The novel I’m writing has taken an interesting turn. I went to ReNEW again this year, and I met with a literary agent, who read the first six pages of my book and gave me feedback. My takeaway from meeting with him was that my writing style is great, but that my book lacked direction. He asked me what genre it was, and honestly, I had no idea. It was sort of contemporary fiction, but there was a king involved, so was it fantasy?
When I got home from the retreat, I thought more about the direction of my novel. Experts suggest that to improve your writing, you should read. I acquired a free trial of Kindle Unlimited and decided to read whatever Amazon suggested to me.
The #1 book on my Kindle Unlimited suggestion list was A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. After reading it, I wondered why Amazon thought I was twisted enough to enjoy this story! Professors and the like have advertised this book to me as a Christian society gone wrong. However, it was not a Christian book at all. Atwood’s society uses the Bible to manipulate people, but I do not believe the government is Christian. They are so far removed from God that Offred doesn’t even know how to pray! Although it was not my favorite story, this tale encouraged me to explore the idea of what it would be like for God to actually be in this story. In a dystopian society, God is often removed, so is it possible for a dystopian society to exist if God is in control and He is going to redeem us before all of that happens?
While on Goodreads, I searched “Christian dystopian” to find an answer to my question. There’s not much of it out there, but after doing some research and asking my bookworm friends, there definitely is a hunger for it. One book from that genre was Counted Worthy by Leah E. Good. I was able to see the opposite of what I struggled with: The story was captivating in and of itself, but she does silly things like explain her jokes and include a preachy character (preachy characters are the ultimate downfall of Christian fiction). Reading this book confirmed that this genre would be a challenge, but it would be fun and appropriate for me to write.
After reading A Handmaid’s Tale and Counted Worthy, I realized that the only book that I enjoyed reading in high school was 1984 by George Orwell. I still had my copy from when I had read it in high school. Through this book, I thought again about what would happen if Winston was a Christian. I’m actually exploring the scene in Room 101 for my main character, who is a Christian and has just been charged by God to stand up for the truth no matter what. Would she still stand if they tortured her with her worst fear or her deepest grief? 1984 also taught me that a dystopia looks different for every generation. For the people who would have read 1984, which was written during World War II, a dystopian society looked a lot like socialism. For the people who would have read A Handmaid’s Tale, which was written in the 1980s, a dystopian society looked like women losing the rights they just fought for in the Feminist movement of the 1960s. What type of dystopian society would scare the masses today?
An obvious dystopian fiction series that I would read next was The Hunger Games. I learned a lot from this series about the structure that I’m supposed to use in the dystopian fiction genre, and how to craft a society that is purely evil but thinks everything is okay. I love how The Hunger Games ends, but the rest of the books sort of fall apart. Even though I didn’t enjoy the other two books in the series, I learned not to cut corners when writing dystopian fiction. You have to have a strong plot, and you have to carry it through until the end. You have to write what makes sense given the situation. Spoiler alert: They do not need to have a happy ending, and as a matter of fact, most of the time, they don’t.
I’m currently reading a novel that I consider Christian dystopian but is actually more SciFi because it involves human cyborgs and nanotechnology. I cannot wait to write about it next week! But until then, please send me recommendations so that I can continue to improve my craft. On my “to-read” list is the Divergent series, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and the Left Behind series.
Do you enjoy dystopian fiction? Why or why not? What is your favorite dystopian novel and why?