A Discussion of Settings in Popular YA Novels

by Olya Wickham, Age 18, Australia

Artwork by Katie King


Cliched Settings - jaBlog!Clichés are found in any genre of writing. The more books that are written and produced, the more clichés become apparent. Young adult novels, which are largely popular these days, are some of the greatest offenders of unoriginality.

Although clichés are mainly found in plot lines and characters, one cliché that is fundamentally overlooked is the setting. Many of popular YA novels are set in a Western society, usually England or America. The Western cultural setting dominates that of any other culture. As the majority of young adult novels are written in these countries, it is no surprise that the setting and world they create is based on the place they are most familiar with.

There is much to be discovered in Eastern culture that greatly differs from our own–– myths, historical events, even ways of accomplishing everyday tasks. The East is rich in culture, tradition, and diversity, which should be recognized by young writers everywhere.

If you want ideas to get started, I suggest you read some of the literature on the topic, both fiction and nonfiction. One famous literary work that is mainly set in the Middle East is a collection of short stories titled One Thousand and One Nights, better known as Arabian Nights. The tales themselves are traced back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian folklore and are rich in fantasy and culture. Another novel is Susan Kay’s Phantom. It is a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, which follows the story of Erik, a disfigured young boy, and his journey throughout the world, trying to find love and acceptance when even his own mother rejected him.

Mao’s Last Dancer, an autobiographical novel written by Chinese-Australian author Li Cunxin, follows his journey from the fields of Shandong to his position as a dancer in the Houston Ballet in the United States. It is an amazing story, filled with dedication, love, and the longing for family.

A historical novel by author Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha tells the fictional story of a geisha working in Kyoto, Japan before and after the happenings of the Second World War. Many Japanese customs can be found in this book, and it is a great read for anyone just starting to take interest in the Eastern culture. With its lovely language and fascinating plot, you can connect with the main character with ease and lose yourself in the exotic setting by merely reading the first page.

The next time you sit down to write a story, think about where you want it to be set. Research countries and their different cultural aspects, even if you want to include fantasy in your writing. Not only will it open up your eyes to a whole different world, but it will open up the eyes of the readers. You might even teach them a thing or two or inspire them in a way you never knew you could.

Remember, if you truly want your writing to stand out from the rest, spend time researching and populate your story with multiculturalism, explore traditions and customs from around the globe.


Olya Wickham is an 18 year old writer from Australia. She is currently editing her first novel which will hopefully be finished by the end of the year.


2 comments on “A Discussion of Settings in Popular YA Novels

  1. A really interesting point, Olya! I have never thought of setting cliches before, although there always is that point that apocalypses happen in the US, and that’s basically it.
    I once read a brilliant book called Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. It’s real life, but still fantastic, so I’d suggest it if you like Eastern cultures. It’s truly insightful, and it really tugs on your heartstrings.

  2. Amna

    A really insightful article, Olya. Most such discussions mention the ‘Eastern Culture’ as a generalized word despite the fact that it varies greatly in different areas. You have done a great job in briefly discussing the major hubs and their diverse customs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>