Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dystopia 101: How to write a book that follows the current publishing trend in YA literature

1) Begin your summary with "In the future, people are separated by [insert unfair and intriguing criteria]".

2) Create different parts in this futuristic society and give them funky names. If they don't sound quite serious enough to actually exist, don't worry. Just capitalize the first letter and everything shall be fine.

3) Try to create some kind of age-related deadline/inevitable milestone for the characters to go through. 18 is the best age, considering the target audience, but it can be anything if you can make it work. It is better if there is a fancy government-sponsored ceremony attached to the event.

4) Go on a little bit about the new big brother-like society and then insert [character 1, most likely the narrator or part-time narrator, who has been raised *this way* and who is confused/passive/naive].

5) Insert now [character 2, future love interest of character 1, who has been raised in exactly *the opposite way*].

6) Arrange for them to meet and somehow be unable to avoid each other despite a less than ideal start.

7) Skip the boring relationship building. No time for that.

8) Also skip the world building and pesky little details like consistency or "now, why would society ever do that?" explanations. No one will pay attention.

9) First option: If you want an introspective book: painfully slow but steady evolution of the plot towards a rebellion against the narrator's overbearing and totalitarian society, rebellion born from their loving relationship
    Other option: fast paced, engaging plot with twists and turns that will make the reader forget about everything that's wrong with the world building and the insta-love relationship.

Bonus: get some kind of [childhood best friend/new love interest/narrator] love triangle in there, and you're set for a trilogy.

Of course, this is an exaggeration.
Of course, not every YA dystopian novel is like this. But you have to admit, it fits for most of the popular ones, and I think this is my recurrent problem with YA distopia right now: it works, on a very shallow level. It looks intriguing, but once you start actually thinking about it? It falls apart.

Case in point with a few popular dystopian YA books: 

In Matched by Allie Condie, the pacing was the main problem for me. I know it worked for some people, but it completely fizzled out the narration and plot, and the pairing and love interest seemed to jump out of nowhere. It's not even that Cassia started having all these feelings and I was wondering where they were coming from. No. I couldn't even see the feelings in question.

In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, a novel with a fascinating premise, I would have loved to have more details and context about why people suddenly started thinking love was a bad idea. I know it's explained a little bit, but I need to be convinced. I can't just accept that something this huge could have happened and not have details. It's up to the author to figure out how to give them.

Another example: Divergent by Veronica Roth. Now, I actually liked that one. But the world building? No. Come on. People can't be rendered to being one single thing. The mere notion is preposterous. People don't have a "dominant trait" or whatever you want to call it. It's much more complex that that, and I feel like, again, we weren't really given any details about the thought process behind it.

I would be more than happy for you guys to let me know about any counter-examples you may have encountered, especially the ones for points 7 and 8. I'm begging for an in-depth dystopian YA novel, but haven't managed to find one yet.


Carole said...
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laura carter said...

I have recently started reading a dysatopian book called Drayling by Terry.J.Newman. I have only read a couple of chapters but the world is very well built and there are thorough explanations of why everything is the way it is. So far it seems like it is going to be a good book, you might want to check it out.

Requien said...

Honestly the best dystopia ever (at least of the current phase. There's something that can never be usurped with 1984, etc.) the Birthmarked Trilogy by Caragh O'Brien. It does have a love interest, yes, but there isn't that whole cliche thing, it makes sense, the world is built really well, the oppressiveness of the government does make sense (even if its mean). Its absolutely amazing and no one seems to have heard of it.

JustSarah said...

Not so sure about the romantic element. But everything else is cool. (Raised on books like Neuromancer & Count Zero.)

Liz said...

I'm working on a dystopian book, so I find this informative, even though I might self-publish. Even though I don't spend a lot of notes on it, notes that will never be used, I have quite a section devoted to world building, and the main relationship is a father-daughter one.

Anonymous said...

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Brilliant dystopian novel and does points 7 and 8 very well.

Anonymous said...

Randomly found your blog while trying to find another one...but I'm really glad I did!

Loved this post. Especially with what you say about Matched, Delirium and Divergent. Actually, my only problem with the Divergent series is the lack of world building, and then that dramatic ending for Insurgent, I feel like whatever book 3 is going to be will be a bit of an info dump and thus a book 4 is needed. Not that I'm complaining, but still.

As an aspiring author of a dystopian book as well, I'm really intrigued to read what other think about the genre. And I love what you've said! Especially no. 7, it reminded me of that meme, 'aint nobody got time for that.' :D

Arely ZPerez said...

Please, please add Daynight by Megan Thomason to that list.

Shane Morgan said...

Awesome post. Well noted!

Shaun said...

I personally loved Matched. The sequels however... not so much. I got bored with Delirium. Divergent was great. Thanks for the post!

Michelle Scarritt said...

Any thoughts on Enclave or Legend? I liked them both even though they do follow some of the YA dystopia tropes.

I've been reading every YA dystopia I can get my hands on because I'm considering writing a book of my own (if you can't find the perfect book, then why not try writing it?). I'm getting my PhD in Biomedical Science, and I want to write a book where the world I create is perfectly feasible. I hate reading books about world-ending plagues without any explanation about such a disease... of course, other readers might be bored to death by that.

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