I started writing when I was about twelve. I was very into fantasy. (Still am) My first books were primarily about made-up worlds set in an England-like medieval age, or Final Fantasy VII, guns and swords type of world. Very magic based, not Earth.
(Do I like these old stories, you ask? NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.)
In any case, I was always interested in enchantment, so that’s what I wrote about. And low and behold, I was just the right age for Harry Potter. Got a little older and I went a little darker. I was into the supernatural—vampires and ghosts. When Twilight came around, I was writing about demons and séances. I love vampires. Never wrote about them because I believe in sticking with the lore, but when that lore is so convoluted, it’s a little hard. But I love them. And I found, if you watch my progression as a young writer to today (No, you may not) you’ll notice a trend, namely trend following.
Except, and here’s the weird thing, I’m not a trend follower. Not deliberately. I had long been writing with the sheer ignorance and naivety that only a teenager of my narcissism could possess. I didn’t pay attention to what other people were doing. And, in many circumstances, I wrote my books before the similar one came out. Okay, okay, you’re going to have to take my word for this, because the point isn’t, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE UNORIGINAL, but what that actually means for me as a writer.
Whatever’s influencing the masses is also influencing me. I am, for all intensive purposes, normal.
Well, of course I am. I’d have to be stupid to think I was a shielded wall of individuality—although it would explain the communication problems I have. But I didn’t realize to what extent it was until the movie Divergent came out.
I… haven’t read the Hunger Games. Yet. Alright, alright, I’ll get to it, I promise. But I did see the movie, and that counts for something, doesn’t it? When was that? Movie II just premiered, so Movie I must have been last year… 2013?
No, I won’t look it up.
Late 2012, I wrote a dystopian novel. It was my first science fiction book, though I had written many Steam Punk (kind of) style fantasies that involved fantastical technology. The idea came to me in a very simple form: I wanted to kidnap someone on a motorcycle, and realized the kidnapper would have to not slow down for anything to keep her on it. Where would he be? Subconscious, let’s talk Road Warrior.
(Foundation concept, my friends. Foundation. It’s not Road Warrior; it’s anarchist dystopia, and the similarities end there. I hope. Leave me alone.)
Anyway, it was a strange derision for me, but it came from living in my head, so I thought nothing of it. I had, I think, not heard of Hunger Games or Divergent or Matched or any of the thousands of Young Adult dystopian books that are coming out now. I did just play Fallout New Vegas, if that says anything. For the most part, I wasn’t worrying about originality—I didn’t think there was anything to worry about. I didn’t think it would be a trend. It may have been a trend already, but I am oblivious.
From my perspective, my interest is obvious. I don’t like Earth. I like living here, sure. I guess. Preferable to the sun anyway. But I don’t like reading about it. I want a new world to explore. I like fantasy. I’ve read a lot of fantasy. I’m getting sick of fantasy. Okay, let’s lay off the elves for a while. What else is there?
I believe the interest in dystopia is many people like different worlds, but many others disrespect other worlds. Say what you will about the current immature trends in the genre, but dystopian authors rarely get asked, “So, why dystopia?” Or not as much. As a fantasy author, it’s not uncommon to have to explain yourself. We take 1984 and A Brave New World seriously; The Giver and The Running Man, great. Lord of the Rings, nope. Black Cauldron, uh-uh. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? Maybe. Macbeth?
… I don’t think that counts. You know what I mean.
Sure, science fiction is often remembered as that dime store crap, shelved next to that romance crap, but the potential for political discussion can often make apocalyptic futures serious.
In any case, the trend from Harry Potter to Twilight to Hunger Games is obvious. People are looking for character-based other worlds that tie into internal conflict and relationships. Most fantasy and science fiction tends to be plot oriented, typically assumed as “Save the world,” kind of jaunts. Going from fantasylands to dystopia makes sense, and I’m all for it. These are the kinds of books I want to read, and I hope the popularity doesn’t stop any time soon.
But what does it mean for me?
I have been working on this book for two years, and it’s the first one that I really settled down with. Most of them, I write, and then write something else, because, hey, I like writing. I’m a slut. Commitment issues, baby. This, however, I chose to be loyal to, and I’m not entirely sure if I ran around too long.
The Divergent movie came out. And, more importantly, the criticisms came out. Everyone’s talking and I don’t like what I’m hearing. I had no idea just how popular dystopia was until it got over the hill.
But, I don’t normally think that way. I read an interview with Holly Black about the Coldest Girl in Coldtown and she got the question, “So, why vampires even though they’re so over done?”
My response, as an objective third-party, was write what you want to write about, whether it’s popular or not. Duh.
And yet, here we are.
Hunger Games and Divergent and many other new novels are dystopian. Divergent is about a young, brave girl in a society that separates people into different factions, each trying to maintain goodness in the form of one trait: bravery, intelligence, honesty, kindness, selflessness. Tris chooses bravery, a fraction that’s job is to protect the other civilians, so she learns to fight, and goes through some horrific trials, etc. Hunger games is about a young, brave girl in a society that punishes twelve districts by taking two of their children and forcing all twenty-four to fight to the death.
Divergent is criticized for being a Hunger Games wanna-be.
So, I did read Divergent, finally, before the movie came out. I’m not going to go into how I feel about it, because it’s a long story involving a lot of different elements that has nothing to do with the writing. In any case, I do not think for three seconds Veronica Roth wrote that book because of Hunger Games. I really don’t believe she sat down and said, “What’s popular right now?” or “I’m going to make a strong female character like Katniss!”
I don’t know where some of these naysayers have been, but “strong female character” has been a growing stereotype since 1999. (Not to imply that Katniss is a stereotype. This may have been a tangent.)
Sure, Hunger Games might have to do with why Roth got published, but why she wrote it? I don’t believe it.
But right now the internet is full of people complaining about too much dystopia. And I know, no matter what happens, I will get called out for trend following. But that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that if I been more diligent and gotten it out faster, it would have been right on mark, not trying to come out in the aftermath amongst many others. So many times do I realize that I was a part of a growing trend too late. So am I doing that now? Am I not working on something that will be popular in a year? And by that time, I’ve missed the boat?
I think it’s time for the silver lining.
The fact that I am apparently normal can actually be a good thing. If my tastes organically flow with my peers, than write fast enough, clearly I can catch a ride before people are like, “Oh God, not another one,” right? Right?
Okay, it’s become apparent that I am average. I need to just use that to my advantage. Suck it up, you know? If I am so typical, then others will agree with me. I should listen to my instinct.
Well, my instinct likes this book. My instinct says I’m just being a coward. My instinct says I have cold feet. My instinct says I’m an idiot. My instinct might be abusive. Where’s my narcissism when I need it?