There’s a new genre that seems to be clogging the slush piles everywhere. At first, I thought it was just the Agency, but as I chat with others in the industry it’s becoming obvious that it’s a trend. In fact, those I know who run Creative Writing Master’s courses get a lot of submissions in this genre.
Unfortunately, people should stop writing it. Like now! Immediately. If you’re reading this post, and you discover that you’re writing in this genre. Stop. Turn off your computer, walk away, have a good hard think, and then write something else.
The genre is Self-Harm-Distopian. Essentially, something bad has happened to the Earth, but you never find out what happened to the Earth as it’s always called the ‘Event’ or not mentioned at all. (Actually, there could be some plot twist at the end in which I find out what’s happened to make the Earth look like the surface of Mars, but I don’t know what it is because I’ve already stopped reading, which leads me to another thing. If I don’t care about your book and its characters in the first chapter, I’ll never get to the twist at the end. So don’t build your whole story around a twist at the end. ‘The Sixth Sense’ worked because we cared about the characters. The ‘Oh! He was dead all along’ was just the icing on the cake.)
Anyway, there’s some distopian Earth situation and a teenager, and she/he must save the Earth/Best Friend/Love/Dog. In the meantime, said teenager is so riddled with self-doubt they self-harm. Yeah, because that’s just what you need in a distopian society without proper nourishment or healthcare, cutting yourself. Because it’s not like you don’t have bigger problems. Then, someone notices the cuts and scars (which are conveniently not infected despite the person living in filth), says they love the teenager, then the teenager is better, and then saves Earth/Best Friend/Love/Dog. (Or I have been told this is what happens in the synopsis because I never actually get that far reading the novel.)
Listen, I’m not debasing the issue of self-harming. It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed. I’m just saying that it’s not plausable in a distopian society. I’d think survival would be more important and fighting a rat for food is punishment enough. And, perhaps it’s a metaphore for the world, who knows. In fact, keep writing your distopian novel, just eliminate the self-harming scenes, or turn the world into a contemporary one. Just not both.