Jump to content

Boarders writing a novel


Derfel Cadarn
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • 4 weeks later...

I have a question for you folks, if I may.

I'm writing a novel, and I've consciously set out to subvert so many tropes that I can't quite figure out what genre box I should tick when I come to looking for an agent. A software programme I'm tinkering with insists on calling it "post-apocalyptic", but I don't see it that way. Is it 'dystopian'? Maybe - let me lay out the scenario and you tell me what you think.

I set out to write 'cli-fi', but set it in the very near future where readers could relate to it. So the story begins in 2040 in a world where technology has ceased and the population crashed. The climate is steadily becoming more and more volatile and deteriorating, but with it being barely 15 years from now, the change isn't substantial.

The backstory focuses on 2030. The world was focused on meeting carbon net-zero and other targets in line with the IPCC deadline of 2030. But as we moved through 2030, scientists were able to confirm the deadline to prevent key trigger-points was passed in 2028, and we're too late. It wasn't the climate directly that caused the collapse of society, but people's reactions to it. Due to increasing volatility of trends we currently see such as widespread disinformation and information bubbles, no one is completely sure what happened, but a domino effect happened over weeks, starting with investors panicking and withdrawing funding, declaring bankruptcy and basically foreclosing banks and crashing the financial markets. This led to immediate widespread job losses, losses of services, and technology used to transfer funds including payments of salaries digitally crashing.

With no staff to manage servers and so on, the internet and phone communications were gone, all trade including the transportation and manufacture of foods and medicines were gone. Security personnel, unpaid, had to prioritise their families. Basically there was a wholesale collapse of the economic order leading to the collapse of the political order, society and culture.

I pick up the story 10 years after the initial panic and confusion. The story is mainly rooted in the extremely rural Scottish Highlands. I've found narrative ways to steer clear of the usual tropes of authoritarian governments, militias, guns and all the stuff expected in a typical dystopian America setting.

So on to genre, I don't see 2030 as an 'apocalyptic' event; the climate is still inexorably deteriorating - the heatwaves, rising seas etc are inevitable as the trigger-points were passed, but it will be gradual.

Is it 'dystopian'? It's certainly not "Mad Max" or "Bladerunner", and there's no government like "The Hunger Games" or "The Handmaid's Tale". It's nothing like as bleak as 'The Road' - people do form small communities and try to grow food peacefully with failing technology and poor climate to contend with.

 

So does "dystopian" fit the description, or is there a subgenre I could use (maybe I invented it)? Can you suggest a book or movie that this scenario reminds you of?

 

Thanks for any feedback.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, House Cambodia said:

 

So does "dystopian" fit the description, or is there a subgenre I could use (maybe I invented it)? Can you suggest a book or movie that this scenario reminds you of?

 

Thanks for any feedback.

I've been kicking around ideas for a similar concept lately. Dystopian doesn't sound quite right, considering what you've said. Maybe post-utopian? 

I know I've got a lot to say about the tragedy of overshooting an idyllic interconnected world and landing in a place where controlling interests drive outrage or resentment as a matter of course.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, House Cambodia said:

So does "dystopian" fit the description, or is there a subgenre I could use (maybe I invented it)? Can you suggest a book or movie that this scenario reminds you of?

 

Thanks for any feedback.

You actually haven't told us what the story is.  Who wants what, and why is the actual story, not the background you've given here.  I don't need to know specifics, just what elements are you emphasizing?  Is it a character based story?  Is it idea-based?  is it setting-based, where the social or physical setting determines the fates of the characters? Is it events-based where there is no possibility of reversing the event, such as in tales of justice and morality or war?  Is what happens affected by will-power or karma?  Is it due to intrinsic mindsets of the characters, or external factors they cannot control?   Are we judging the outcome as good or evil?  Are we judging it as rational or irrational?  Are we judging the outcome based on the quality of ideas and the greater effects on society, because everyone's character is grey rather than good vs evil?

 

Edited by SpaceChampion
Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, Jace, Extat said:

I've been kicking around ideas for a similar concept lately. Dystopian doesn't sound quite right, considering what you've said. Maybe post-utopian? 

I know I've got a lot to say about the tragedy of overshooting an idyllic interconnected world and landing in a place where controlling interests drive outrage or resentment as a matter of course.

Given it's set in the near-future of our real world, it's definitely free of any utopian notions!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

You actually haven't told us what the story is.  Who wants what, and why is the actual story, not the background you've given here.  I don't need to know specifics, just what elements are you emphasizing?  Is it a character based story?  Is it idea-based?  is it setting-based, where the social or physical setting determines the fates of the characters? Is it events-based where there is no possibility of reversing the event, such as in tales of justice and morality or war?  Is what happens affected by will-power or karma?  Is it due to intrinsic mindsets of the characters, or external factors they cannot control?   Are we judging the outcome as good or evil?  Are we judging it as rational or irrational?  Are we judging the outcome based on the quality of ideas and the greater effects on society, because everyone's character is grey rather than good vs evil?

 

Happy to address these - I was being mindful of the length of the post.

I'd say the novel is more character-driven, although many readers might focus on the plot and others the background. Inspired by ASOIAF, I have eight POV characters, 4 teenage and 4 middle-aged. The setting is quite interesting - it is authentic to the real world, mostly set n the Scottish Highlands, with some events occurring in London. The setting down to individual buildings, roads, hills and lochs are accurate, but projected into the year 2040.

Each character has memories, personal stories and opinions about what happened in the late 2020s leading up to the collapse in 2030, as well as their struggles in the 2030s before the novel opens. The collapse of society and impossibility of maintaining modern equipment, and the ongoing climate change cannot be reversed - the struggle is to survive in an environment that is continually degrading.

There is no magic or fantasy - it is an entirely realistic depiction of our society in the near-future. Whilst our community is frequently threatened by and occasionally attacked by desperate outsiders (infiltrators and marauders), the individuals in 'our' team are all decent people. I make sure even the worst people are given convincing motivations, so you could say there are no 'evil' people (in their own minds).

The main characters coalesce in a community in the remote Highlands where the environment and climate are so bad that outsiders mainly assume the land is uninhabitable, thus it is initially a 'sandpit' setting where characters can develop and adapt to the lack of technology (eg the last of the wind turbines and solar panels are conking out and cannot be repaired) without too much outside interference. There is danger and violence outside the community that needs to be dealt with, and gradually they need to prepare defence and even flee in the face of threats. Towards the end of the narrative when a degree of peace is established in the region, the community along with neighbouring ones in the region discuss forming a federation for mutual protection and trade, a rudimentary beginning to creating a society for the future.

The focus of the novel is on the 8 POV characters - their individual struggles and character arcs. In brief:

1. 14-year-old (looks 11) girl orphaned in ch1. Absolutely broken, entire reason for existing taken from her. A long and patient arc of healing.

2. An 18-year-old idiot based on Morrissey who wants respect; eventually matures and becomes a decent guy.

3. A 16-year-old girl lacking self-esteem, forced to become leader of community after death of mother, needs to find self-belief and leadership skills.

4. 18-year-old gender-fluid youth, starts with belief in necessary violence, tricked to partake in a massacre of innocents, is traumatised by the experience and always tries to find non-violent solutions. Time and again has to resort to violence to save community. Meets tragic end.

5. 44-year-old mother of #3. Based on Sinead O'Connor, has battle mental illness but is getting it together. Tragically drowns in storm by half-way point of story.

6. 54-year-old man who enjoys the solitary life, free of responsibilities since death of his wife in demonstrations before the collapse. Child #1 latches onto him in ch2, and he finds himself responsible for nurturing her back to (spiritual) health.

7. 54-year-old man, best friend of #6, based on Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. He has a dodgy backstory that he tries to keep hidden (a past as a 'ladykiller' of young students) and exaggerates his past 'heroics' in fighting 'the system'. For all that, he's a decent guy apart from the fact that he abandoned his wife and kid, which subconsciously haunts him. He has a near-death-experience which causes him to be honest with himself and seek to repair his past.

8. 35-year-old woman careworker taking care of patients with dementia in London. She's based on a character from Camus' 'The Plague'. She becomes spiritually exhausted with her role, with London becoming uninhabitable. She escapes with some of her patients to the Highland community, where she is able to care for and cure dementia patients [the illness isn't real dementia although the symptoms are. The illness is a form of PTSD brought on by the collapse of everything. Over 50% of the population succumbed to it in 2030 and after].

I should mention, all these characters are based partially on a musical icon of my youth and a famous literary or mythological character.

Edited by House Cambodia
Link to comment
Share on other sites

54 minutes ago, House Cambodia said:

Happy to address these - I was being mindful of the length of the post.

I'd say the novel is more character-driven, although many readers might focus on the plot and others the background.

Each character has memories, personal stories and opinions about what happened in the late 2020s leading up to the collapse in 2030, as well as their struggles in the 2030s before the novel opens. The collapse of society and impossibility of maintaining modern equipment, and the ongoing climate change cannot be reversed - the struggle is to survive in an environment that is continually degrading.

The main characters coalesce in a community in the remote Highlands where the environment and climate are so bad that outsiders mainly assume the land is uninhabitable, thus it is initially a 'sandpit' setting where characters can develop and adapt to the lack of technology (eg the last of the wind turbines and solar panels are conking out and cannot be repaired) without too much outside interference. There is danger and violence outside the community that needs to be dealt with, and gradually they need to prepare defence and even flee in the face of threats. Towards the end of the narrative when a degree of peace is established in the region, the community along with neighbouring ones in the region discuss forming a federation for mutual protection and trade, a rudimentary beginning to creating a society for the future.

The focus of the novel is on the 8 POV characters - their individual struggles and character arcs. In brief:

 

I'm not getting an answer from you that really indicates it's character-driven.  A character-driven story would be more about the mindsets that can be termed rational or irrational, where things like ego or pride or shame or guilt or fear lead to madness or irrational actions.  That doesn't sound like what you're doing.  Gothic fiction is that in the extreme, and dramas like Breaking Bad where ego usually determines the outcome of the plot. 

You might be doing something I'd call more setting-driven, where the setting you're talking about is the social setting where relationships between all the people in the story drive the plot.  Relationships tend to determine character motivations.  Setting-based stories turn on people being strong in their relationships or weak in their relationships.

Heroic stories come with the romantic view of life where heroes are strong and villains are weak. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the clearest example. Gollum’s weakness leads to isolation; Saruman’s weakness leads to jealousy; Theodan’s weakness leads to paranoia; Denethor’s weakness leads to madness that leads to betrayal. Isolation, jealousy, paranoia and betrayal are all relative to other people; so it’s about behaviour in relationships. You use the language of strength and weakness to support the social setting, to indicate to the reader how to view the social structure, motivations and relationships. A romance novel, superhero comics and Conan the Barbarian are told in the heroic style. Heroic genres stories are more about choosing good behaviour in relationships over bad behaviour in relationships.

Since LOTR has themes about both madness and weakness, it is a good example of blending genres of both gothic and heroic fiction.  ASOIAF does this too, but add the elements of noir mysteries where most everyone are shades of grey, and the only real way to judge them is by the quality and effect of their ideas, as seen in their strategies and plans.  Because LOTRs and ASOIAF are so expansive, they have room to blend genres.

Maybe you're blending setting and character driven genres, so perhaps it's a gothic cli-fi romance.  I don't know.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the response. I'm consciously subverting a number of what I regard as well-worn tropes. All my main characters are deliberately normal, relatable people. There are no eccentric scientist who have all the answers but were used to being ignored in normal times, no born leaders, no spunky orphan kids with superpowers - just relatively regular people. nobody goes Dr Evil, or mad, or overly irrational (actually, most people in the story do, but not my main characters!).

Calling it 'setting-driven' makes sense, since it is the environment that's extreme, not the characters. I was inspired by Emily Bronte to make the weather/environment a driving force of the whole story. However, I put a lot of work into layering the characters. To give one example, the tragic case of the teenager who attempts a redemption path after perpetrating violence: the chapters through her point of view are written (slightly, subtly) in the mode of Suzanne Collins, and his/her character is also partially a reflection of David Bowie. One of the older guys is based on Robert Plant, and his literary style is partially influenced by Patrick Rothfuss and Terry Pratchett. So there's a lot of complexity to each character, while at the same time they don't fall into the overused tick box tropes (at least, that's my intention).

One of the key themes (that I wasn't conscious of until well into my draft) is that of found-family (the community) proving stronger than blood-family. The characters mostly have loser or dead parents but find that they bond strongly to overcome the odds in the central community. In that sense, there are no individual 'heroes' (no icky 'romance' either) - my subversion of the trope is to imply the collective succeeds ("the lone wolf dies but the pack survives")

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 4/29/2024 at 6:22 AM, House Cambodia said:

I have a question for you folks, if I may.

I'm writing a novel, and I've consciously set out to subvert so many tropes that I can't quite figure out what genre box I should tick when I come to looking for an agent. A software programme I'm tinkering with insists on calling it "post-apocalyptic", but I don't see it that way. Is it 'dystopian'? Maybe - let me lay out the scenario and you tell me what you think.

From your description I think it seems to have many of the elements typical of post-apocalyptic stories even if it's not been as dramatic as most apocalypses. If you are trying to find a way to sell the book then being pedantic about whether or not the background events count as an apocalypse maybe isn't the most important thing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, williamjm said:

From your description I think it seems to have many of the elements typical of post-apocalyptic stories even if it's not been as dramatic as most apocalypses. If you are trying to find a way to sell the book then being pedantic about whether or not the background events count as an apocalypse maybe isn't the most important thing.

I'm worried that by misclassifying it, I might deter agents and publishers from reading it. I'm not bothered what it's labelled as, so long as it gets picked up.

Double-checking here - are you saying 'post-apocalyptic' includes worlds where the situation is due to get ever-worse? Makes sense, I suppose.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)
On 5/1/2024 at 8:40 AM, House Cambodia said:

I'm worried that by misclassifying it, I might deter agents and publishers from reading it. I'm not bothered what it's labelled as, so long as it gets picked up.

Double-checking here - are you saying 'post-apocalyptic' includes worlds where the situation is due to get ever-worse? Makes sense, I suppose.

If it's character driven, then isn't the setting not that important?

Okay, let's try it another way. Which of these genres would you target to sell it to:

  • Young Adult. Yes, YA is an option. There are YA novels set in grim, scary futuristic worlds. If your characters are in high school or younger.
  • New Adult. Characters just started university, got their first job, or moved to a new state/country.
  • Adult. Everything else, assuming your story isn't for children.

Also, have you considered this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopepunk

There is also a genre called climate fiction. Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ministry_for_the_Future

Edited by Gigei
Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, Gigei said:

If it's character driven, then isn't the setting not that important?

Okay, let's try it another way. Which of these genres would you target to sell it to:

  • Young Adult. Yes, YA is an option. There are YA novels set in grim, scary futuristic worlds. If your characters are in high school or younger.
  • New Adult. Characters just started university, got their first job, or moved to a new state/country.
  • Adult. Everything else, assuming your story isn't for children.

Also, have you considered this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopepunk

There is also a genre called climate fiction. Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ministry_for_the_Future

Thanks. Since posting, I've taken a sword to my Gordian knot - the length was shaping up to be over 200,000 words, so I cut it down by cutting out 5 of my 9 POV characters - the old ones. So I've inadvertently turned it into a Young Adults novel.

That's not a genre, though. I initially set out to subvert the 'scene' by avoiding areas that have far too much samey stuff, but I now realise that causes its own problem, as publishers very much pigeon-hole novels. I'm not turning back on that, though. I've narrowed what I think is the genre to speculative-realist young adult fiction. All the other novels that loosely fit into that category has youths with superpowers (whether it be via a magic wand or crossbow) and I'm avoiding churning out more of that.

It is climate fiction - has been from the outset, but that again is not a genre per se. I took a cue from Emily Bronte and put the climate/weather front and centre of the story.

With the climate getting progressively worse and the challenges greater, 'hopepunk' is not appropriate. The KS Robinson novel is perhaps the closest to what I originally intended, and I spent 5 years working on the political/economic/social background, but by turning it into YA, I don't think I'm going to include more than 5% of all that research.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 4/30/2024 at 8:40 PM, House Cambodia said:

I'm worried that by misclassifying it, I might deter agents and publishers from reading it. I'm not bothered what it's labelled as, so long as it gets picked up.

Double-checking here - are you saying 'post-apocalyptic' includes worlds where the situation is due to get ever-worse? Makes sense, I suppose.

You can adjust the genre labels (and comps) in your querys based on the agent.  You could ostensibly say speculative fiction, climate fiction, dystopia, post apocalyptic, etc depending on what that agent is looking for.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...