You know that one YA novel? The dystopia with the ridiculous premise? Well, my fourteen-year-old daughter was given an assignment to write a similar sort of story. Specifically, the assignment was as follows:
Create a dystopia in which one of the rules of our society is either no longer a rule, or is enforced to an extreme. Write a story* in this setting.
(*I do not know what word-count was assigned, but I’m going to assume it was something less than novel-length.)
I struggle to enjoy that one YA novel with the ridiculous premise, but as assignments for fourteen-year-olds go, this is pretty awesome. “Take a piece of our world and change it. Now pour enough thought into it that you can tell an actual story.” I like assignments that require synthesis rather than regurgitation, and to me this is the very best kind.
I’ve recently made peace with the ridiculous premise of that one YA dystopia, but only by treating it as a thought experiment played out as a story, and designed to capture the imagination of the reader. The reader can then play out the same sort of world building exercise my daughter was assigned, and begin thinking about how our world might actually change in the future, mulling over the full suite of implications rather than going all in on one ridiculous premise. It’s not prognostication, or futurism, but it builds the brain-muscles required for that sort of activity.
The pot is totally calling out the kettle for its fire-blackened state here, of course. I write comedic social satire wrapped in a future that is “plausible” in the same way that distilled water is a useful construction material. I have to carefully maintain some conditions, and occasionally throw some blinders on the the reader in order to prevent them from melting the whole thing down. But this very exercise shows me exactly where the blinders are when I’m consuming that one YA dystopia, and I’m not very far into it before I realize that the scaffolding of the world has turned into a puddle, and now I’m sitting in it.
I appreciate how much thought got poured into that puddle, but that doesn’t mean I have to love having wet pants.