6 Tips for Writing Dystopian Fiction

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6 Tips for Writing Dystopian Fiction

Anybody Can Write a Novel 2.0

Chapter 2 “Genres” – Section 8 “Dystopia”

 Green Bat 1 by DesdemonaDeBlake

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"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it."
-John Lennon

From strange organizations that run the world to giant death games of various sorts, the dystopian genre has been very popular as of late. This is the genre which is characterized by disenfranchised hero fighting against a totalitarian government or society. It's an exhilarating genre which really hits home for people who feel just as powerless in their own society. Though it has been around for a while, it's just recently surged in popularity because of “The Hunger Games.” Already, there are clichés, mistakes, and trends that seem to be overtaking the genre. These are what we will be looking at, today.


Tip 1: Make sure that your story more than an excuse to build a world.

Dystopian stories have a tradition of bizarre creativity, but this has created a divide where two types of story are told. The first are ones like Attack on Titan, which are filled with meaning, symbolism, and thought which make the show deep. The second are those which are little more than an excuse for the writer to build that is the book equivalent of a videogame or enormous Jigsaw trap. You'll notice these when the book spends most of the story showing how cool their world is before the protagonist does anything. And when the protagonist finally does finally take part in the story, they are little more than a tool to show more about the world.

Don’t get me wrong, amazing world-building is a good thing. But when you sacrifice character and plot to emphasize your world, you make it tedious. All the care and effort you put into your world is lost if we are bored. It’s like seeing the blueprint for an amazing work of architecture vs actually going there, journeying through it, and being told the story behind it by a charming guide. So, put effort into all that you do, not just the storytelling elements that are popular in the genre.

Also, don’t create your story as apologetics for your world. Dystopian novels often give audiences the impression that the author came up with a fun idea for a world, and then just put all the story's effort into trying to justify that world. It’s like they know that their story is silly, and are so insecure that they have to spend the entire story convincing us that the story really is cool, despite whatever we think. Let the audience think what they want to think. Of course, make sure there is a reason for everything and that you put thought into every element of your world. But then let it go and be okay if we think your world is a little silly. It probably is, but that is something that will charm us if we discover all the subtle depth and thought that went into its creation. Just focus on telling us a good story and all will be good in the end.


Tip 2: Make sure that your story is more than societal criticism.

This tip goes in every direction—from fascism, communism, Marxism, capitalism, socialism, to anything else you could imagine. Some of these political ideologies I agree with to some degree, some I do not. That’s not the point. Regardless of the ideological viewpoint you hold, you will best show your societal criticism if you leave it as an undertone, not a loud and obnoxious propaganda piece. Focus your story on the actions, choices, emotions, and thoughts of the protagonist, and trust that the audience will make up their own minds by how the characters are affected by the world around them.


Tip 3: Create a complicated and multi-sided world.

No group of people, organization, hero, or villain is all evil or good to so simplistic a degree. A group that stands for racial cleansing through murder, for example, is motivated also by ignorance, desperation, poverty, and manipulation from higher powers with personal interests. So, create a complex world with realistically complex people and groups if you want your reader to believe it. Making a world with simple and clearly-defined heroes and villains may be easier, but it is a lie. To combat it, try to make a list of reasons why the villains and fascist groups may feel justified in their actions. Then, list the negative attributes of your heroes and heroic groups.


Tip 4: Make your supporting characters more than gun-fodder.

Recently, I've noticed a trend in creating dystopian fiction involving children and young-adults with little to no personality. These “characters” are then just sent through a figurative meat-grinder for the amusement of the audience. The consequence is that the audience remains unaffected by their deaths—likely, even amused. You lose all the power of making your world seem grim, of your villains seeming powerful, and of your heroes seeming like more that archetypes doing what they were scripted to do. Make us feel each death as a tragedy by making your characters into realistic beings that we genuinely care for—even in the cases of less likable ones. By doing so, every death will have an actual impact on your story.

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I recently changed this tutorial. I edited the original instead of writing a new one because I really didn't have anything to add, so it did not warrant a new entry. All the same information is there, but I made it a bit more clear and concise. 

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CassiusTheFluffbutt's avatar
I know this post is old, and that I'm late to the party. But if you could get the chance, could you review a series that I plan to create? I know I'm asking something tedious, of which probably isn't worth your time. But I'm trying to write a dystopian multi-series consisting of short stories.
I just didn't know if you could make sure that I a, writing according to these tips that you've given. If I check it myself, I know that I won't find anything wrong with it because it had been written in my point of view, so I didn't know if you could help by giving me some criticism.
Thanks for reading this, and for taking the time to read this.