I rolled a trope prompt for my writing game, and I spun my wheel to Dystopia. So we’re going to explore characteristics and examples and try creating a few of them in a brief free write.
First: The Definition
A negative or undesirable futuristic society that is seen as dangerous and alienating.
Second: Common Traits in Dystopian Societies
- Society—most impose severe social restrictions on community members.
- Social stratification strictly defines and enforces social class.
- Ruthless egalitarianism (believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities to the extreme).
- Repression of the intellectual.
- Social Groups—total absence of social groups other than the “state.”
- Independent religion is omitted.
- The family unit is broken and creates a hostility to motherhood.
- Nature—characters are isolated from the natural world.
- Citizens are conditioned to fear nature.
- Political—the government asserts power over citizens.
- Flawed in some way. Often portrayed as oppressive.
- Filled with pessimistic views of the ruling class: rules with an “iron fist.”
- Economic—the state is in control of the economy.
- Black markets sell items that are banned or seen as contraband.
- Many businesses are privatized.
- The Hero—protagonist questions society and has strong intuition.
- They will escape or rebel.
- Conflict—a societal group somewhere not under control of the state.
- Climax—may be unresolved.
- The protagonist either dies or is reeducated/conforms.
Within these main elements, we have some fun and awful tropes, like heavy propaganda, the use of secret police, implemented curfews and violent punishments, humans losing the top spot on the food chain, unflattering and dully colored uniforms, neutrals and metals everywhere, individuality is the enemy, forced happiness, love is bad, the food is gross, resources are scarce, education is lacking, the children are sacrificed or revered, everything is filthy or sterile, someone will triumphantly rebel, and many, many more.
For my experiment, let’s build a world rather than a scene because this would be where I start with my process. Although as I say this, the spark is usually a scene or character or situation, but when I really start working, I start with the world and understanding my limitations.
- Society—people’s worth is based off of likes, views, and comments. Teehee. Citizens’ online presence determines their social standing, their education and job options, the stores they can shop at, their curfews, and their available mating pool.
- Social Groups—Citizens are separated by their niche and have to worry over losing followers and social status if they change niches. They also lose all of their friends/connections in their previous niche. This is highly enforced. Individuality is nearly nonexistent, and their happiness is forced. Children are used for content, their childhoods sacrificed to be paraded out on the screen and behave certain ways for content creation.
- Nature—most citizens fear nature or merely use it as a prop. Those in the wilderness niche may primarily live in nature due to their content.
- Political—content platforms are run by the government; they control the algorithms and means of reaching followers/consumers. This means that propaganda or content that reinforces the “right” message are the ones that gain the most viewership and others are suppressed.
- Economic—most available resources are cheaply made and need replaced often, which means a black market is built of handmade products that last and services that fix machines or equipment. Because education doesn’t focus on conservation of materials or fixing household items, this, too, is handed down through families in secret. All products are trademarked and hold copyrights that can put someone caught fixing or creating similar items into workcamps/factories.
- The Hero—A low-level computer programmer that finds the hidden code that keeps individual content suppressed. They rebel, searching through the hidden content to “magically” make a video/channel/page/profile/post go viral that doesn’t fit the norm.
- Conflict—the biggest small niche are the independent thinkers, those who push education or teach viewers how to circumvent the government’s laws against DIY projects or how to keep things working for longer.
- Climax—uses a few leaders of the underground to infiltrate the top government CEOs and programmers while keeping the rest hidden on black market channels for the people to get free access to. This also opens up the ability to find mates outside of their niche—for love. Leaders on both sides die in mutually guaranteed destruction, but the hero leaves his own operation going perpetually, undoing the government’s complete control.
So, there we have it, my dystopian world packed full of tropes. Obviously, I’m satirizing social media and its effects on society, which is what a dystopia does. This was fun!
What kind of dystopia would you make? Which tropes are your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.