When I say I’ve written a dystopian novel, many times I get the funny looks. You know the one. It says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll just nod and smile to make it seem like I’m following our conversation.” Then I say, “You know, like The Hunger Games or Divergent.” Finally, the lights come on.
Basically, dystopian can be defined as the opposite of a utopia. Wikipedia defines it as, creation of an utterly horrible or degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion, or dystopia.
I’ve loved dystopian literature since I first picked up Orwell’s 1984 in high school. There was something about a society that creates such an oppressive living place for its people that captured my attention. It’s still intriguing now because there is always the possibility of fiction coming to life. Every day we’re bombarded by these ethical dilemmas that could easily bring us into such a society. The possibility that it’s entirely possible to have a society like this is what draws so many to this genre.
I think there’s part of the writer (at least of me) that creates a fictional society that really wants to make things better for its people. But as perfect as we want our society to be, humans are fallible; therefore their creations are fallible. Perhaps not all dystopian writers would agree that the original intent of our fictional government is to create the perfect society, but I think it is human nature for us to always be searching for something better; therefore, striving for perfection is the underlying motivation.
We see such motivations in books like The Giver, by Lois Lowry, one of my all-time favorite books. The characters want the best for the next generation. But the plan they use to carry that out is flawed.
Such is the case with my novel, The Breeding Tree. The goal of the society is to eradicate diseases such as cancer and heart disease. They breed out physical malformations as well. But in doing so, they touch on ethical topics such as manipulating DNA and disposing of fetuses who are not considered perfect.
So, we’ve discussed the atmosphere of a dystopian novel, but there’s something special about the characters in dystopian literature as well. There’s always a rebel. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good rebellion story? Who doesn’t love to read about the underdog who goes up against the big bad government? We cheer for characters like that. Characters in these situations need to be strong, smart, and resourceful. Imagining ourselves as these characters motivates us, especially in situations that feel helpless. After finishing The Hunger Games, I was practically cheering and thinking, “What would I have done in that situation?”
Our lives are filled with difficult, sometimes helpless situations, so we can identify with a character who overcomes adversity. I think this is the very reason this genre is so popular within the young adult population. This is also the reason I write in this genre. I want to give hope to young people who feel they’re in hopeless situations. If my writing can do that even a little bit, I’ll consider myself a successful author.
Writing Prompt: Now, it’s time for you to write: Write about a situation where you (or your character) feels helpless.
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The Breeding Tree
When seventeen year old Katherine Dennard is selected to become a “Creation Specialist” in Sector 4, the opportunity sounds like a dream come true. But Kate soon discovers the darker side of her profession – the disposal of fetal organs and destruction of human life. It makes sense, really. In a society where disease and malformations don t exist, human perfection demands that no genetic “mutants” be allowed to live. For Sector 4, “survival of the fittest” is not just a theory – it’s The Institute’s main mission.
When Kate discovers that The Institute is using her DNA to create new life, her work gets personal. In order to save her unviable son, she’ll have to trust Micah and his band of underground Natural Born Rebels. The problem is, if The Institute discovers her betrayal, the next body being disposed of could be hers.
There’s not much to do growing up in a small town in Western, NY, so J. Andersen wrote stories and won high school writing contests. But in college her writing was limited to term papers. While teaching middle school she began to read young adult books and got serious about writing. She now writes full time, volunteers at the town library, helps to run a School of the Arts at her church, and sings in the church band. She enjoys good coffee—read: home roasted by her husband—crafts, baking, and chasing after her children. You’ll rarely see J. without a book in her hands, and that’s the way she’d like to keep it.
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