How to Write a Dystopian Story

by Erica Surace

Dystopian literature is a form of imaginary fiction that began to respond to 'utopian' literature. A dystopia is a speculated community or society that is dehumanizing and frightening. Dystopia literary means a 'bad' place, and it's an antonym of utopia, which means a perfect location. Unlike utopian literature, dystopian literature explores the dangerous effects of political and social structures on humanity's future.




1. Begin with A Strong Storyline

Typical dystopian novels always begin with a troubling or disturbing scenario. For example, in books like nineteen eighty-four and The Handmaids' tale, we can see why each plot used would be a 'bad place' (or dystopian settings) for characters who value their freedoms and rights.

Each of the scenarios used in the book mentioned above is strong. It shows a situation that would give any character motivations to either uphold the system or destroy (or survive) it.


2. Create A Real Dystopian World 

A real dystopian world typically presents a keen sense of threat, menace, or discomfort. It has become a dystopia as a result of the abuse or misuse of power. 

To create a believable dystopian world:

  • You must Know how your world got to its current state: it's up to you to decide whether you reveal your dystopia's origin later, early or keep it as mysterious.
  • 2. Narrate the dystopian settings properly: A dystopian setting is a wrong place' of suffering and injustice. Narrate these settings so we can tell clearly what makes them so uncomfortable. 
  • 3.    Brainstorm and imagine details: Think of more information down to what characters can wear, eat or do. How might their tampered political, natural or social, environment change normal activities and interactions?


3. Grow your dystopian settings

Dystopian settings where people rendered homeless by global conflicts will naturally show characters with lots of challenges, ranging from dangerous, death, crumbling economy to social menaces such as increased lawlessness, mutual mistrust, rape, hunger and other social damages.

When developing a dystopian setting, the writer should, as these questions:

  • Who now has power, and why?
  • Who the most vulnerable is, and why?
  • What no longer exists?
  • What do people remember and forgotten (e.g., names, cultural practices, people, places)?





4. Create Conflicts, Threats, And Challenges

 Since a dystopia is a 'bad place’, it follows, they are usually placed rich in conflict and' trouble. 

There is always a system of injustice, unfairness, danger, or oppression; there are exciting situations for characters to resist, avoid, escape, or confront.


5.Give Characters Credible Motivations

 For example, in dystopian fiction, there has to be a reason why the government bans free thought or decides to meddle with its citizens' liberties and rights.

A tyrant, as the leader of the 'Sons of Jacob' in Atwood's novel, maybe motivated by:

  • Ideology – is a set of beliefs they hold in high esteem.
  • Quest for power
  • Greed
  • Backstory such as personal trauma or a bad experience over the years that has left him embittered.


 Wrap up

In writing a dystopian story, it's crucial to think about the best- and worst-case scenarios. These help us identify what characters want to do and also what they want to avoid.


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