Making an Uneasy Peace with Dystopia

I am not a fan of dystopian novels. This February, at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference, everybody was talking about The Hunger Games. As a curious human being, I rushed to buy the first book in the trilogy and read it. It took me two weeks to be able to sleep without nightmares.

It seems like every other novel recommended to me lately is a dystopia. On my list right now, I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and am starting Obsession by Elana Johnson. Divergent is the story of a girl living in a society where people are categorized into distinct character traits. Yet she is divergent, able to fit in more than one category, which makes her resistant to mind control and thus dangerous.

I could identify with some of the concepts raised in the novel. I like the idea that classifying us misses some important aspect of who we are. I love how we are all made up of different facets, of good and bad, of kindness, bravery, inquisitiveness, love. But I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around why people would want to read about horrible, terrible, awful, violent stuff….

Dystopia is defined in the online dictionary as “a society characterized by human misery.” Wikipedia has an entry for dystopia, explaining that it is a “utopia with at least one fatal flaw.” Apparently, we humans have been interested in dystopia for over 150 years. There are dystopian novels and movies, comics and even computer games.

If a Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, then our imperfect world surely is one as well. But what about the world of my novel, where every being is grouped as either good or evil, and where distinct rules exist as to a person’s level of importance? That sounds pretty dystopian to me…. Of course, considering my distaste for anything violent, those rules also make sure everyone stays safe even in the midst of a fiery dragon battle. Cooking anyone in boiling water is strictly not allowed!

So, a dystopian fairy tale? Ha! I’m unlikely to present Anna Mara as such in my next query letter. However, perhaps because a grain of dystopianism is in all of us, I can come to an uneasy peace with it. But I still think I’d be dead body number one if I ever had to participate in the hunger games.

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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109