What’s this, a post? Not only a legitimate post, but I actually managed to contribute to the TCWT blog chain on the right day this month? *celebration*
The theme for this month’s blog chain is…
“What are your thoughts on romance for your typical genre? Do you tend to have a little, a lot, or none at all?”
Just in time for Valentines’ Day, too.
I had a bit of difficulty trying to distinguish which “genre” I usually write in. Really it depends on my inspiration–I’ve written apocalyptic novels, YA fiction set inside an insane asylum, fantasy, etc. So I decided to focus on the books that I like to READ– and lately I’ve been hooked on the dystopian trend.
Many of my ideas have been influenced by the thoughtful dystopian semi-guru Kirsten, who’s already a part of the blog chain. For nods, laughs, and a look at the genre in general, read her posts like this one.
She’s already spoken to my thoughts on romance in dystopian novels in general– how the storylines are repetitive, the love interests are two-dimensional, and there seems to be a formula for the final “choice”.
That’s what it comes down to, every time, is a choice between two ideals, a decision more symbolic than anything else. The love in dystopian novels is a higher metaphor for the dilemmas facing the protagonist. It’s not (usually) a relationship between two people who actually care about each other.
I’ll take, for example, the love triangle in Matched, just another one of the cookie-cutter YA dystopias to hit the shelves and the bestseller lists. Cassia has two perfect guys to choose from. Xander has been her best friend since they were children, and she’s “matched” to marry him by city officials. Ky is shunned for being an “outsider” because he was born in the countryside. He’s the one that teaches her rebellious poetry and asks her to fight against the government with him, the usual. She has the luxury of flirting with both of them during the course of the novel, and eventually picking one to side with.
But Xander and Ky are not “real” characters. They exist for Cassia, both love her intensely even though she’s a wimp, and cater to her every whim. Instead of characters, they’re actually used within the story as physical evidence of Cassia’s changing emotions. In the beginning, she’s more than happy to go along with the “matching” program and marry Xander, but (TOTAL SPOILER ALERT, BTW) by the end of the novel she decides to leave the society in favor of Ky. (Didn’t see that coming, right?)
I understand why Ally Condie, the author, did this. Cassia is a weak character, and she goes back and forth throughout the entire novel. “Xander! Wait, Ky! No, Xander! Ky! Xander! Ky!” just as much as “Conform! Rebel! No, conform! Rebel! Hold on, conform! Just kidding, rebel!”. When she finally “picked” Ky at the end, it was just another way of saying “Viva la revolucion!”
I’m being cynical, because there were parts of the book that were half-decent. (I just can’t think of them right now.) I’m not saying that Matched is some trainwreck of a dystopian attempt, and if you have the choice between Stephanie Myer and Ally Condie, at least Xander doesn’t fall in love with Cassia and Ky’s child.
I mean, the series isn’t over yet, but I’m just assuming.
The wider point I’m trying to make is this: so often, love in dystopian novels is used as a plot device for decision-making, instead of a legitimate relationship between two people that care about each other.
How can we combat this? I think that it’s important to flesh out the characters as fully developed people instead of tying them down to a single cause, or letting them represent a certain path or idea.
Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite book, and I think one of the reasons that I adore it so much is because it doesn’t try to use characters in this way. Guy Montag has two “loves” in his life–although neither is the kind of over-sexualized Mary-Sue that we’ve come to expect from dystopian novels. He has a wife named Mildred, with whom he has a rocky and heart-wrenching relationship. Then he befriends Clarisse McClellan, a 16-year old girl who inspires him to think about the world differently (and ultimately affects the rest of the novel).
One could argue that he’s not in love with either of them. Yet their words and actions move him to decide between a life of ignorance or a life of solitude. Clarisse could be seen as the mechanism for rebellion in his life, but she’s a fully-developed character with more quirks and a better life story than any teenager I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about.
Mildred symbolizes his old life, and their past ignorance, only because that’s their entire history. Nothing is forced, and Ray Bradbury (the author) doesn’t attempt to stick labels on his characters.
Read Fahrenheit 451, if you haven’t. It deals with censorship, government, and literature in an ocean of poetic words that swell with imagery and draws you in with its lingering sentences and repetition, little by little, little by little, like a trail of candy that draws your mind into the woods of thought.
–I am not Ray Bradbury.
Happy Valentines’ Day! Eat lots of chocolate and celebrate your favorite hot fictional guys/girls 😀