Cliche story idea?

by Ashy
(US)

Hi Glen! I would like to get your opinion on a story idea of mine. I don't know if it's unoriginal or cliche or completely nonsense, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.


My story is about a teenage girl of an indiscriminate age who lives in a totalitarian government in the future. This government completely controls their citizens via drugs. Because the drugs are an added expense, the government wants to completely abolish personalities and people's ability to make decisions. They are using teenagers as their main guinea pigs because teenagers are the most rebellious. This girl, after being thoroughly subjected to a series of their hardest tests and simulations, is sent to the outside world (without drugs) to complete a made-up task (they want to see how well the tests worked). Outside, she meets a group of people. After growing close to them and learning about their backgrounds, she grows to hate her government. In the end, she and the group try to take down the government.

Thank you for taking your time to read this and have a great day!

Answer: Because you're asking this question, you probably have a sense that this story idea features tropes seen in a number of YA books. These include...

* A dystopian future.
* A totalitarian government employing mind-control techniques (1984).
* Teenagers put in a situation where they are isolated from adults (Lord of the Flies)
* Teenagers nonetheless manipulated by adults -- treated as subjects of a social psychology experiment (The Maze Runner, Divergent) or expendable tools (The Hunger Games, The 100).
* Teenagers struggling to find their own identity via rebelliousness (Catcher in the Rye).
* Government as the enemy
(symbolizing the previous generation of adults).
* Teens forming a tribe -- that is, being thrust into a group in which they must form friendships to survive (Awakening).

However, you should bear in mind that there are few wholly original ideas. The reason these stories are popular is because they are a model for the kinds of feelings teenagers often go through.

Many teens find themselves thrust in with strangers their own age where the rules and tasks are set by adults (i.e. high school, military training, sports teams, other groups or programs). In other words, they lack control over their lives and feel manipulated.

These feelings often reflect reality. Most adults see their jobs as parents, teachers, coaches, etc. to be one of manipulating teens to become what the adults think they should become, rather than helping teens become what they want to become. Adults often are afraid of what teens might become if left to their own devices.

Teens have a healthy need to establish their own identity, both as individuals and as peer groups. They also have a need to prove themselves -- to become acknowledged as the adults they are rapidly becoming.

For these reasons, such stories will likely remain popular. Your task as a writer is to find a fresh take on these ideas -- to make your story different enough on the surface, while still appealing to the genuine feelings of YA readers.

Give them a unique set of characters and an interesting spin on the situation, and most readers won't even notice the similarities with other stories.

Remember too that teens and children keep growing up. Many of those who read The Hunger Games are now adults. In the next few years a new generation of teens will enter high school and will be looking for something new.

Comments for Cliche story idea?

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Nov 14, 2015
Ending question
by: Ashy

Thank you so much for answering back so thoroughly and helpfully. You have given me a lot of ideas to think about, which I really appreciate.

I just have one more question. It seems that most of the recent YA dystopian novels (or at least, the ones I've read) end as a comedy or a comi-tragedy. I want to end this novel as a tragi-comedy, but I'm not sure how to do that without excluding one of the "morals" of the novel (that point being that there is always a flaw in "the system"). I want to have a scene where the main character, along with her group, exposes a flaw in the government, and they use it to their advantage. They get close to ruining the government, but they get caught. They eventually escape to live somewhat peacefully while the government grows stronger.
I'm trying to avoid a sequel at all costs, but I feel like if I have the main character and her group defeat a huge organization on their own without any outside help, the ending will be too perfect and unrealistic.
While I understand that you can't write the ending for me, I would really like some concepts or vague ideas to think about.
Thanks again!

Nov 15, 2015
Re: endings
by: Glen

I think that, to turn the story into a tragi-comedy, then we would have to see in the end that if the main character had actually succeeded in overthrowing the government, she would have ended up in a much worse situation. In other words, we must see that she is better off for having failed.

Why would that be? That's something only you can decide, obviously.

Perhaps the society cannot be fixed, but must be allowed to implode on its own?

Perhaps those who run the society lead terrible lives, and overthrowing them would mean having to take their place?

Perhaps success would have triggered an even worse outcome?

Perhaps success would have come at too great a personal cost?

Lots of scope here to have a surprise ending.

Mar 31, 2016
Twist of an ending
by: John

First off, let me say that I really enjoyed reading your insightful self-review of your own story idea. Not everyone is willing to walk the narrow path between "the heroes save the day and everyone rides off into the sunset" or the darkly-reversed tragic Romeo and Juliet type of plot where everyone dies. It was refreshing.

As a suggestion, take a look at the synopsis of the movie "Hero" starring Jet Li. That movie's ending might have some elements that could aid you in what you are contemplating. Similarly, the original version of Logan's Run (not the more recent remake) is somewhat in line with my understanding of where you want your concept to go.

Lastly, I'd also watch the movie "Kingdom of Heaven". Although a bit heavy-handed at times, the more basic mechanical elements of the plot are pretty much in-line with what you were describing.

I know I referenced three movies/tv shows and not any books in this response, but that's what leapt to my mind - plus they tend to be easier to access a synopsis of online.

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