I have always been aware of our impending doom. I think it began with the Y2K apocalypse scare, where chaos was supposed to reign. Well, the New Year came and went, and for better or for worse, we’re still here. In my early teens, it was the Mayan Prophecy in 2012; instead of the end, we got a fun movie starring John Cusack with a theme song by Adam Lambert. I’m talking about all these predictions nonchalantly now, but trust me when I say that during those times I was immensely scared. I counted down the days as I stared out the window, waiting for signs. Aside from fear, there was another emotion that I was feeling, and that, curiously, was fascination. While I wasn’t looking forward to it, I knew that I wanted to see it as if it were some big fireworks display.
To satisfy that fascination, I turn to dystopian fiction. The unravelling of the world and society as we know it would feel like a spectacle (albeit a terrifying one) and I would not be able to look away from it. When I see news headlines about pandemics, racism, and violence, I can’t silence that little voice in the back of my head that says: “I wonder how this is going to play out?” That’s when I itch to write dystopian stories in literature and film.
If you’re a writer who wants to dip their toes in dystopian fiction like me, here are some tips that can help you write a good story.
Read the News
Terrible things happen in the world every day. That’s just the sad fact that we have to live with. Fortunately for writers of dystopian fiction, that also means that there is an endless flow of inspiration. By basing your novel or short story on current events, you’re making it more realistic and plausible, therefore making it much more terrifying.
While it’s okay to focus on one city or one country, you should still imply (at the very least) the effects of your dystopia on the entire world. In this day and age, cities and countries don’t exist in vacuums. You can learn about a place on the other side of the world through a Google search in seconds. That means it wouldn’t be believable if the world is ending in Florida, for example, while everyone in Tokyo has no clue.
If you’re setting your dystopia in a city overrun by zombies, how is the entire world reacting to it? Has the zombie virus spread to other countries? Are other countries helping, or are they selfishly turning a blind eye? Even mere glimpses of the world at large can help enrich your story.
Play By Your Rules
Now that you’ve come up with your dystopian world, it’s time to specify its rules. Do it early so that your reader will immediately understand the stakes involved as well as your characters’ actions. If they are under constant surveillance in a totalitarian state, for example, don’t write scenes where they’re casually walking in the park while loudly discussing plans for an uprising. Have them passing on notes written in a secret language and show them getting severely punished when they get caught. This makes your world feel real and dangerous.
Plant Seeds of Hope
A dystopian world is typically bleak. To make your characters fight against that and get the ball rolling, you have to give them at least a shred of hope. Make them wish for a better world for future generations to live in. Plant memories of an old and better world so that they can strive to reverse their current situation. You can also add a scene where the character discovers something that can help them achieve their goal. It could be a weak spot on an alien aircraft, a blindspot from the government’s watchful eyes, or something as simple as a companion who has equal desires for change.
Populate Your Ravaged World with Real People
Make sure your characters are complex and believable. This tip is obvious, and it applies to all genres of fiction. However, it is always worth reminding when talking about dystopian fiction.
In dystopian fiction, you don’t want your villains to be totally evil and your heroes to be totally good. Their world is in chaos after all, and that’s not an environment where people can afford to abide strictly by their principles. If your world is a barren wasteland, perhaps have your character kill an innocent person because he has to feed his children. If the villain in this story is a paranoid man living alone in a mansion full of food and other supplies, maybe something in his past led him to be this way. Perhaps his children were murdered and eaten by looting cannibals, so now he doesn’t want to make the same mistake of letting anyone in.
The End is Nigh
Now that you know how to write a good dystopian story, it’s time to watch the world burn. While these tips can surely help you get started on your dystopian nightmare, remember to allow your imagination to run wild. Be creative and follow your instincts as you bring on the destruction.
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