Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Elements of Dystopia and Apocalypse

Dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA novels are all the rage right now. Hunger Games may have kickstarted the fascination with these sub-genres, but books like Divergent (with the finale Allegiant coming this October) and The Fifth Wave (released earlier this month) are keeping these sub-genres on the forefront of YA fiction. As readers and writers, we should be aware that the line between dystopia and the apocalypse can be hard to draw (as I discovered after my Rise of Dystopia post last August). These sub-genres are separate entities, no matter if some YA novels have elements of both and no matter how similar they may appear.

Definitions & Descriptions
Dystopian books are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments or the general cataclysmic decline of society. The elements of dystopia may vary from political to social to environmental, and are commonly undesirable or frightening. Dystopia can come in the form of totalitarianism, political repression, societal collapse, poverty or pollution. It should be noted that a dystopian society is the opposite of a utopian one.

Post-Apocalyptic books are about the end of human civilization as we know it. The apocalypse can come in many forms, including but not limited to: nuclear warfare, pandemic, extraterrestrial attack, impact event, cybernetic revolt, divine judgment, runaway climate change, resource depletion, ecological collapse or any environmental disaster. Usually this event results in the crippling or destruction of the political structure and its ability to aid its citizens.

Classifying the Bestsellers
So how do we classify our favorite science fiction/fantasy/adventure novels into these two sub-genres? They appear similar, at least when it comes to applying their characteristics to books on the shelves. However, there are important differences, usually involving the existence, presence and strength of the government. Whereas dystopian societies are usually orderly (sometimes to the extreme), post-apocalyptic worlds tend to be quite chaotic. Also, in dystopian novels, the political regime is usually overly present, visibly strong and often restrictive of its citizens. But post-apocalyptic novels, the apocalypse usually results the crippling or outright destruction of the government, often leaving citizens to fend for themselves. It should be noted that in some dystopian novels, an apocalypse may have been the catalyst for that political regime to eventually take power and over-reign its citizens. However, the key word here is ‘eventually’ as it can take decades or even centuries for society to rebuild after an apocalypse and transform into a dystopia.

Some examples:
Matched/Crossed/Reached by Ally Condie

Cassia’s world is one of pristine order, where the streets are clean and everything runs like clockwork. The Society even selects her mate for her in the Matching ceremony. When Cassia is matched with her childhood friend Xander, she can’t be happier until another boy’s face flashes where Xander’s should be. Ky is an aberration who has been cast out from Society and when Cassia falls for him, she starts to realize that the Society she lives in may not be as infallible as she thought.
The world Cassia lives in is a DYSTOPIAN one. The government can be described as totalitarian as it controls its citizens extensively and promotes a high level of order. Also, the government labels and outcasts those that are not up to its standards.

Ashfall/Ashen Winter/Sunrise by Mike Mullin
When the Yellowstone super volcano erupts, Alex’s normal high school life in Iowa suddenly becomes one where he is struggling to survive. Looters and cannibals roam free in the land west of the Mississippi River, since the government has abandoned those states due to their inability to the lack of resources and their inability to restore and enforce order.  

The world Alex lives in is a POST-APOCALYPTIC one. The super volcano is the apocalypse as well as the inciting incident to the series. The government was crippled by the volcano, and with the Corn Belt under feet of ash, a main food source for the world is no longer available. The government pulled back from the very area in which Alex lives, leaving him struggling for food, shelter and safety.

Wither/Fever/Sever by Lauren DeStefano
In a futuristic society, a genetic error leaves men with the lifespan of 25 years and women with not living past 20. With geneticists seeking the antidote, the world is close to anarchy and orphans wander the streets while only the rich remain protected from the surrounding chaos. When 16 year old Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride to a wealthy doctor for his son, her world does not extend past the doctor’s mansion and his desperate, maniacal attempt to find the antidote.

The world Rhine lives in has elements of both DYSTOPIAN and POST-APOCALYTIC. It can be argued that the genetic error was the apocalypse that led to the world descending to near chaos. However, I would argue that Rhine’s immediate world, the one inside the doctor’s mansion, is a dystopian one, where he is the totalitarian leader of a society in which even his son has no say. Even though this series has elements of both sub-genres, I would argue that Rhine’s world is a DYSTOPIAN one.   

This was a bit more research papery than my normal posts, but I hope it helped differentiate these YA sub-genres. I know I learned something, and I hope you did too! Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Sunday, May 19, 2013


One year ago, I began this blog by declaring myself a writer. That post was revolutionary for me. Not only did I tell the world (or the 34 people who viewed that post) that I was a writer, but I was admitting it to myself. I was allowing myself to be a writer. Officially. This year, I want to take a look back over the year since I posted that dirty little secret, remind myself that I can still legitimately call myself a writer and consider all there is still to accomplish.

Over the past year, there have been some changes in my life. I moved to Indianapolis. I started a new job, left an old one and transferred an even older one. (If that doesn’t add up, it might help to note I have 2 jobs.) Also this year, I wrote the first full draft of my WIP, one of my biggest writing accomplishments to date.

On the blog, I shared my NaNoWriMo journey and I resolved to write as well as to read in 2013. I shared my most anticipated new releases for each season and my must-read teen books. I started traveling through fiction (so far just to London and Chicago). I wrote about love, sex and leaving. I wrote to my 15 year-old self. I wrote about lessons I learned from Neal Shusterman and Libba Bray. I made discoveries and shared adventures. And I took my declaration to the world.

Shout out again to my camera guy/boyfriend.
This year has been one giant leap forward in the me-being-a-writer-for-real scheme of things. I’m proud that I’ve been writing weekly on the blog since September. I’m proud to say that I’m a NaNoWriMo winner. I’m proud that I’ve been reading a ton, tweeting a lot and writing a reasonable amount. (Not enough though. Never enough.)

However, I still have more to accomplish in the coming years. I’d like to write more yet keep up with my reading. I’d like to keep posting every week on this blog. I’d like to work more towards the resolutions I set out to accomplish in January (to complete by June, but I’m not focusing on the deadline). I’d like to double my NaNoWriMo wins. And eventually I’d like to be published. (Fingers crossed that it’s sooner rather than later.) Mostly, I’d like to keep dreaming and keep working toward those dreams.

Wish me luck! (I may need it.)

A Year in Numbers
Posts: 46
Views: 2549
Most-Viewed Post: Teen Books-to-Movies 2013 &Beyond (244 views)
Least-Viewed Post: The Definition of Unputdownable (5 views)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Surge of YA Novellas

You know that feeling when you discover something you probably should have known about already? The confused, surprised, berating yourself feeling, because you really just should have known? That’s what I’m experiencing right now. I was researching recently published YA short story collections when I stumbled onto a few YA novellas. And then there was a few more. Then a dozen more. And suddenly there was a GoodReads list of 224. Umm... how did I miss this?!

Okay, so I knew some companion novellas to popular teen series existed. I saw the Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver on the shelf when it was released (though that is a rare print version). I even have a few on my iPhone Nook App. But I had no idea that the number was so large. I had no idea that the trend was so popular.

It makes sense. We live in the digital age, and authors can get novellas to their fans without actually having a publisher make a print version (though some do). Novellas can be distributed as e-books to smart phones, tablets, e-reader devices and basically any computer that can download apps. Sell the e-book novellas for a couple of dollars, and VOILA! Readers can indulge in these stories relatively cheaply and relatively quickly.

So, the question is: why a novella?

1.       The author can share the main character’s back story. What happened to the character before we pick up their story? It’s likely this story didn’t have a place in the book’s plot and doesn’t have enough gusto to fill an entire book by itself. So, novella it is! Examples: Sarah J Maas’ Assassin novellas, Rae Carson’s The Shadow Cats

2.       The author can tell the story of secondary characters. What happened to them before/after they made their usually brief appearance? This character’s story doesn’t have a place in the main plot, but a novella is a great way to extend their history to readers. Examples: Stephenie Meyer’s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Tahereh Mafi’s Destroy Me

3.       The author can tell the same story from another character’s viewpoint. Some novels are written in first person, meaning that the reader only sees the main character’s perspective. Writing a novella from another character’s point-of-view gives another take on the same story. Examples: Veronica Roth’s Free Four, Alex Flinn’s Lindy’s Diary

4.       The author can write a prequel, epilogue or side-story to the current series. Sometimes there’s just more to the story and a novella is the perfect place for it. Examples: Leigh Bardugo’s The Witch of Duva, Dan Wells’ Isolation

Most of the novellas seem to be attached to a paranormal or fantasy series, but I noticed some standalones as well. Novellas give insight where it might not have normally been given. They are a great way to further engage readers, especially since they are usually quick reads! Here are a couple lists of available YA novellas:

·         Barnes and Noble

·         Amazon


I’ve added some novellas that I stumbled upon to my reading list:

·         Life before Legend: Marie Lu (prequel to the Legend series)

·         The Assassin & the Pirate Lord: Sarah J Maas (prequel to Throne of Glass)

·         Stupid Perfect World: Scott Westerfeld


Time will tell, but it appears that the YA novella is here to stay!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Finding my Plotting Method

I am an organizational freak and a cleaning mad woman. (Just ask my boyfriend!) So when it comes to organization while writing, you can imagine I’m a bit particular, which may be an understatement. Once upon a time, I made an attempt at being a pantser. (Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants and tend to write without planning, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term.) This didn’t work for me. Too often I lost track of the plot line or went off on an unnecessary, unexpected tangent. Ultimately I would get so frustrated and disgruntled that I had to take a step back from the story, whether that was for an hour, a day or even longer.

So I’ve become a plotter. (Also known as a planner.) However, it took me a while to figure out *cough* happen upon luckily *cough* the plotting method that works best for me. I tried the snowflake method, organizing my scenes in extensive Excel sheets and I even bought poster board in hopes I could come up with some sort of plotting diagram. (I couldn’t.) I’ve read books and blog posts on the topic. I even just tried writing it out, one paragraph for each chapter. (But that was almost a novella in itself.) I needed a method that would allow me to view the entire plot on one page for easy access while still being detailed and thorough enough to make sense.

The prospect of finding a method like this seemed far-fetched and nearly improbable. So imagine my pleasant surprise when a potential method turned up in a YA Stands blog post a few weeks ago. They posted about the 9 Step Method for Plotting Fiction which they discovered on Query Tracker, who borrowed the idea as well. (Apparently its origins are unknown.)  Nine steps to a structured plot that will fit on one page (preferably 8.5x11 or larger) and includes guidance as to how the plot should be organized?! I swooned.

Even though I wanted to dive right in to see if this was the method for me, I took my time with it. The instructions call for a tic-tac-toe board-like diagram, except with words inside the boxes instead of X’s and O’s. It gives names to each step and connects the boxes so the plot is one cohesive story. (Luckily my story fits this plot structure, but I can see how it wouldn’t work for all novels.) So far, it’s working for me. *crosses fingers* Hopefully this will remain true.

(Yay, green post-its!)