I’m super excited to introduce you all to the wonderful YA author Madeline Dyer. She writes dark YA and explores the topics of survival and rebellilon in her latest YA dystopian series Untamed. She also has a fascination the relationship between madness and death, lives in the UK with her Shetland ponies, and loves Victorian novels. Madeline interviewed me a few weeks ago on her blog and I’m so very excited to get to have her on my blog to share some insight on revision, world building, and the magic of the right tea flavor to improve your manuscript.
I: Hi, Madeline! Please tell my readers a little about yourself and your books.
M: Hi, I’m Madeline and I’m a full-time fiction writer. I love speculative fiction—anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal—but I also have a special fondness for Victorian sensation novels. I hold a BA honors degree in English from the University of Exeter—and, in my final year there, I wrote my dissertation on the relationship between madness and death in nineteenth century sensation literature.
My own books tend to get quite dark—even when I don’t expect them to be. My first two novels are YA dystopians about addiction and arranged marriage (respectively), though they’re a series too—the poor main character goes through quite a lot!
I: What drew you to writing dystopian fiction?
M: Well, originally, I didn’t set out to write dystopian fiction. Untamed—my debut YA dystopian—was the fourth full-length manuscript I wrote, and it began as a bit of an experiment. Before that, I’d only written fantasy.
But I’d always the dystopian genre, as a reader. In school, I discovered Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four—and then of course, there was The Hunger Games. And it was about this time when I’d just finished my third fantasy manuscript and wanted to try something a little different. The dystopian genre was calling to me!
About a week later, I was at my Nana’s house when the premise for Untamed hit me. I quickly made some notes and then the Untamed world revealed itself to me…and it just wouldn’t stop. Before I knew it, characters were stepping onto the page, demanding I tell their stories.
I wrote the first draft of Untamed (70,000 words) in under a month, and during that time, I discovered that this really was the genre I wanted to write. I still love fantasy, don’t get me wrong, but I love how dystopian fiction teaches us about our own world too. And it’s this interaction between our society and dystopian societies that really fascinates me. Plus, I love writing about survival and rebellion, exploring the capabilities of man and what it means to be human, especially when our world is already striving for improvements in every aspect (cosmetically, medically, etc.).
I: In the blurb for your book you mention that your protagonist Seven is “one of the last untamed humans left.” I’ve found that dystopian stories often deal with themes of survival, the power of the human spirit, and the loss of modern day civilization. What did writing this book teach you and your protagonist about what it is to be human?
M: Untamed is about a world where the population is divided. There are Untamed humans—who are essentially you and I—and then there are the Enhanced Ones. The Enhanced are addicted to chemical augmenters that give them artificial emotions, meaning they choose how they want to feel each day, every day—and as such they can only feel positive, happy things. There’s no anger, violence, sadness. But, this is at the expense of their humanity—and I think in writing this book I really began to appreciate what it truly means to be human.
Even in our world today, people are always striving to improve things, wanting to make everything better, and make the human body stronger. In writing about a large group of people who’ve ‘improved’ the human condition so that they only feel positive emotions, I definitely realized the importance of being able to feel everything—including the negative stuff. It’s all our experiences that shape us, not just the ones we wish for.
In Untamed, I also wanted to look at addiction—as it is an aspect of life for many people—as well as its consequences. Addiction is something my main character, Seven Sarr, deals with. Having grown up with the Untamed, Seven knows that taking artificial emotions is wrong and that it destroys humanity—she’s seen first-hand what it’s done to others. Yet after she’s had one taste of the augmenters, she becomes addicted herself, creating this complex inner-conflict in her. She doesn’t want to be addicted—and doesn’t really believe that she is—but she craves augmenters and the security and safety associated with them and the Enhanced Ones’ lifestyle. And when addiction interferes with clear thinking and rationality, survival becomes even harder—as does understanding what the true human state is.
I: Another description of your book says that anyone in your dystopian world “who has negative emotions is hunted down.” Why are negative emotions outlawed? What do you want your readers to think about when it comes to negative emotions? Is that an essential part of what makes us human? Is it something we should suppress or celebrate?
M: So, in my Untamed world, the augmenters were created to make people feel better and prevent crime and poverty—to make the world better, so everyone can live in harmony, without fear. The augmenters also encourage their users to want to ‘save’ everyone else from negative emotions, thus creating a ‘perfect’ world where everyone is safe.
When the majority of the population is living harmoniously together because they’re all addicted to positive ‘emotions’, anyone who has the capability to feel negative emotions—and be violent—is a threat to the peace, the tranquility. But it is the Untamed—those who still experience negative emotions—who can see the damage the augmenters are doing. The Enhanced are robotic creatures, fueled by artificiality—and in wanting to convert all the Untamed, to ‘save’ them, there is a risk that humanity could be completely wiped out. In writing Untamed I wanted readers to consider how negative emotions and experiences shape them, make them human, and give them more perspective—just as the negative emotions (anger, hurt, betrayal, fear) that my characters feel allow them to see the degradation of the Enhanced Ones, when they themselves cannot see it.
After all, I think ‘negative’ emotions are important. Without knowing the bad things, how can we really appreciate the good stuff in our lives?
I: Creating a dystopian world is a complex task. What are your secrets to world building?
M: I think the main thing is to really know your world well. Understanding every aspect of it is so important. It needs to seem real to you, and all the rules of your dystopian society need to make logical sense within your world. Although the rules are going to be oppressive to some—most likely your main character—readers need to be able to see why they were created.
And I think the origins of a dystopian world are really important. How it came about, and how your dystopian society began are both crucial things that you need to know the answers to—and your readers need to know the answers too as well. Equally, a dystopian society is a society that was originally intended to do good, but ended up doing the opposite (at least for a group of people). So I think it’s important to show both sides of your dystopian society—it’s obviously working (or used to work) for some people—usually, the ones in charge. Men, after all, don’t make societies just to be bad. The oppressive circumstances usually evolve when things go wrong, or from the warped thinking of individuals who believe they’re still making things better, but cannot see the bigger picture.
Your novel sounds fast paced and action packed. How do you keep up the pace in a story like this and ensure your readers are turning pages?
I love fast-paced books. And I like action. So it seemed only natural that my books would be fast-cased and action-packed. I think employing a first-person present-tense narrative really helps me to keep the pace up, and engage readers. My readers become my main character and they feel and experience everything as she does. My writing’s been described as ‘bodily’ because of this, and I strive to maintain an intimate connection between main character and reader.
When I’m writing, I pay really close attention to the structure of my manuscript and the overall shape—especially where pace is concerned. Chapters that end with a huge revelation, a cliff-hangers, or a plot twist are always great in making sure readers turn the page and keep reading. But, at the same time, I’m careful not to end all my chapters like this, otherwise it can become overdone and repetitive. And I don’t want anything to be formulaic as that can really slow the down pace and make things predictable. It’s all about surprising the reader—but not overdoing it.
Although I love action, my characters (and my readers) need breathing space too—else everything just becomes too chaotic. So, it’s about a creating a balance. I might have three exciting things happen quickly, followed by a bit of breathing space where characters begin to plan an attack or work out what has happened and what they can do. Or maybe this will be where the romance blossoms. Then the next bit of action might be more psychological than physical. And that’s also true with my cliffhanger chapter endings—they’re not all action-orientated. Some are huge realizations, some are action-focused, and others are more emotional.
And I think it’s the ability to make your readers feel the emotions your characters are experiencing as they progress through your novel that really helps the pacing. Especially if it’s intertwined with the right amount of action and a plot that moves at the right speed.
I: Give us a little insight into your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantster? Do you write fast drafts or slow perfect drafts? Do you write every day or in wild inspired sprints?
M: I write fast drafts! And then I rewrite, revise, and edit for months—even up to a year. As an example, I wrote Untamed’s first draft in June 2013 (70,000 words), and did some light edits it in September 2013. Then, from December 2013 to January 2014, I did some huge revisions—concentrating on the structure, pacing, and characterization. There was another round of editing in March 2014, before I queried it. And in June 2014 I signed with my publisher, after receiving four offers. And then the in-house edits began: four more months of edits (developmental, line, and copy edits).
In terms of plotting or not, I always write out a very brief outline before I start. It usually takes me an hour or so (as typically I’ll have been thinking about the idea for about a month beforehand anyway). So, I’ll bullet point some notes on how I want the manuscript to begin and end—as well as any key events. But other than that (and those notes are very brief) I free-write. I guess my outline helps keep me on track, but it still feels as if I’m being surprised too, by writing it, as I don’t know automatically how every little thing will pan out.
I: I see that you have Shetland ponies! So cute! Will these adorable and magical beasts be making an appearance in any of your future projects?
M: Now there’s an idea!
At the moment, I’m working on the third Untamed book, a standalone dark dystopian, a SF thriller, and a contemporary thriller—so Shetlands won’t be making an appearance in those… but I do love them and the magical aura they have… Maybe they could appear in a fantasy?
I: You are from the UK … does this mean you take tea breaks every day? And do they help your writing?
Ha! Well, I do love tea—but only herbal and fruit teas. And I have about twenty different types in my kitchen. Often, I associate a particular flavor with a specific manuscript; drinking the right cup of tea as I write can help keep me in the writing zone and connect with that world. Yes it sounds weird. It probably is.
- Best book you’ve read in the last 6 months: Mirage by Tracy Clark.
- Most influential author on you and your work: Virginia Woolf.
- If you could time travel, when/where would you go? Nineteenth Century England.
- If you were a super hero, what would be your super power? Invisibility.
- Oddest thing you collect: Schleich plastic animals (the addiction started when I was eight years-old…)
- TV show addiction: Eastenders and Orphan Black
Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and holds a BA honours degree in English from the University of Exeter. She has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged. Her second novel, FRAGMENTED, hit shelves in September 2016.
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