The Hunger Games. Divergent. Uglies. Legend. Matched.
Name one thing these series all have in common–chances are it popped into your head just reading the titles (I know it’s in the post title but just go with me). You guessed it..Dystopia with a capital D! (You must be psychic, really)
Dystopians are “the new black” of the book world. They are the trendsetters, the it girl, the celebrities. I mean, who doesn’t wish they’d written the Hunger Games? (darn you, Suzanne Collins). There’s nothing wrong with dystopians. I personally love them when they’re done right. I also love the attention and celebrity they have gotten, reaching out to broader audiences through big budget Hollywood movies and media. Authors are some of the most under-appreciated workers, so I love when they get the recognition they deserve–plus all the hype makes loving books and fangirling cool.
One thing I love about dystopians, besides the cool, creative, and vivid worlds, is (the ones that are done well) make a statement about society. They put our flaws and our issues into this alternate reality, and suddenly it’s shocking and exciting and awful. Think killing children on reality television awful. But I have noticed a downward trend in dystopians: they are losing this meaning, this purpose. More and more they are becoming just an exciting story or an unusual world for a 16-year-old girl to team up with Mr. Dreamy (who she probably used to hate) and bring down the bad guys who just want to make their lives suck.
That’s the problem with copying something: a copy is almost never as good as the original.
I’m in no way against dystopians–like I said I love reading them, even my own MS leans dystopian. But I think dystopians more than any other genre right now come off just plain canned.
My absolute favorites are the “hipster dystopians” (you know, dystopian before it was cool). Think The Giver, The City of Ember, or even Fahrenheit 451. These authors weren’t chasing a trend. They weren’t trying to become the next big thing or get a mega movie deal starring my soulmate JLaw or Theo James/Liam Hemsworth (but I’m not complaining about the eye candy). It was more than just a cool story, they were trying to say something.
We are so easily desensitized to the world around us. When reading dystopians, it is easy to forget that they can be based on true events. They are not just stories. What seem so shocking and horrible when written in a book are atrocities that are still happening in our world TODAY. (If you don’t believe me, check out this article on Upworthy: http://www.upworthy.com/whats-it-actually-like-in-north-korea-a-million-times-worse-than-you-imagine?c=reccon1#)
As writers, we ride a dangerous line. In this hyper competitive industry, it is all-too-tempting to throw betrayals, love triangles, and tear-jerking deaths into the story in the hopes of making it exciting enough for our audience (who seems to have the attention span of a squirrel, and is often drawn to shiny things). But don’t forget, it’s not just about telling a story or trying to entertain people. Art should always speak in some way, or else there is no point other than “Oh, that’s a pretty picture.” And even though writing is full of words, sometimes we forget to speak.
What about your book? Is it just a cool story? Or is there something more?
Please do everyone a favor, and write a story that speaks. Don’t get caught up in the trend and the glamour, and lose sight of the art.
(Hipster Cinna is not impressed by your hipster fangirling)