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Why Dystopia Fiction?

It wouldn’t be going out on a ledge to make the claim that the dystopian storyline is really big right now. Trends like this in fiction come and go quickly—but I don’t see dystopias leaving us any time soon.

Just like the Twilight series started the spark of the seemingly never-ending vampire/paranormal trend, the latest dystopians (in my humble opinion) are just the beginning. Movie magic helps keep fictional trends alive much longer than books normally enjoy. With two more Hunger Games movies, and the Divergent series just beginning to cast actors, there will be more, not less, people reading and looking for new dystopia fiction in the future.

Dystopia fictions are characterized by featuring a future society that is messed up and controlling. The story is usually filled with pain and hardship. Dystopia fiction shows us the worst of humanity.

Why on earth would anyone want to read about that?

Because these stories serve as warnings, moreover, they remind us about real life.

Rosemary Stimola, the agent who represents Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games said, “I don’t think the readership is tired or these types of stories. This is population of young people who don’t remember a time when the country was not at war. It makes perfect sense that their literature would allow them a way to exercise their thoughts about the nature of good and evil, and that it might reflect violence and great loss.” –quoted in “YA Comes of Age,” Publisher’s Weekly, 09/30/11

Sure, dystopian fiction is dark, and many shy away from it because of this fact, but I believe dystopian stories have the ability to shine the brightest and impact readers the most. Because when everything shakes down, the reason we’re attracted to these stories isn’t to read the bad, but to see the hope that they offer.

The main theme in every single one of these stories is that one person, or a small group of people, must take a stand against all that is wrong and evil in the fictional society. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, good rises to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds and wins.

We learn the impact that one life—one person—can have.

Maybe, just maybe, it makes us wonder if little old us can make a difference in our own world. We realize that our actions matter in the big scheme of things. And dare to hope that if push came to shove, we’d have the courage to rise against the worst sort of evil, no matter the cost.

Image courtesy of prozac1 –   http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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If I find a YA book or romance book that is to die for, I’ll share the details. My author friends even stop by!

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The Perfect Way to Kill a Character – why authors do it

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, and Hunger Games. Read at your own story-spoiling risks.

You’re reading a book. It’s three in the morning, you should be sleeping, but you just can’t stop turning the page. The characters have come to live for you. You’re invested in your story.

Then it happens…

That horrible author kills one of your favorite characters. Oh the humanity of it! You want to toss the book across the room. In fact, if the author was right there, you’d give them a piece of your mine. Tell them what that should have written. Ask them why.

Well, because we’re mean, heartless people who like to torture our readers.

Um, that’s absolutely a lie.

Authors kill characters because they have to. Believe me; it pains us more than it pains you. We created that character. We know them in a way that’s never shown on the page. But sometimes a death has to occur. There comes a point when a stubborn main character needs to lose someone important to them in order to cause change, or we the readers need to grasp how dangerous the world the main character exists in truly is.

J.K. Rowling is masterful at this. Many of the most beloved side characters in the Harry Potter trilogy perish. Why? Because we needed proof that Voldemort really was dangerous. We (the readers) had to believe that if the Death Eaters won, that the world would be left in a terrible situation and there would be a lot of suffering. Characters we loved had to die so we could see that the danger was very real and know the stakes that Harry and the D.A. were up against. Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Dumbeldore, Lupin, Snape, Hedwig, Dobby, Mad-Eye, and Tonks had to die. More than that, Rowling handled all their deaths with respect. We felt each one and mourned them. In the end, we understood.

Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, also handles killing her characters well. At the end of Divergent Tris loses both her parents and has to kill her friend, Will. This had to happen for us to believe that Tris was in grave danger carrying out her mission. Even more, these deaths had to happen to prepare her to be willing to sacrifice herself to save Four. We wouldn’t have believed the power of the mind control if all these deaths hadn’t happened.

Twilight is an excellent example of a story that failed because it needed death. Meyer’s did her story a disservice when she decided she was too attached to her characters to put them in any real danger. The fourth book of the Twilight series is nothing short of jumping the shark for this very reason. The Vulturi become a laughable group of enemies. Sure they kill humans, but…um…isn’t that pretty normal for a vampire? I mean, that doesn’t make them scary. You can repeat one hundred and five times in a story how powerful an enemy is, but when the enemy appears and they can’t do anything to hurt the good guys, well, you’ve just lost the story. Not to mention wasted 400 pages worth of my time. The only way the story could have been redeemed at that point would have been for a Cullen to die. But Meyer’s couldn’t do it. She loved her characters more than her story, and it showed.

On the other hand, sometimes authors can overdo their point when it comes to using death to show how dangerous the story world is. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of this. Sure, in book one, Rue had to die. There was no other way. We mourned her. It caused a change for the reader and for Katniss. But by the time we get to book three, Collins’s use of death was gratuitous at best. Kill Finnick? Why? We already knew the terror of The Capitol. It served no point to kill him and it wasn’t done in a manner that respected the impact of that character. Collins allowed her theme to railroad her characters, which is unforgiveable. My friend Amanda Stevens had an awesome post about The Hunger Games that I highly recommend.

Sidenote…yes…I cried when Dobby died.

Why The Hunger Games is the most “Christian” book I’ve read in a long time

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Know what drives me nuts? Prejudgment. All forms of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone prejudging another person, a situation, or a book – it makes me angry. The only thing that’s worse than prejudging, are those who rely on other’s to form their judgments for them.

Now, since I’m a writer, I’m going to stick to books for this Monday Musing. Something that really bothers me among Christians is the idea that all mainstream books must somehow be avoided. If the writer doesn’t spew forth scripture and mention the name of Jesus a minimum of sixteen times in the book, then it’s worthless.

As the Hunger Games series grew in popularity, I waited, because I knew the conservative bloggers and radio hosts were salivating to jump all over these books. And they didn’t disappoint. I read countless times: The Hunger Games is evil! Kids killing kids shouldn’t be glorified! No Christian should read these books! Keep them out of our precious children’s hands!

It was Harry Potter all over again. One radio show I heard spent an hour denouncing the books so when the question time opened, I called. I got through and I asked if anyone on the program had read the books. Silence. Then they answered no, but that they didn’t have to because they knew what it was about. I hung up and haven’t listened to the radio show since.

See, I’ve always been a big fan of using the brain the good Lord gave me.

When the Harry Potter series created a stir I read them. Know what I found? A story that teaches that love is the most powerful force on Earth. A whole series based around the fact that Harry was protected because someone loved him enough to lay down their life sacrificially for him, so that Harry might live. The Potter series is all about sacrificing yourself for others, even people you don’t like. Good triumphs evil. How were these bad messages? Aren’t these the same truths taught in the Bible?

Saint Augustine gave us the idea that all truth is God’s truth when he said, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God.”

Which leads me to The Hunger Games (a series so wonderfully written and captivating that it took me only four days to fly through all three books). I hear the shouts: It’s a story about kids killing each other, yes and no. Although, I’d have to ask, if it is, how is that any different or better than Aslan sending the Pevensie children into hand-to-hand battle?

For those believing this is a story that glorifies killing each other, I’ll share Katniss’ quote (who is the heroine of The Hunger Games series): “Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” Clearly, those who miss the fact that this story is serving as a warning, miss the point entirely.

What is the Hunger Games about? Let’s see, little guy volunteers to fight and takes on insurmountable odds (and needs to kill in order to win)….huh, sounds and awful lot like David and Goliath.

I find it funny that these devote Bible-bangers somehow forget that much of the history of the old testament is that of violence and God sending people into war. Often they were instructed to slay every man, woman, and child (as well as livestock) within a city. When God sends the ten plagues, who does he come after? All the first born CHILDREN. Why? Because sometimes we only sit up and listen when terrible things happen to kids.

This is the same theme of the Hunger Games. The people of Panem have watched year after year as their ‘firstborns’ are taken away from them to die, but it’s not until one special volunteer goes to the games and bucks the system that a change in the country can happen (huh, again, oddly like little someday-to-be King David). On top of all this the character of Peeta is a perfect example of Christ-like love. A person who loves to the point of death, a love that isn’t based on the other person’s actions, emotions, or ever receiving anything in return.

And for that matter, my read through the Hunger Games series brought more self-reflection and led to more worshipful moments than any Christian book has in the last five years. I found myself constantly stopping and asking questions. If I was in the same situation what would I do? Would my character be strong enough to be like Peeta and say “If I’m going to die, I want to be me. I don’t want them to change me.”? Or would I be weak and allow circumstances to morph my moral fibers? Could I truly put others before myself, even if that meant my own demise? What does it look like to obey a leader whose actions you don’t agree with? What is true love? What characteristics make a man hero-worthy? When is rebellion allowable — or is it? Am I humble enough to accept help without feeling beholding? Could I lie to my heart for as long as Katniss did? Do I place ideals (like Gale) or people (like Peeta) first? Each instance that I found myself lacking, it drove me to my knees in prayer. It sent me searching scripture to find out what I truly believed. And it challenged me to become a better person.

I can’t name one Christian book that’s caused such thought and change to occur in my heart. Not one.

Bold statement time. I hope someday to write a YA novel engaging enough to catch the attention of mainstream teens. No, I have no aim to sell millions or have movie deals. That’s not it at all, but if I can capture the imagination and thoughts of a handful of mainstream readers, then yes, I believe that would be considered success to me.

Look at Stephanie Meyers – who wrote this way brilliantly. A read through the Twilight series doesn’t smack you in the face with the thought “this was written by a Mormon.” Not once. But you better believe that all the Mormon values are woven seamlessly through the story (purity, roles of men and women, sin, and forgiveness, afterlife). Say what you will about the poor quality of writing or the evils of vampires, it was a story that was told in an engaging enough way to capture the imagination for millions of readers. Any author worth their salt should perk up and pay attention to books that have mass followings. Not to copy (you won’t find me writing about vampires, dystopias, or wizards any time soon) but to ask yourself WHY did this touch people?

Much love -Jess