Who’d want to write dystopian fiction?

Who’d want to write dystopian fiction?

Author: Bev Morris Date: 11 Apr 2024

Erm, me?

Seems I’ve been writing my dystopian novel for an unseemly length of time (7 years and counting). I now have a ‘serious plan’ to finish it this year which has involved pulling apart the original idea and creating a pentalogy (discovered a new word in the process). Yep, I didn’t have one book in my head, I had five.

Now that I’ve dealt with that little challenge, I’ve uncovered a multitude of plot holes, minor characters who are little more than speed bumps, concepts that defy physics, biology and chemistry, and some seriously shaky politics that just ‘felt right’ when I put them on the page.

And breathe…

My office is covered in vision boards, sticky notes, torn notebooks, a tbr pile so high that it could become a viewing platform for Mars, scrawled reminders to come back to all the knotty bits… frankly, my office is not a pretty sight and I’m beginning to think it’s an externalisation of whatever is going on in my brain.

And breathe…

I couldn’t do this journey alone. I couldn’t venture into the British Remainder of 2053 (that’ where I’ll be taking you one day, dear reader) without a mentor to guide me (Melissa Addey, please step forward). Actually, to corral me and forcibly stop me chasing shiny new projects rather than wrangle the beast of my novel into shape. (Top tip – if you’re going to write dystopian works, find a mentor,  find many friends who will deliver cake unbidden, find a good therapist.)

And breathe…

I was doing okay after the first round of planning. I spent 30 days worldbuilding (brilliant book here), a week sorting out my story core (another brilliant book here), a Pinterest mood board showing the colours for a cover design, and a month creating a soundscape (if you want to know more, message me!). I felt seriously smug when I sent all of this to my mentor.

And then two things happened.

My mentor gave me feedback and I listened to a podcast about feminist dystopias. I needed a whole panettone and several pots of tea to drag me through the next couple of days. Why? Because that’s what happens when you write stuff: there are ups and there are crashingly awful downs (well, there are for me). The feedback from my mentor was 90% positive and contained two simple questions, both of which knocked my plot sideways. She was spot on, and I was way off. First and second slices of cake ingested. Then I tried to distract myself by listening to a series about feminist dystopias that had largely been forgotten. I was chuffed to know I’d read 3 of them (not understood any) and then gut punched when I listened to the presenter critique the writers because of their ‘unwoke’ views. These were books written many years ago, some before female emancipation. It stopped me in my tracks. Much of my book is not going to support contemporary views of sex and gender because I don’t answer questions, I just ask them. I truly believe it is the job of the audience to interpret words (paintings, music, whatever) rather than being spoon-fed an acceptable view of the world. But if that means being judged from the viewpoint of 2053 when what is acceptable will most certainly have changed, then I might as well walk away now.

And breathe…

And have more cake.

The feedback from my mentor needed to be addressed in a practical way: find reasons for character flaws and narrative choices that make sense. Not easy but doable.

The fear of criticism, in the future and now, was something much trickier to stomach. I write because I have a need to tell stories, not because I need to confirm to contemporary (or unknown future) norms. But… and here it comes… I have a hideous need to be liked as a writer and as a human. Darn it, there’s my character flaw (and now you all know what it is you can follow me on my heroine’s journey to see how that works out for me).

I’m going to come back to both these points in future blogs, the need to address feedback and the need to be liked as a writer. I’m also going to throw in another thought that occurred to me writing this blog: do writers of dystopian fiction really just want to understand what is wrong with contemporary society or is it an exploration of what’s wrong with them, personally? Oh, I know, that’s an impossible question to answer, but it won’t stop me trying.

More cake, anyone?

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