetitive themes in books. I was going to ask if there are any repetitive themes in the books you read, but I already know the answer to that. The answer is yes. And I know that because there are repetitive themes in the books I read. That coupled with the fact that there is nothing new under the sun. So I guess the real question is what are the repetitive themes that you’ve noticed lately, and are you getting tired of them? Or do you think these themes are necessary?

(*NOTE: The statistics listed below are completely made up and probably exaggerated, but I think you get my point. Except for the ones where I link to an actual article.) Young Adult and New Adult books have a LOT of repetitive themes. I could spend days talking about each one, I'm sure.

Love triangles for one. People usually love them or hate them. I don't outright hate love triangles. As a matter of fact, some of them I really enjoy. I've noticed in the majority of the books I've read with love triangles there are two hot guys going after one girl. And the majority of those have ended with the girl still being in love with the first guy introduced to the story. The love triangles that work for me are the ones that include out growing one relationship which leads into moving toward a more mature relationship. As I said in my Top Ten Things I Dislike About Fictional Romance post, I think you can love two people at one time, but not in the same way. So love triangles that don't work for me have the main character head over heels in love with one character, but when in a situation with the other member of the triangle all thoughts of the other guy are out the window. (Love triangles that don't work for me: the Cambion series by Shannon Dermott and Unravel Me (Shatter Me, # 2) by Tahereh Mafi. *Note, I've not read the last book in either of these series, so the final book could sway my opinion on these triangles.) I actually did an entire post on Love Triangles That Worked For Me and Ones That Didn't.

How about bullying? Bullying has been such a hot button topic in the world of late. Bullying is a big problem, but I wonder if part of the problem is that we're not teaching our kids how to handle being bullied. But that's a different subject for a different kind of post. Bullying was present in 9 out of 10 YA books published through the years of 2012-2013 and 8 out of 10 published in 2014. The majority of the bullying I read during these years were gay kids being bullied. (Ex: Speechless by Hannah Harrington & Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend (Confessions, # 2) by Louise Rozett) Which leads into the next repetitive them...

Homosexuality is present in maybe not the majority of YA books that I've read over the past three years, but it is definitely present in a large portion of those books. The book might not be about a main character that is gay, but there is some character, somewhere within the book that is gay. With statistics showing that only 1.8% of the population of the United States reporting to be gay, the frequency of gay characters in YA & NA literature is potentially--dare I say—unrealistic. (Ex: Just One Day (Just One Day, # 1) by Gayle Forman, Hopeless (Hopeless, # 1) by Colleen Hoover, and Riot (Mayhem, # 2) by Jamie Shaw )

Within the paranormal subgenre, there always seems to be a self-sacrificing female lead character. She's put into a situation where the evil bad guy knows that they way to get what he wants is to threaten the people she loves. And inevitably the female lead will throw herself into the clutches of the evil being with no plan and no thought other than "I must save PERSONxyz." (Ex: Switched (Trylle, # 3) by Amanda Hocking & Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, # 3) by Cassandra Clare)

This last theme has even trickled over into contemporary literature where both male and female characters will break up with their significant other “for the other’s good.” This has become such a predominant plot device used in place of real conflict that I can only roll my eyes at this point. (Ex: Blindness by Ginger Scott, Jane's Harmony (Jane's Melody, # 2) by Ryan Winfield, & Out of Breath (Breathing, # 3) by Rebecca Donovan )

While we're on the subject of protagonists or the main character, I can't tell you how many YA books I've read recently where the MC makes a blatant statement that they don't believe in God. I can understand why an author wouldn't want to include anything religious or spiritual within their work. But what I don't understand is why even bring it up at all only to say the character doesn't believe? Can we have a MC that does believe without that dominating the entire story? That is possible right? (Ex: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes, Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover, & Invincible by Amy Reed--I feel like there are better examples than these, but this is what I found when searching my kindle. )

Let's jump to more New Adult for a second. There’s quite a debate about the new adult genre. Is it even necessary? New adult books seem very similar to YA, and often include some of the repetitive themes mentioned above, but with the addition of descriptive--though not as descriptive as straight Adult books--scenes. I can't get what Anna from Anna Reads said about the new adult genre. She said she thinks this genre should be about the process of moving from high school to college, growing away from your high school friends, finding new friends, finding yourself, learning about what you want to do with your life, moving past the high school boyfriend to finding a new/different/possibly more mature college boyfriend.

Instead, the new adult genre features play boys in 9.9 out of 10 books. These boys will sleep with any woman who will allow them access, and often statements are made that they can’t even count the number of women they’ve slept with. Yet in 100% of these 9.9 books these bad boys find the one woman in the world who they want to be faithful to. I'm not even going to give you any examples because this is like every new adult book ever.

For sure the majority of new adult books include major conflict that is truly only a misunderstanding between characters. This conflict could be easily solved by the slightest bit of communication between characters who are often willing to share their bodies but not their hearts. (Ex: Riot (Mayhem, # 2) by Jamie Shaw, Jane's Melody (Jane's Melody, # 1) by Ryan Winfield, & Lick (Stage Dive, # 1) by Kylie Scott )

I’ve recently discovered that perhaps half of the new adult books I've read recently include the main couple having a physical encounter as their first real experience with each other. Relationships are built on sex and not anything of substance. (Ex: Beautiful Redemption (The Maddox Brothers, # 1) by Jamie McGuire, Riot (Mayhem, # 2) by Jamie Shaw, & Just for Now (Sea Breeze, # 4) by Abbi Glines )

And while this isn’t the last repetitive theme out there, but this is the last one I’m going to mention today. So frequently new adult characters turn to alcohol when conflict arises and things get tough. Most of these characters take their alcohol public—usually to a club or bar—and the other portion drinks in solitude. Seeking out alcohol in order to avoid dealing with life is just not a healthy way to cope with life. I wish this wasn't such a prevalent theme in new adult books. (Ex: Believe (True Believers, # 3) by Erin McCarthy, Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful, # 1) by Jamie McGuire, & Riot (Mayhem, # 2) by Jamie Shaw )

What about you guys? What are the repetitive themes that you see that get on your nerves? Have you noticed any of these themes before? Are there any major themes that I missed that you’ve noticed? Do these things not bother you? Do you ever feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again? Or does it not bother you to see a few things like this on repeat since the characters names and experiences are different?

Like I said, there really is nothing new under the sun. I think often times these themes are on repeat because they’re real. I think we all know the guy who would sleep with anyone. I think we all know the bully. We all know someone who turns to alcohol when life gets rough. And I have lived a love triangle myself. So this is one of the reasons why we see these themes so frequently. I don’t dispute that they’re often real (even if exaggerated), and thus people relate to them. But sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same book over and over again. I try to vary my reads by genre as that does often help break up repeating patterns, but sometimes the patterns travel across many genres.

What do you guys think? Have you noticed anything similar in your reading like? Let me know!


  1. Great post! There certainly are a lot of repetitive themes in books, but it really depends on how they are beign handled. I actually don't midn the love triangles as much as I did, I am currently readign the second book in Siobhan Davis her True Calling series and I actually like how she handled the love triangle, one moment I think I got it figured out and then somethgin happens that makes me wonder if the other guy does have a chance after all.

    The repetitive theme I dislike most nowadays it the obligatory break up, some days it seems like eveyr romance book has these, usually towards the end when you just think they are together and the only drama thing left to try it the break up and ofcourse they get together after that. I always think that break-ups are so drastic, sure it can be a bit rocky for some time, but you don't immediately have to break up. You can stay together and work throguh those issues.

    I don't mind the gay character, but it seems like they are always the same. He's always a side character, like the author just added a gay side character so there is diversity. Sometimes it feels natural, other times not and it's a bit exagerrated. I also can't stand the miscommunication and how it feel like the whole plot or drama could be prevented if they just talked it over. Or the keeping secrets that come back to bite them later on.

    I think most of these themes are real indeed and it's difficult to be really original, although often I am alreayd happy when these issues are handled in a less predictable way or at least a bit original. Especially when I read a lot of books in a short period of time I feel like every book is the same, but nowadays I have that less as I only read about one book a week.

  2. I love this post! I've been noticing a lot of repetition too. Some of the ones that really annoy me are:
    1. Miscommunication. I cannot stand it when romances go sour because of a misunderstanding that can be cleared up in one conversation.
    2. When a character knows something about another character but won't explain anything. This happens a lot in paranormal books. Usually when a girl character is introduced to a previous unknown paranormal element and a mysterious boy comes to protect her, but refuses to actually tell her anything.
    3. I am tired of the "special snowflake" routine. It makes me roll my eyes so hard when a girl is thrust into a new and strange situation and suddenly everyone loves her and she changes all these things and always wins whatever contest she is involved in.

  3. Great topic! I think that, depending on the genre of the book, they are more likely to have repetitive tropes coming through. ie, if it's contemporary, it's more likely to follow the romantic genre tropes of hot guy falling for average girl/love triangle (though props must be given to S. C. Stephens on managing to portray a love triangle in what I imagine must be the closest to truth I've read so far. She pulls no punches on the pain and guilt aspects, and that was refreshing - if painful as hell - to read).
    I do find myself leaning less and less towards contemporary romance stories because of that; I seem to find that fantasy genres (and derivatives, so dystopia, etc) tend to have more variables in them, simply because the world construction is so much more a part of the story, meaning the romance aspects get a backseat to the world and characters. Some great examples of this are Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series and Sara Raasch's Snow like Ashes books - not to mention The Hunger Games - all of which focus more on the characters and their journey (which by necessity means they're less likely to repeat, since each author creates different worlds and characters) than the romantic aspect.

    I do have to disagree with you on one aspect, though, and that is the homosexuality in novels. I think that just because only 1.8% of US population is publicly gay, doesn't mean there aren't many, many more people out there who are, but are afraid to come out. Representation is a big issue in literature, and one that isn't commented on enough. Obviously, for stories that take place in say Norway or Russia, it's expected that most of the characters would be white, but once you leave that kind of place, it's unfair of us to expect that 100% of characters should be white or heterosexual. Especially for homosexuality, that is still fighting for recognition and acceptance, representation in literature aimed at young adults can be crucial in helping to create a more accepting, open-minded generation that is less likely to discriminate and spread hate. So maybe it is shown too much (though personally, I think it's not enough, especially in the big series that will reach wider audiences), but it's all fiction - it doesn't need, nor is it trying sometimes, to accurately represent real life and numbers. I do agree that there needs to be more depth and actual reason for the gay character to be there (a great example of gay characters that are actually useful to the plot can be found in Magnus and Alec in Cassie Clare's books), rather than just for the author's conscience that they've added diversity by putting them there.

  4. I think you're right Lola. If the themes are repetitive, it doesn't even matter if the author handles them well. I do love a love triangle that keeps me guessing as long as the main character is actually conflicted and not all in with both characters depending on which one he/she's with at the time.

    I completely agree! It does seem like often authors write in a break up just to throw some kind of conflict into the story. It often feels forced and not genuine at all.

    Yes, I think again with the gay characters for me is that it usually also feels forced. And sometimes it just feels like the author/publisher is trying to include them because the topic is so popular right now.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  5. Ugh yes! Miscommunication/misunderstanding can be so frustrating to the reader because since the reader has more information than the characters usually do it just seems like such an easy fix.

    OH YES! Your number 2 was a great point! I hate in paranormal books when everyone but the main character knows what's going on but no one will clue him/her in!

    Haha! Yeah, I can see that being a frustration too!

    Thanks for your commenting Shannon!

  6. I agree. Each genre seems to have their own repeating themes. I do try to rotate genres when I'm reading to help break up some of the repetitiveness, but often I find that I'm in a mood for one genre or other, and I just have to roll with it. Even fantasy has some repeating patterns and even similar worlds sometimes, but you're right, because there are so many other things to focus on, sometimes the patterns aren't as obvious.

    I do love when an author can handle one of these themes in a way that is different from the usual. Surprise me. And even if it is the same old, if it is done well then I'm okay with it.

    I think you're so right. It feels more to be like the gay characters are there because the author or publisher has an agenda--trying to change the public's thoughts/feelings towards homosexuality--and often (though not always) not because the character genuinely fits the story. It just feels forced sometimes. Like exactly what you said...the author/publisher is trying to create acceptance. Personally, I think there's a big misconception in the world today that just because someone doesn't support homosexuality means that person is full of hate or discriminates. I know that to be false.

    I do think you've made another great point about race. I don't seek to read books about people who are *only* like me, but it is proven that the reader often tries to put themselves in the role of the main character. That's more difficult to do when the main character isn't like you--race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, etc. I'm not a reader who makes a big stance on how there needs to be more diversification in books when it comes to those things (race, gender, etc) because I don't read for those things. I read for the story.

    Great thoughts Mandy! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.