I love this from the unstoppable Hina Malik, who’s providing some great writing insights – not just for authors, but us readers who love dystopian worlds so much. Thanks Hina!
1) “The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without colour, pain or past.”― Lois Lowry, The Giver
Dystopian novels are set in one of three types of settings: the total absence of something; the total excess of something; or in the middle of battle or ruin between two things.
For example, a world wherein humans are dying out (absence); a world where there are too many humans (excess); or a world where humans fight robots (conflict/ruins).
Excess, absence and conflict of key elements from our current world are what form the basis of the dystopian world.
2) “I never thought it would get this bad. I never thought the Reestablishment would take things so far. They’re incinerating culture, the beauty of diversity. The new citizens of our world will be reduced to nothing but numbers, easily interchangeable, easily removable, easily destroyed for disobedience. We have lost our humanity.”― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me
Seems a bit eerie since Brexit and Trump! Regardless of your political views, it’s invaluable to keep up with the news and views of those who differ from you. Identifying new views enables us to imagine an entirely different world based on those views. And voila, suddenly, a dystopian world is in the making!
When developing ideas for your dystopian novel ask yourself, what would happen if the entire world became far right? Or left? What if we took scapegoating too far? What if we decided different is bad and really ran with the idea?
How would this transform the face of the current world?
All of a sudden, you’ve created a dystopian world.
Often, these questions from everyday political concerns can form the spine of your novel and more importantly, it creates a link between your protagonist’s internal conflict to the external world around them.
3. “…Coca-Cola and fries, the wafer and wine of the Western religion of commerce.”― Tad Williams, City of Golden Shadow
This is the greatest quote when it comes to writing dystopian fiction. It takes something we use every day and shifts our perspective so we see it in an entirely new BUT relatable way.
To top it off, it does it in just one sentence!
The quote denotes if your dollar is your vote and ‘you are what you buy’, then we are worshipping at the alter of the Western religion of commerce. It takes something completely normal to us all and gives us new eyes to view it through.
When working on your dystopian novel, this is exactly what you want the reader to feel.
The world needs to be familiar but strange. Like walking into your own home but all the furniture is now a deep shade of red for some reason. You recognise the structure of the house, you react exactly how you would…then you must ask yourself, in what circumstance would this be normal to me? Once again, you’ve developed another dystopian world.
4. “But Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far. Quietly and complacently, it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine.” ― E.M. Forster
This wonderfully sets up the world while filling in the blanks. A common mistake in dystopian fiction is too much description right at the start. Try to strike a balance between setting up the world and keeping the reader curious to keep those pages turning!
5. “All utopias are dystopias. The term “dystopia” was coined by fools that believed a “utopia” can be functional.”― A.E. Samaan
There is no such thing as a perfect world. Even Disneyland starts to feel weird after a bit. You need darkness to appreciate the light, and all that jazz.
Dystopian fiction gives us the chance to run with peculiar and authentic ideas that thrill and engage the reader, while allowing us, as writers, the opportunity to explore how fragile civilisation is and how quickly things can change for the characters in the worlds we create. We can even use these worlds as skewed mirrors to hold up to society.
The premise of a dystopian novel normally answers a ‘what if’ question. What if aliens attacked? What if there was no economy? What if we lived in a dictatorship?
Ask yourself ‘what if’ questions that resonate with you in order to create dystopian fiction the reader will connect with.The best novels come from ideas that resonate with us in some way.
The key to writing compelling dystopian fiction is to harness the power of questions, and to unabashedly explore those answers and follow them down dark alleys and crooked turns to uncover what kind of a world the answer to those questions would lead to.
I hope these tips help you mould enthralling dystopian worlds!
BIO: Hina Malik is a super-awesome writer who’s currently writing her first novel. Catch her on Twitter as @dodgyjammer but BEWARE: she’s got plenty of animated .gifs and she’s not afraid to use them.