A “series” of problems

When I hear the word “dystopia,” my mind immediately jumps to the novels I loved in high school: Brave New World. 1984. Animal Farm. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been so critical of the YA dystopias that are so popular today – I’m always comparing them to what I consider the classics, and they never stack up. I want novels that critique society, not stories about girls who are trying to decide which guy she most wants to date. That’s not to say that there can’t be romance also, but I don’t want that to be the main focus (at least not without a good reason).

I would consider my current WIP a New Adult dystopian series. It does have romance, but the romance is necessary for the plot to work. It’s definitely more social commentary than romance. I’m not saying it’s as good as the classics, as it’s definitely not, but those are the novels that I’m using for inspiration. And there’s where we start to run into a problem. The classic dystopian novels all ended in a particular way. They weren’t happy. They weren’t even hopeful. Yet they were appropriate for the novel.

When I first came up with the idea for ALONE, it was a short story, and it had a very unhappy ending, the sort of ending I was used to reading about in high school. This was actually the short story I wrote for my final project in college. It went through so many drafts before I finally settled one, and I still can’t quite remember if it had a happy, sad, or hopeful ending.

Now that I’m writing it as a novel, I’ve had to reconsider the entire plot. I made the main character younger, and I’m focusing a lot more on other aspects of the world, not just the way women are treated (which was what sparked the idea for this novel). Suddenly, I realized that this story would work best as a trilogy, as there was much more to the story than I originally though. My original ending was a cop-out so I didn’t have to worry about what would happen after a particular series of events transpired.

So now I’m trying to figure out what will happen next, and I’m running into a problem. The classic novels all had pretty realistic yet grim endings. The current novels all feature an eventual overthrow of the oppressive government. The latter idea is so much more fun, but it requires the characters to stand up and act in a way that I don’t think would ever really happen.

I guess I’m just a pessimist at heart. I think humankind in general (or at least in America) is pretty horrible. I think corporations are taking over the country, and I don’t think regular people will ever win, partly because they’re not powerful enough but largely because I just don’t think people care about anything, at least not enough to really do anything about it.

This is the same problem I had when I was trying to plan my “fantasy” (read: medieval-ish setting without magic or any other fantasy elements) series. The government was evil and needed to be stopped, but I couldn’t imagine a realistic scenario when that would actually happen.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that a lot. Maybe I need to have more faith in my imaginary people. After all, if you push people far enough, they’ll eventually break and fight back. Right?

What about you? Ever had conflicting emotions about the believability of your work?

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Posted on June 13, 2013, in alone, Learning to Lie, Planning, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I, uh, try not to think about these things too much. >.> I’m also a big fan of happy endings, or at least reasonably positive. I don’t remember the last character I’ve killed off, because I’m a wuss with my own stuff. But I’d love to work through this with you if you’d like! There is lots of middle ground between grim and sunny overthrow. Heck, you can even do both!

  2. You can end your book however you decide you want–overthrown government or everyone dies–but I will say, part of the reason we like reading so much is because it allows us to escape. Which may be why I’ve never been a huge fan of dystopian novels (although I do adore “Animal Farm,” bizarrely enough) in the first place…but the nice thing about novels is that the characters can do things we can’t or think we can’t do in real life. So even though realistically a government may not be overthrown (although there are plenty of real-life examples of where this has successfully happened, although it is usually followed by other kinds of hardships), what we like about novels is that it can happen.

    • Thanks for your input! I was actually thinking a lot about escapism while I was writing this post. It’s not really escapism if the same horrible things happen in the book as they do in real life. And you’re absolutely right – people can do things in books that we don’t think we can do in real life. That’s definitely a great point. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  3. Hm… I don’t think you should force yourself into an ending just because certain people won’t think it’s believable – I think believability comes from your characters and the actions they take. If your protagonist is strong enough to overthrow the government I think that would work but if that’s clearly not a possibility perhaps a grimmer ending would be better. It’s always nice to have a message of hope in the end but several dystopian novels don’t have happy endings; these novels still reveal aspects of mankind that are relevant and worth reading about. Good luck with your story, just don’t give up!

    • You make a really good point. The believability doesn’t come from actions alone – it comes from the actions of characters. I hadn’t really thought of it like that before, but that makes so much sense.

      And you’re right – it’s stupid to write an ending I don’t like because I’m afraid it won’t seem believable. I guess I just need to create strong characters and then see what they’re capable of. Thanks for the advice! πŸ™‚

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