The Anything-Goes Attitude of Post-ApocA lot of people wonder where the sudden surge of dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature is coming from. I’ve got a fast and quick answer – our inner psyche. But we don’t have to ruminate on that. There’s a really fun explanation too, and that’s the fact that anything goes in a world we create on our own.
Dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature moves us beyond the “what-if” to the “who-are-we, really?” as individuals, and as a human race. If there weren’t police would we obey traffic laws? If there were no enforcement of a moral code would we kill each other without regret? And even more important – are you scared of heights?
That last one might feel like a left-field question, but it nipped me in my creative bud earlier this spring. My debut NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins, Fall 2013) revolves around a teen girl who protects her pond in a world where water is scarce by sniping strangers from her roof. I wanted a few nice aerial shots for what I hope will eventually develop into my trailer, so I looped a camera around my neck, dug out a ladder, and proceeded to freeze up about ten feet off the ground.
Yep. Ten feet. I had another solid ten to go, and then a scramble onto the shingles before I could even pretend to be the feral creature my MC is. And it totally didn’t happen. I meekly crept back down, put the ladder away, and got some nice still shots of the placid surface of my pond.
Now, if there had been some kind of motivating favor, like say, a tiger chasing me across my yard, then yes – I probably would’ve scurried on up the ladder. But there was no tiger, and I don’t feel the need to shoot people who take water from my pond, mainly because nobody does. Who the hell drinks pond water when you don’t have to?
But what if you did have to?
What if that pond was the only thing keeping me alive?
What kind of person survives in a world like that?
This is what I like about my little corner of the writing world, and have liked about it since I read THE STAND when I was… well, when I was too young to be reading it. Post-apoc and dystopian give writers the chance to throw our characters into a place that has only the laws we set, and then see how they eek out a life within those parameters.
They’re amazing people, these fictional characters that survive the brutal punishments we put them through. They’re little glimpses of a tougher, leaner human race that are asking the same questions we are, but in a different environment. Who am I? What do I stand for?
And while it may seem that I’ve circled back around to the inner-psyche, the more relevant question in most dystopian is – will I live through tomorrow? That kind of pressure hovering over each minute refines our characters, making every movement inform the reader.
When the difference between making it to the roof is losing a good photo-op or losing your foot to a tiger, minor inconveniences like fear are overlooked. Anything goes in our brave new worlds, and the things that go leave us with a stripped person, who we build back up with the blocks of our own making.
There’s so much creative freedom in dystopian, which is why we see such a glut of titles these days, each of them with it’s own unique world and characters. Enjoy them all, but don’t dismiss any of them as “been-there-done-that.”
Chances are, you haven’t.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs From the Write Angle, Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.