It seems like a simple enough question to ask before writing any sort of dystopian fiction. Certainly I asked it before starting my current novel. What I discovered is that it only kicks off the process, starting an enjoyable journey that is nearing its close (at least for now).
According to the dictionary, a dystopia is just a society characterized by misery. That clinical definition seems to suffice for some current works of dystopian fiction out there. Indeed, it’s treated a lot of the time as just an opposite of a utopian society – a place where the ideal is perverted or nonexistent. In these places, the society exists merely as an obstacle to a protagonist (like in “Red Rising” or “The Hunger Games”). That’s completely fine if your story is more focused on character plots than on anything else.
The great thing about dystopias is that you can have more if you want to.
Dystopias can range from the completely fantastic oppressive social controls (like “1984”) to some disturbingly realistic future scenarios (like “Brave New World”). Both of the books I mention delve deeper into the consequences of having such a society, revealing a horrific narrative that social wrongs can often grow exponentially as they are created. They ask bigger questions than just one character surviving in the midst of an imperfect world.
Another great thing about dystopian fiction is that it will provide great reasons for why it exists. These things don’t come out of a vacuum; they grow organically from something else. Sometimes that journey is a story in and of itself, compelling and worth paying attention to.
These are the goals I set out for myself in writing my current project.
Whether I’m successful or not will be for people who read it to decide. I can say that the journey of writing this book has been worth the effort. Pushing myself to explore plot and character elements outside my comfort zone is something I’ve always wanted to do. While it hasn’t always been a positive experience, I can say I’ve learned a lot about myself.
More specifically, I wanted to write a dystopian work that questioned modern social trends of pitting groups against each other in public. I think I’ve managed that at least. As for the dystopia itself, I hope that people who read about it will find it hauntingly familiar. Hopefully they’ll be able to identify with the beneficiaries and the downtrodden in the book, and hopefully they’ll enjoy the process of reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.