How To Write Dystopian Fiction: 5 Storytelling Steps

Posted on Sep 1, 2023

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The world we live in today is filled with technological advances which whilst undoubtedly impressive often result in previously unconfronted ethical dilemmas.

Dystopian fiction provdies an imaginary place to confront, challenge and explore these ideas in a way that not only provides entertainment but can encourage readers to reflect deeply on the world they live in and contribute to. 

But writing a well written dystopian book requires the writer to tread carefully between utlizing their own imagination as well as providing a realistic enough reflection of the real world to ensure the tale is still relatable on some level to the reader. 

In this guide, we will take a deep dive into the key factors that make dystopian storytelling great and provide aspiring writers insight and actionable advice to take away and use in their own writing.

This guide on how to write dystopian fiction contains:

  1. What is dystopian fiction?
  2. Notable examples of dystopian fiction
  3. A five step guide to writing dystopian fiction
  4. How to write dystopian fiction – final thoughts

What is dystopian fiction?

Dystopian fiction is a genre that depicts an imagined society and or world which is characterized by extreme social, political or technological challenges. This world is often a bleak and oppressive environment. 

In dystopian stories, the norms and values that underpin society have often deteriorated, leading to themes of authoritarianism, surveillance, loss of individual freedoms and the consequences of unchecked power. 

These books serve as cautionary tales, exploring the potential consequences of current trends and decisions if taken to their extreme. 

Dystopian fiction also serves as a way for readers and wider society to reflect on the real world in which they live, with moral lessons to be found within the book which often act as a warning or to provoke introspection.

Notable examples of dystopian fiction

1984 by George Orwell

This classic novel depicts a totalitarian regime led by the Party and its leader Big Brother, where individualism is suppressed and the truth is manipulated to maintain control.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Set in a future society characterized by mass production, conformity and the use of technology to control citizens’ behavior and emotions, the novel explores the implications of a shallow and pleasure driven world.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In a theocratic society where women’s rights have been stripped away, fertile women are forced to become “handmaids” for the ruling class, highlighting themes of gender oppression and religious extremism.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This novel envisions a future where books are banned, and “firemen” burn any that are found, effectively suppressing free thought and critical thinking.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Set in a post apocalyptic world, the story follows a society where a powerful Capitol forces children from oppressed districts to participate in a deadly televised competition.

A five step guide to writing dystopian fiction

Step 1 – Worldbuilding 

The foundation of a well told dystopian story rests on the skill of world building. 

In this process, writers must construct a fully immersive and believable environment that shapes the dynamics of the story. 

From the political structure and cultural norms to the technology and geography, every facet of the dystopian world should serve a purpose, reflecting the themes and ideas the author wishes to convey. 

Striking a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar allows readers to relate to the setting while being intrigued by its deviations from reality. 

Whether crafting a post apocalyptic wasteland or an oppressive futuristic regime, the key lies in the careful construction of details that evoke strong responses from the reader, immersing them in the tale. 

The end result should be a book that feels plausible and potentially realistic but still imaginative. 

Step 2- Social and Political Commentary 

Dystopian fiction is often seen as a mirror to society’s most pressing concerns. It offers writers a platform to amplify and examine contemporary issues through a fictional lens. 

By taking an in depth look at societal power dynamics, hierarchies in society and ethical dilemmas, writers can create stories that are both thought provoking and entertaining.

By exaggerating real life scenarios to the nth degree, readers are encouraged to reflect on the consequences of unchecked authority and the potential erosion of moral values.

The best dystopian fiction engages readers in conversations about the present by imagining the potential future. 

Step 3 – Complex Characters

Complex characters are of course important in any work of fiction, regardless of the genre. But in dystopian fiction the complexities of the characters are precise and must be considered.

The core of the best dystopian fiction always contains characters whose struggles and evolution strikes a chord with readers. Writing multi dimensional protagonists allows audiences to empathize with their challenges, hopes and fears. 

These characters, molded by the dystopian environment in which they live, must grapple with personal dilemmas while navigating the broader societal issues at play. 

Antagonists should also possess sufficient depth and have their motives grounded in their beliefs and shaped by the world they inhabit. 

As the characters paths cross, the story should gain both emotional depth and urgency within the plot. 

Through their interactions, writers can shine a light on how humans respond to the most extreme circumstances, allowing readers to think about how they might respond in similar situations. 

Ultimately, writers should attempt to create characters who represent the complex nature of what it means to be human.

Step 4 – Themes and Message 

Dystopian fiction at its best provides a platform for readers to explore profound themes and thought provoking messages. 

Told through the story of an imagined dystopia, writers can take a deep dive into universal truths about human nature, society and morality. 

By exaggerating the consequences of societal choices, writers can encourage readers to think about the potential outcomes of the direction the real world is trending in. 

Themes such as individualism versus conformity, the impact of technology on personal freedoms and the consequences of authoritarian regume can be unpacked within the context of a dystopian fiction tale. 

Through the characters’ struggles and the challenges posed by the setting, these themes come to life, prompting readers to reflect and potentially discuss with their peers where they stand on such issues. 

The success of a well written dystopian book lies in large part due to its ability to imagine the possible future that await us and whether or not certain paths should be chosen or avoided.

Step 5 – Strike a Balance Between Reality and Fiction

Writing an interesting dystopian fiction book requires the writer to strike a balance between their own imagination and the real world. 

While the setting may be drastically different from our reality, ensuring it has enough relatable elements will only enhance the impact it has on readers. 

Writers should draw parallels between the dystopian elements and current societal trends, fear or technological advancements currently taking place. 

This connection allows readers to feel like they are reading a work of fiction but still have the story resonate with them and be able to draw parallels to their own lives and world that they live in.

This balance will both allow the reader to be transported to a fictional place but also envision how the imagined dystopia could end up being a real life scenerio. 

How to write dystopian fiction – final thoughts

In short, dystopian fiction is not just an entertaining genre but a potentially powerful one. Writers working within this area can create not just great books, but a lens through which society can view itself.

Political points can be made alongside entertaining readers and warnings can be given about the real world whilst also writing the story in an imagined and futuristic setting.

By following the above guide, and reading as many great works of dystopian fiction as possible, any writers wishing to make their mark within this genre will be in good stead to do so.

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