Why is YA Dystopian Literature So Popular? Part I

After perusing the NaNo forums and different authors’ novel synopses, I was reminded again of how popular dystopian and otherwise dark Young Adult (YA) fiction is. In a previous blog post about the popularity of fairy tales, I had commented on how the old conventions are being twisted and adapted, oftentimes as darker visions of their Disney-fied counterparts. It got me thinking about the current marketplace.

Much of what is considered “dark” fiction (including dystopian) has grown in popularity for a variety of reasons, and one of them may be that teens today view America as a country that had strived for utopian ideals and is recognizably falling short of those goals. In my experience, teenagers have a proclivity for the dramatic and pessimistic, quite possibly because of the new responsibilities and realities they encounter as they mature. This type of attitude, coupled with the decline of American political and economic world power, makes the subgenre of dystopia a relatable experiment of “what if.”

Dystopia in YA fiction, I think, also has a lot to do with a topic I will soon be writing about in more depth in a separate post: categorization. In The Hunger Games, an individual is defined by the District from which he or she comes; in the similar Divergent series, people are grouped together based on temperament. In another dystopian novel, The Giver, each individual is assigned a role and identity. This seems to indicate that teens are interested in finding ways of discovering that identity through the assignment or classification of roles to which they can compare themselves. We as humans rely on community and the feeling of social acceptance to survive and thrive; the current trend to sanitize the ethnic and cultural differences between people through globalization may be going against the grain of human nature, and therefore might explain another reason why teenagers—and even the adults who enjoy the same books—gravitate towards stories in which roles are assigned and distinctions are made.

Perhaps, then, that is what makes dystopian fiction a particularly popular subgenre. Our social survival relies on association and groups, and the dystopian novel not only makes social survival reliant on those distinctions, but even physical survival. Katniss, for example, is forced to depend on the rebellion, despite the fact that she had no special interest in initiating it. She has been classified and assigned a role that her survival depends on her to fulfill. It gives her purpose, whether or not she draws on that purpose to motivate her. In the same way, we as readers recognize that we want to be assigned a role of critical importance that gives us purpose and meaning in a world that rewards celebrity and heroics, and it is in the dystopian novel when such roles gain life-or-death importance.

A New Year, a New Challenge

Carols on the local radio stations, a half-decorated tree, presents still to purchase—it must be Christmas again. I love the holidays and all their joys, but I have to admit that this year their pace of approach is near to breaking the sound barrier. Since I can’t run quite that fast, I have to admit that, in spite of my best efforts, Christmas has come a little too soon.

With that in mind, I have struggled for the last two months or so to determine what my new writing goals for 2016 will be, and now that the new year is approaching, I’m flailing. I love that I can say I’ve written a million words in a year (alas, I haven’t had the opportunity to say it to anyone yet, but like gifts, it’s the thought that counts), and I surpassed it handily, but it felt like it robbed me of the time to devote to other important tasks that are also about writing.

My efforts to edit my own work in the past two months have been dismal. This month has been characterized by out-of-state travel, and of course last month was NaNoWriMo. Reading is a little easier to accomplish when traveling, and it doesn’t require as much concentration, so I was at least able to bury my nose in a book for a while.

I recently read through Stephen King’s writing autobiography On Writing. In it he suggests to the beginning writer a daily quota of one thousand words (he himself writes about two thousand a day) and recommends, in general, four to six hours a day of dedicated wordsmithing (including reading). I have tried to play it out however I can in my brain, and while I know that writing two thousand words is possible for me, six hours of wordsmithing is too restrictive.

I hate to write that, because I agree with him. When something is as great a priority for you as writing is for me, you want to dedicate as much time as you can to it. Without going into a boring list of excuses, suffice it to say that four hours is near to the maximum that I can accomplish a day.

So, my 2016 writing challenge is. . . .

At least two thousand words written, fifteen minutes of reading, and fifteen minutes of editing per day, including during November.

Why would I pile more of a workload on myself after I just detailed how even the smaller number of tasks was a problem?

Because I know that with good time management, I can still accomplish this. I know from where my problems stem: lack of sleep (brought on by staying up too late, often for stupid reasons). This more than anything has caused me greater pain and issues throughout the year, and I know that I can combat this with discipline, determination, and a more reasonable bedtime.

Furthermore, what’s a challenge if I’m doing less than what I already know I can accomplish? The point of a challenge is to make my goal more difficult, not to try to keep it the same or make it even easier. One day, I might have to lower my expectations, but that day is not this day!

Does anyone else have a challenge or goal for the year? Did you have one for 2015? How did it go?

A Presidential Interlude

This is very nearly identical to a conversation that happened when I was in high school more years ago than I care to remember. The girl I’m referring to as Beta really drank all of this in (she was as gullible as Gilligan). It’s been sitting here on my computer for years, and it has always made me laugh. Random as it is, hopefully it provides you some amusement and/or inspiration. (For the record, I was the loquacious and eloquent “Echo” in this exchange.) Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Reflections

Every year, I approach NaNo with the intent of learning something from it. It may concern my writing style, my interests, or even my physical limitations.

This year, the most important thing I have learned, which was confirmed by NaNo, is how much I want writing to continue as an ingrained part of my lifestyle. No, I don’t want to write 400k every month (I would probably die). My energy, focus, and even lifestyle, however, revolve around writing, no matter what else I happen to be doing. Telling stories is an enormous part of whom I am and how I view and operate in the world, and it doesn’t matter if I’m commercially successful as an author. My job title is inconsequential; I am, and work always to be, a writer first and foremost.

I also learned, even more than last year, that a good community of fellow writers cheering and challenging you can be the difference between a 10k day and a 25k day. Support groups are not to be underestimated, and even shy people like me can gain a lot from having a few encouraging people around and having the opportunity to motivate others.

Yet another element I found, which I explained to someone in my region who asked how I could write so much, is that there are three factors to success (at least mine): interest, focus, and time. If you have the interest, you can focus. If you’re able to focus and you have the interest, you will find and/or make the time. If it’s important enough to you, it becomes less a goal and more a conviction, a certainty deep down inside that nothing is going to stop you. Culture an interest in one of your stories, dedicate the kind of concentration to it that it deserves, and don’t rob yourself of the time to work on it. Prioritization is uniquely yours to control.

Writing is supposed to be fun, but only you know how to make it fun for yourself. Figure out what drives you to write, and latch onto that. Do something you enjoy that contributes to the world, and believe me when I tell you that your story matters.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from a man who knows what’s up:photo-1422246358533-95dcd3d48961 copy

NaNoWriMo Day 30

Throw the streamers! Release the balloons! Sound the trumpets! We have reached the conclusion of NaNoWriMo at last, and it is a bittersweet farewell.

Some stats from this month:

  • Total words written: 425,524 (New Record!)
  • Most words in a day: 28,090 (NR)
  • Fewest words in a day: 4,035
  • Daily average: 14,184 (NR)
  • Strangest writing place: Disney World queues
  • Number of words past original goal (333,333): 92,191
  • Number of words past previous best (311,113): 114,411
  • Total NaNo word count: 1,310,803
  • Average hours of sleep/day: 5.5
  • Painkiller of choice: Aleve
  • Total deaths: Indeterminable
  • Cried for characters: 3 times (NR)

NaNoWriMo may be over, but my challenge to write 2000 words a day continues to December 31. I’ll be writing an update about that as the new year draws closer, and will return to my normally scheduled posting (there’s that word again, normal). I’m excited to see what the next year brings!

How did everyone do on NaNo? Did you reach your goal? Are you partying like you won the lottery, or are you passing out? I’m going to reacquaint myself with this revolutionary new thing called “sleep.”