The Disappeared was officially published in the UK today and I have a guest post for you as part of the blog tour. In case you don't know what the book's about, here's a summary from Amazon:
Jackson's life is perfect; he's top of his class, wants for nothing and is destined to be part of the Leadership that runs the country. But when a violent incident leaves Jackson badly beaten and his best friend dead, everything changes. Suddenly his teachers claim not to know him, his records are deleted...Jackson doesn't exist anymore. Dumped in an Academy, where teachers are kept in cages and being a good fighter is all that matters, Jackson realises that to survive he needs to adapt, and fast. And, as he learns the Academy's terrible secrets, Jackson discovers that his whole life has been based on lies; the Leadership is corrupt to the core and they're coming after him. But time is running out. Can Jackson destroy the man at the heart of it all before he makes Jackson disappear for good?
Thanks to C. J. for this guest post!
Creating a Dystopian World.
This is a checklist of things to consider that I drew up once I realised that the story in my head was going to take place in a dystopia. This came before more detailed world-building. It’s like that pre-writing snack I always have before I switch on the computer. And we all know that kicking off with a biscuit or six is the most important part of the writing process, right? (Just nod your head while my husband is looking.) So here are my things to think about before you start work on your dystopia.
1. MAKE APPEARANCES DECEPTIVE or Your totalitarian state looks nice!
School starts pretty early, hey? I find getting two children ready to leave the house tends to be a bit of a scramble and usually involves me yelling, ‘What do you mean you can only find one shoe? Why would you put a pair of shoes in two different places? Did you not take both shoes off at the same time?’ As a result I sometimes find I have a few seconds to apply lip gloss, but not enough time to clean my teeth. Gross. But to other scurrying parents concentrating on delivering their own children and their lunchboxes to the right classrooms I look fairly presentable. This is the effect that you want in your story. The whole point of a dystopia is that it’s super-shiny and smells like strawberries from the outside. Getting this false-front right is a great way to increase the creepiness of what really lies beneath (bad breath and jam seeds in the teeth).
2. MAKE SELF-DECEPTION BELIEVABLE or Why has no one noticed all the oppressed orphans?
When I was very young, sister A ate most of sister B’s freshly iced birthday cake the day before B’s big day. I’m ashamed to say that I knew that she was sneaking a mouthful every time she got the chance, but I didn’t tell on her. Not because I had any qualms about squealing, but because she had bought my silence with chunks of icing. In your dystopia some bad stuff is going to be happening to people, and even if it’s all supposed to be top-secret, these things have a habit of getting out. You probably want to think of a good reason why the people who have suspicions choose to look the other way. In The Disappeared Jackson is one of the lucky ones. He’s got every reason to push down the concerns he has; he doesn’t want to jeopardise his privileged position or his golden future.
3. KNOW YOUR BACKSTORY or the incredibly long history of everything and everyone in your story
As a teenager I sometimes went to parties that I knew my parents wouldn’t have given me permission to attend. As an excuse I invented a friend called Gayle, who I would pretend to spend the night with. Gayle was a Goth. Her mum was brilliant at sewing and she made Gayle amazing Victorian style dresses. Gayle had two brothers and a Labrador. I dropped a couple of details about Gayle into conversation, but most of her story stayed in my head because my mum never asked many questions. (Hi mum! We can probably skip over any recriminations now that I’ve turned out so well, right?) The point is that I needed to be ready with Gayle’s backstory. It informed the whole structure of my lying. You need to know this backstory stuff because it’s the foundations of your story; otherwise, the further you get into your story the more likely you are to trip over a plot hole and bam! Your readers will shoot you down (not that my mum ever pulled a gun on me. Except that one time, and we all agreed in the end that Christmas can be very stressful). In essence, you need to know a lot more about your dystopia than ever actually gets said or written down. That way you can get to the party all the cool kids are at.
4. CREATE A GREAT VILLAIN or remind me who it is I hate again
When I was at school I (very briefly) found myself on a sports team. When we made it through to the semi-final of a county-wide competition our PE teacher attempted to instil in us a sense of aggression towards the other team. Even though I quite wanted to win I didn’t really have any strong feelings towards the nameless girls we would be playing. A week before the match I met the captain of the other team at a party. She was charming, smart and beautiful. The boys that my friends and I considered the property of local girls, like us, flocked to her. Now I was ready to take her head off with a hockey stick. When you’re constructing a whole world of wrong it’s easy to find your protagonist up against a faceless enemy like ‘the government’ or ‘the elders’. For a really interesting struggle your main character needs to be pitched against an individual, not a spokesperson for a homogenous group. Which leads us to:
5. GIVE YOUR VILLAIN FEELINGS or does my bum look big in this cape?
Every year my Aunt Joyce ran a sweet stall at the church fete. Every year I clamoured after one of those big swirly lollipops. Aunt Joyce never let me have one. I took my revenge by slouching and biting my nails (two things that Aunt J despised – along with anyone who made dents in her cushions and a long list of other stuff that probably included raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens). Recently, I mentioned those beautiful lollies and Aunt Joyce told me that they would have been awfully bad for my teeth and besides it wasn’t quite proper to slurp on something like that at a church affair. So there you go, all these years I had thought that Aunt Joyce was a mean old, sweet-denying witch, when to her mind she was saving me from both tooth-decay and the well-known sin of licking in the presence of the Lord. Once you’ve made your enemy an individual, then you need to think about her reasons for the things that she is doing. Even if she is pure evil and never let you play with her collection of china cats, we still want to know why she is behaving in the way that she is. The more your villain believes in what she is doing, the more spectacular her clash with your main character (who of course will have her own firm beliefs, like china cats should be shared around.)