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Guest Post: Elana Johnson Predicts the Future

Today, we bring to you a guest post by Elana Johnson, Querytracker blogger and author of the forthcoming dystopian/SF novel, CONTROL ISSUES (Simon Pulse, 2011). Elana is agented by Michelle Andelman, and pens a bounty of publishing information at her personal blog.

Predicting Futures in YA
Elana Johnson

Okay, so maybe I’m old. Yeah, all right, I am. Not like, super old or anything, but let’s just say that when I graduated from high school, I did not have an email address. Or a cell phone. Or anything remotely close to it.

That kind of old.

And there’s no way I could’ve predicted that a mere, uh, 15 years out of high school the huge shift in culture that has happened as a result of these things.

Which makes me wonder what societal shifts will have occurred 15 years down the road. Or 30, 50, even 100 years from now.

Creating futures for young adults in a novel is a challenging task. I mean, no one knows what life will be like. And your fictitious future has to stem from something that does exist right now, something that readers are familiar enough with that they can envision your future evolving from their present.

So, uh, how do you do that? For me, I chose something that’s as common as breathing: making choices. I mean, you’ve probably made a million of them just today, right? But what if you couldn’t? What if your ability to choose was taken from you?

Bam! Instant dystopian society. AND learning when/how to make independent decisions and learning when to listen to others is a huge issue with teens. They’re exploring their newfound “freedoms” and are notorious for wanting to be able to choose their own way.

So here’s your formula: choose a relevant issue for teens (and I submit, all people) + accelerate time a little + take that issue to an extreme = futuristic society.

Sure, you’ll have kinks here and there that you’ll have to fully flesh out, but if you can take Relevant Issue A and make me think about it in a new way, you’ll pen yourself a winner.

What do you think of my formula? Can you identify the Relevant Issue in dystopian works such as The Hunger Games or The Adoration of Jenna Fox? What Relevant Issues do you think teens are facing now that could potentially support a dystopian society? Lay it on me.

~Elana Johnson
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. That's an awesome formula, Elana! So simplistic yet so affective...gonna have to give it a shot to see if it's as easy as you make it sound. Great post!

  2. You have a way of boiling things down that make more sense than anything I've ever tried. You're like a light bulb:)

  3. You make it sound so easy! No wonder you have a book deal. I'm usually thinking backwards instead of forward, but maybe someday . . . :)

  4. I think a futuristic society is more complicated. We cannot estimate it with a formula.
    Anyway... nice try!

  5. Well Robert, I think all great ideas and worldbuilding start with a simple concept on which you build. I'm sure there's tons more to Elana's story than "people can't choose," but that's at the heart of it and it's how she got her idea.

    This is a really cool suggestion! Thanks very much, Elana, I'm going to give it a shot too. :)

  6. "What if" is the phrase that makes my worlds come alive and I love that formula you gave.

    It boils it down to its simplest form where you can then build and expand on it. I can't wait to give it a try!

    And thanks for guest blogging today!

  7. Great post, Elana! If I decide to brave the terrors of worldbuilding and write something non-contemporary, I'm so begging you for advice. :-)

  8. Awesome post, Elana! The world building definitely has to start somewhere, and I can see your formula making a great base.

  9. I never really liked writing about the furure because it's nearly impossible to predict, and it can be taken too far or not far enough. That's why I always liked the not-so-distant future stories. You can keep it somewhat the same, and if it gains enough merit or has a big enough impact, it can go out of date and still be big. Like 1984

  10. Ooh, you are so good at making the impossible sound easy, Elana! ;) It's finding the basic premise for a dystopian that always stumps me, not the fleshing out of a world, so I think your technique definitely provides a starting point.

    I'll have to think about this some more.

  11. You always have a great way of breaking things down. Can't wait first your book!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse.

  12. awesome recipe for success you have there!

  13. I love this idea! I can so see it creating worlds. Like... where parents exercise absolute government-mandated power over everything their kid does. (Ok, that's been done sometimes IRL, but nonetheless :D) Great post, Elana!

  14. Thanks, Kirsten, for hosting me today.

    And Robert, creating a world takes WAY more work than that, but you have to know where your futuristic world came from, and how it came to be from the world we live in today. And I think that formula can give you that.

    From there, you have HEAPS more to do to get the actual world-building right, but at least you have the bridge between "then" and "now."

    Lee, yes, sometimes we have to boil down to simple and build from there. I think people have fear about creating an entire world (like, ahhhh!), but it's doable if you can get a few things solid in your understanding.

    Becca, that's the great thing about dystopian! You don't really have to say when. It could be far-future or near-future. It's a win/win!

    And Kody, you can school me on how to write contemporary. I've tried...uh...didn't go so well.

    Thanks everyone!

  15. issue: declining face-to-face communication (and yes, i realize i am a hypocrite bringing this up on the internet!)

    issue taken to extreme many years from now: everyone is a social recluse who lives in a dark little room and play virtual but unreal adventures. friends are all false identities. robots keep people alive.

    remember, it was my idea first ; )

  16. Kari, that is awesome. And as mom of a tween, I can TOTALLY see this as a problem. I also see it in the bullying that goes on now. Like I said, I didn't have a cell or an email account. We couldn't spread nasty pictures or post them on the Internet within seconds. The type of stuff that goes on now NEVER happened when I was growing up.

    So yeah! Go for it. Great idea.

  17. Good formula. It makes sense. I've never thought of it that way!

  18. I agree with Tere! Elana is wise and creative -- and shares every tip and joy and frustration.

    A SERIOUS light bulb!

  19. Quite clever and true. I will add this baby to my toolbox for next time I need some inspiration. :)


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Item Reviewed: Guest Post: Elana Johnson Predicts the Future Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard