Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic Week 5: Building a Darker Tomorrow

Today we have the 2nd of 3 very special guests (though all of our guest bloggers are special) that we will have during our Saturday Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic feature.  I am honored to have Kate Messner as our guest blogger today. 
 Kate Messner is the award-winning author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books for children and teens, including E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. (Walker-Bloomsbury), the popular Marty McGuire series with Scholastic, Over and Under the Snow, an  ALSC and NY Times Notable Children’s Book of 2011, and the forthcoming Eye of the Storm.  A former middle school English teacher, Kate is a frequent conference presenter and loves visiting classrooms and libraries in person and via Skype to talk about reading and writing with kids.  Learn more at her website: or follow her on Twitter @KateMessner

Now onto Kate: 

Building a Better Darker Tomorrow
World Building in Futuristic Fiction

Ask an avid reader of fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian literature about his or her favorite worlds, and you’ll get an earful --  not only about the plot of a book but also the rules that govern that world, the social order that exists there, the history of the world, and how it came to be. That’s because brilliant books in these genres, titles like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, are written on the foundations of worlds that have been painstakingly created by their authors.

This process is called world building, and it’s just what it sounds like – you start with an idea and build an imaginary world around it. That world, if it’s a future based on our current society, should grow from a seed planted in the here and now. The Hunger Games is a great example of this, taking our culture’s preoccupation with violence and its fascination with reality television and combining them into a horrific future what-if.

When I set out to write Eye of the Storm, my March ’12 futuristic weather thriller, I knew that world building would be a big part of my planning process. In a world where tornadoes are more powerful, more common, and more widespread than they are now, I’d need to start with climatology. What current environmental conditions could possibly lead to this kind of climate crisis?  A great deal of reading, coupled with a long interview with University of Oklahoma meteorology department chief Howard Bluestein, led to some possible answers. Tornadoes arise from a certain, pretty specific set of conditions. So if weather and climate patterns were to shift to produce those conditions more often, that would indeed be a recipe for stronger, more frequent storms.

But weather was only the beginning.  Eye of the Storm is set in the year 2050, so to write in this world, I’d need to fast-forward everything – from education to food,  to how we get around. And it all needed to be interconnected, too. In a world suffering from the effects of these climatic shifts, what kinds of laws would likely find support?  What kinds of corporations might be profitable?  And what would education look like?  I realized that in order to make the world  believable, I’d need to do many, many pages of writing that would never see the light of day in a bookstore.

I created a world building worksheet for myself and happily spent about a week typing thirty five pages (single spaced!) of answers to questions I’d posed to myself. Questions & answers like these helped me to fully express the premise for my book:

In this futuristic society… (Write one sentence that expresses the heart of the story, the conflict as it relates to the world.)

In this society, tornadoes and other severe storms have become more widespread and more intense, rendering parts of the United States nearly uninhabitable and giving rise to powerful corporations that profit from the storms by providing safety and by secretly controlling them.

What current issue/problem is at the heart of this future world?  From what spark of our modern reality was this world born?

Current issue at the heart of this world is climate change – increasing global temperatures that could lead to an increase in the kinds of atmospheric conditions that are likely to give rise to tornadoes. Also – huge corporations, idea of selling safety.

Questions and responses like these helped me to fine tune the details to make sure 2050 didn’t feel just like 2012:

What does agriculture look like?  Where do people get food?

Given climate challenges as well as fossil fuel laws, farming has been regulated to the point that it’s really no longer sustainable too expensive, and cheap corporate-grown food is too much competition – the exception is the organic farmers who have braved the weather conditions in largely abandoned regions for cheap land to sustain the tradition of regular farming – like Alex’s family.

Most people have food delivered to their homes via HV trailer loads every 2 weeks from corporate producers like NatureMade.

Issue by issue, piece by piece, a world takes shape. And then the real fun begins – placing fully developed characters in that world and watching the ways it shapes and confronts them.  Jaden, in EYE OF THE STORM, is very much a product of her world of 2050, even as she strives to think beyond its limits.

More about EYE OF THE STORM, coming March 13, 2012 from Walker-Bloomsbury!

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms are a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her father in the special StormSafe community his company has developed, Jaden Meggs is excited to reconnect with her dad after he spent years researching storm technology in Russia. She’ll also be attending the exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, that her dad founded. There, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers, and together they discover a horrible truth about her dad’s research that is putting countless lives at risk. As a massive tornado approaches, threatening to destroy everything in its path, Jaden is torn between loyalty to her dad and revealing his secret. Can she find the courage to confront her dad and save everyone from the biggest storm yet?

Jaden is a smart, spunky heroine, reinvigorating the concept of “geek-chic” for young
readers…. With a villain who seems impossible to kill, this exciting novel is poised for a follow-up and will not disappoint readers who are looking for a thrill.                                
~from the VOYA Review
Jen and I will be reviewing Eye of the Storm on Tuesday as well, so check back then! 


Past Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic posts: 

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