Is This the End of Dystopia?

DenofGreek

Allegiant: Part 1

This was the question that was raised in the back of my mind in the beginning of 2016. It’s no secret the latest Allegiant movie starring Shailene Woodley bombed at the box office. That came in the heels of the weak performance of another Sci-Fi movie: The 5th Wave, debuting at a little over ten million for its opening weekend. Up till last fall, YA books seemed to be all the rage especially from the dystopian sector. Not surprisingly Hollywood picked up on the popularity of books like the Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner and The Giver and began adapting these widely acclaimed novels into the big screen. While most of these book-to-movie adaptions started off strong,  recent under-performances of the latest installments leaves me questioning not only the dystopian movie series they inspired but the market for that genre as a whole.

You could say the Hunger Games was the spark that made dystopian fiction catch fire in pop culture. While it’s safe to conclude it hasn’t dethroned big giants such as romance, many of these YA novels have wisely incorporated romantic subplots, furthering expanding their market-base. And with strong performances from the first two Hunger Games installments at the box office, it was clear dystopian fiction had a solid fan-base. What movies like Hunger Games did though was set the bar high for the movies that would follow such as Divergent which also borrowed the same elements such as intense action, strong female characters against post-apocalyptic backdrops,

Even at its peak, the first tell-tale signs that interest was plateauing was seen in the third installment of Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Most fans of the book were mixed with the idea that the last book would be split into two parts considering the third book is not really long when compared to the previous two books let alone other YA fiction books. The decision was largely driven by the studios which in my personal opinion wanted to milk the franchise for what it was worth. From a marketing standpoint it initially seemed like a smart move. Not surprisingly the same marketing ploy was used with the Divergent series.

However while studios hoped that prolonging the series would rake in more cash for them, it marked the beginning of what I called, “dystopian fatigue.” From reading user reviews, it’s clear that elements like love-triangles, the strong kick-butt female heroine —things that were once seen as marketable strong points— were now redundant clichés. Although splitting Mockingjay into two parts didn’t turn me off from watching both movies, I could see why users would opt out of seeing one of the movies to read the book instead. While Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 still managed to have a measure of success domestically and abroad the same marketing tactic fared far worse with Allegiant debuting at 38 million in North American in it’s first weekend.

While I never majored in marketing in college, as an indie author I can attest to the challenges when it comes to marketing a book. Markets are ever-changing. What is considered “hot” today could be a bust three months later. At best it’s tricky to determine how well a certain genre will do long-term considering that the market can be fickle.

By no means am I the only person that has questioned the future of these types of movies. But I have yet to hear of discussions of the implications this could have on the book market. While the future of dystopian movies catered to the young adult audience seemed to have reached a bust, it’s premature to say this spells doom for the genre as a whole, at least on the publishing sector. If anything the adaption of book-to-movie adaptions, have fueled sales for those existing books. Months prior to the movie’s release, the book usually jumps on the top of the best sellers list, as was seen in the example of the Hunger Games installments.

At the same time the movies created a surge of new dystopian fiction, creating more choices for young and adult readers. With more choices, the competition can be seen as a two-edged sword depending on who you speak to. More choices lends itself in the favor of the avid and casual fans alike. At the same time I could see this being a negative thing for both self-published and published writers. Both types of writers face the challenge of standing out in a crowded market hoping to deliver a YA novel that doesn’t feel recycled or cliche. However I think for the fans who are buying the books, theirs still plenty of revenue to be made from dystopian fiction considering the final installments of Allegiant and Maze Runner will still be fresh on the minds of millions in the months to come.

So what will be the long-term future of dystopian fiction? Has it cooled off like the movies they inspired?

Only time will tell.

The One-Trick Pony: Characters with Limited Growth

Two excellent examples highlighting the reason why character growth is so important to a story.

A Writer's Path

Growth

by Andrew R. Cameron

It’s the end of another semester of university, which means I’ve been inundated with marking and will likely remain inundated for the next fortnight. But I enjoy marking Creative Writing pieces–the sheer diversity of imagination never fails to impress me. I’ve been teaching Genre Fiction this semester, which means I get to enjoy some good science fiction, crime fiction, and horror. And I love seeing students improve over the course of the semester.

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Do you!

A lot has changed from when I first started self-publishing in 2013 to now. You can say life happens. Priorities shift. You realize things aren’t guaranteed. Not even your health. So one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past 26 years on this earth is the simple mantra I go by.

Do you.

I accept this mantra. As a writer. A man. A human.

Of course this mantra is not to excuse us from growth. Nor is it an excuse to not work on potentially damaging character flaws. But I’ve come to accept myself (mostly) for my idiosyncrasies, my temperament as an introvert, and my core values that keep me grounded even if others find them odd or “old-fashioned.” I’ve learned not to give too much credence to what others think. That gets tiring after awhile.

But in the context of writing, I’ve come to stay true to the stories I write and the characters that give life to those stories. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts about writing compelling characters, it’s important to write characters that you can connect with as well as your readers. Whether a story is plot-driven, or character-driven, having solid believable characters helps me to stay invested from beginning to end.

Part of what I love about writing is creating worlds and then populating that world with real characters with real hopes and fears. Brainstorming what your character aspires for and then plotting how they overcome obstacles to reach their goals is quite satisfying. From middle school till now, I’ve followed my character, Troy from a precocious 4 year old to an angsty adolescent to a young man who understands what truly matters in life. His story just so happens to take place in an age of antiquity although places and events are fictionalized. Of course as the writer I’m already invested in the character I’ve created. It’s only natural for writers such as myself to hope that readers feel the same level of interest and investment. Of course you can’t tell what readers are thinking about your works except by means of reviews. That’s why authors love reviews.

Early on in my writing career, I never expected to be a best-selling author on the New York Times. I just wanted to write a good book, publish, and make some sells and rack up some reviews on Amazon. While I was able to write and polish the 1st book, Before the Legend, before publishing it, I didn’t get the results I was hoping for in terms of sales and reviews.

Initially I was very disillusioned with the publishing process and even writing in general. Was my book not good enough? Was I not good enough? So I swallowed humble pie, read David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Visible and focused on putting out a more polished product with a better understanding of how to market a book.

So how did I do the 2nd time I re-released it? I had a renewed sense of optimism in terms of sales. While I did experience a slight bump in sales, it still was not significant enough to make me think that writing would ever be profitable for me. Thoughts crossed my mind that I was writing in the wrong genre and the wrong audience. That if only I stuck more, “romance” or “drama,” that I would draw more people. That if I wanted to appease readers interested in Roman history that I needed to put more emphasis on action and battles fought. Hence that was something that influenced my decisions when writing the last two books, particularly Chasing Blue. The last book is probably the longest of the series but also the most emotional and grittiest thing I’ve ever written. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster but a very satisfying and bittersweet journey.

Even with the more serious direction in latter works, my last book would never be as popular as some of the books that are trending now. Let’s face it, romance, dystopian, and mystery/thrillers are what’s hot right now. And many of these genres are geared towards the Young Adult audience. Considering there’s not many fans of alternative-historical fiction it’s very tempting to switch genre boats when your sales have reached a stalemate. So do I jump ships even though historical fiction is still my first love? Do I write something that strictly suits the historical fiction crowd? Or do I surrender with something more mainstream to appeal to a broader audience?

Let’s fast forward to 2016.

I’ve come to accept and embrace what I’ve already written even if it’s not perfect or my target audience is quite small compared to other audiences. I’ve taken feedback (good and bad) from editors and readers alike to make my existing body of work stronger. Some changes I protested at first, was just what I needed. At the same time if a suggested change doesn’t jive with my overall vision, makes me extremely uncomfortable, or makes me hate my own story, then that’s the time the feedback would not be in my best interests. Even if my stories will never be popular, that’s OK. I’ve made peace with that.

Recently I’ve taken a break from new writing projects and publishing, to strengthen the body of work I already have and to pursue other goals I want to reach in the coming year. Will I explore other genres in the future? Maybe. After all my interests are varied. I never liked being put in a narrow box. I personally like reading books of different genres especially YA/Dystopian in recent times. But whatever I choose to do, I want to do something I will be invested in, and at my own pace. Throughout this whole process I realized you’ll never please everyone. Not even in your own genre. And that’s a fact of life. Even in my personal life, I’ve learned that not putting too much stock on other people’s opinions to feel validated is quite liberating. The only people’s opinions I still want to seek are those that matter. Those that have my best interests at heart.

So I have to stay true to myself and values, even if that means less sales and notoriety. Because at the end of the day I have to do me.

 

 

Katniss: Real or Not Real

Katniss-Mockingjay2About two weeks ago, I talked about writing characters that become real to the reader to the point where they take on a life of their own. What better way to learn how to write compelling, believable characters than examining your favorite characters from books you’ve personally enjoyed.  I’ve read many books throughout the years and one character that stands out as an excellent case study of a real character is Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Game series. The “Girl on Fire” as she’s known in the book, has caught on like wildfire, becoming a house-hold name. Even though the book has become a world-wide phenomenon, I didn’t always feel that way about it.

I was late getting into the Hunger Game series. To be honest I didn’t even know about the book until the 1st movie came out.  While everyone was hyping it up, I was pretty reluctant to watch Hunger Games let alone read the book. I dismissed it as “dumb” or “too violent.” Then a year  later after it came out on the big screen, my sister rented the first movie on DVD. It was lying around and after listening to some of the soundtracks I was curious. After the first ten minutes of watching I was hooked! That’s when I fell in love with Katniss Everdeen and her chilling story.

Even though she’s a fictional character, you could imagine her as a real person. Despite her inherent flaws we rooted for her to win the Games. That begs the question: what made her so believable? Even more importantly: what made her likeable? The answer to those questions are important especially for any writer because that is one of our end-goals; to create realistic characters that you’ll care about. To feel emotionally invested in. Compelling characters make for compelling stories. Today, I share snippets from my long overdue review of the Hunger Games which will shed light on why Katniss Everdeen has become a house-hold name.

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When Your Character Becomes Too Real

One of the goals that any writer hopes to achieve is to make his/her character feel real to the reader. When you find a character that feels real you can connect with them on an emotional level. In turn you become invested in the story when those important connections are made. That character becomes more than a flat caricature. They’ve come alive from the printed page. The point that you actually care what will happen next to them, that keeps you turning the pages.

This is especially true for any main character you write. When we first create our characters we often start with surface traits. Our first thoughts are on physical descriptions or generic labels to describe their characteristics (e.g.: cool, flirty, shy, outgoing, nerdy, mean, etc.). While that’s an ok place to start, it’s good to reflect on what makes that character unique or distinctive. Maybe they have an interesting quark about the way they laugh or maybe your character has a special talent or two. Whether we realize it or not we often draw from real life examples when brainstorming our characters. We even sometimes add in little details and habits from people we’ve observed, giving them added realism. Before you know it your character feels like someone you’ve known. Then you stop and realize why that character feels real; too real. That real-life example is you the writer.

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What I Learned from Going Free

Summer still sizzles on in the month of August. It’s been approximately 2 months since the launch of my free book run. With all free book runs they eventually run their course. After getting encouraged by a blogger to share what sites I found to be most cost-effective in promoting my book, logically this topic would be my next post. While I admit I don’t fully understand all the variables that factored in, here’s some of the overall lessons I gleaned as I share my results during and after the free run. Continue reading