2013 Loft Teen Writers Conference: Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Literature

2013 Loft Teen Writers Conference: Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Literature

Figure 1: These excellent people all came to the Loft on their day off from school TO LEARN ABOUT WRITING HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT

Figure 1: These excellent people all came to The Loft on their day off from school TO LEARN ABOUT WRITING HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT

 

In pitching my little tanty last week, I neglected to mention some excellent things that occurred at the Loft Teen Writers Conference on October 17th.

This is the third year of the conference and my second time participating and it is/was SO MUCH FUN.

It’s a full day of activities, starting off with a keynote speaker – Geoff Herbach this year! who is the best ever! – and then finishing with a menu of classes students can take on a variety of topics: short stories, graphic novels, publishing 101, etc.

Okay, just to give you a taste of things:

Here’s Geoff Herbach totally killing it. The man writes about things smelling weird in a way that just warms my heart. Also, he’s just so damn funny. Go buy/read Stupid Fast now. It’s one of the reasons I love writing boy characters in YA so much.

 

Figure 2. Geoff Herbach, who pleases me beyond reason. If you haven't read STUPID FAST yet, you need to remedy that NOW

Figure 2. Geoff Herbach, who pleases me beyond reason. If you haven’t read STUPID FAST yet, you need to remedy that now

 

Then, at lunch! This girl stood up – I wish I’d taken a photo –  and yelled something like, “If you want to talk about the 10th Doctor, come over here now!” And a horde of people scurried her way to do so. Goes without saying that the number of Tardis necklaces and Harry Potter t-shirts were plentiful.

FANDOM WIN.

At one point, when I was talking about the word ‘likeability’ and how, as a concept, it has limited use for writers making up characters, one of the students raised their hand and said, “Well, just look at The Avengers. A whole movie full of good guys…but who does everyone love? LOKI!”

Figure 3. This is Loki/Tom Hiddleston, in case you are somehow unaware, poor thing

Figure 3. This is Loki/Tom Hiddleston, in case you are somehow unaware, poor thing

 

I mean, why do these kids even need teachers? They are excellent people, stem to stern. I love teaching at the Loft. I wish it were its own high school, with lockers and a cafeteria (no gym teachers, though) and I could go there every day and dork it the hell up in style.

I only had an hour to talk about Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Literature, which is a criminally short amount of time. I asked the students to list topics they wanted to cover and got a fat stack of really cool ideas. So I’ll address the ones we didn’t get a chance to talk about for the next few weeks on this blog, even though I don’t write dystopian/post-apoc lit myself (Walking Dead fanfic doesn’t count).

Today’s questions all go around a certain theme:

Romance in dystopian novels – I’m sick of the love triangle and the beautiful teenagers who are unaware of their own perfection. How do you work romance in without making people want to gag?

Why is there almost always a love triangle in dystopian fiction?

Let’s talk about why they romanticize and sexualize every dystopian and post-apocalyptic book nowadays.

We covered this topic a bit in the presentation, but I should add a couple of notes.

I think most YA novels feature romance. Or sex. Or preferably (if you’re me) both. I think this is because this is a theme that is coming up in the lives of the adolescent protagonists.

Adding romance to a dystopian story or a post-apocalyptic world where everything is grave, grim, and grisly makes sense. The tasks of the hero/heroine are daunting; the stakes are high. Romance, as one of the participants in the session mentioned, offers a little relief for the reader from the epic scale of the story.

Love triangles are a very good, old device. But when they are not true triangles – i.e. we can see which choice will win the day – that is what is annoying to us as readers, I think. Also annoying to readers is the idea that just one love interest can’t be enough. Most of us didn’t have multiple hot people pawing after us in high school, so this adds another layer of unreality to the whole process.

I think it is valid to be annoyed with portrayals of romance and sex in books, however. Because they are often unrealistic and cribbed from old notions of what it means to be a man or a woman, what it means to love someone or desire someone. In YA novels, we often see love portrayed as some kind of terminal thing, like we want to see teenagers get married at age 16 to the One True Pairing. When in reality, not many people would advocate such.

– At the same time, for some reason, we advocate monogamy and loyalty in adolescent relationships. Adults lose their minds when they hear about ‘hook-up culture’ or casual adolescent sexual behavior. If anyone in this world should be allowed to be promiscuous, in my mind, it is adolescents. They are in the time of their lives when they are learning about their bodies and their feelings and the world itself. Why not try things? Why not go out with lots of people? Why insist on commitment when there are no children or mortgages to worry about?

Figure 3. Since I'm talking about sex/romance, might as well put a little Reedus on it, for garnish, right?

Figure 4. Since I’m talking about sex/romance, might as well put a little Reedus on it. For garnish, right? Oh hello, Norman, you masterful individual, you

 

– That is a long way of saying, if you don’t like the way the romance/sex is portrayed in stories, it’s time to roll your own. Stop accepting the junk you cannot stand and imagine it how you’d like to see it. Imagine it more fanciful or more real or more gritty or with less heteronormative participants or increase the diversity or perversity – whatever pleases you. Because what bashes into conventional notions of what sex and relationships ought to be is something we need to read. Want to read. Don’t be scared out of the conversation because so many people write about romance and sex in a way that’s uninspiring to you. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

That is one of my Soapbox Topics, I know, but I think it’s important to imagine into existence the world we want to live in. The world we already live in, in some cases, needs to be uncovered, as well.

WAIT. We were talking about dystopias and post-apocalypses, right? God. I am fearfully one-track. Next post, I promise, we’ll conquer the topic.

 

2 Comments

  • Matthew MacNish on Oct 21, 2013 Reply

    If I ever write a love triangle, I will spoon my own eyeball out.

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