The Hunger Games. The 100. Divergent. The Maze Runner. The Handmaid’s Tale. Oblivion. All of these titles have something in common: they’re all dystopian fiction.
This genre has become increasingly popular in recent years with movie and TV adaptations of fan favorites. As this genre continues to grow, patterns emerge in the plethora of stories written in it. Dystopian fiction is one of my personal favorite genres for several reasons, but mainly, I have to admit that I’m curious. What would happen if the world turned sour—well, more sour than it already is?
Defining Dystopian Fiction
In the preface to the Flagler College Proctor Library’s guide to dystopian literature, I discovered short but thorough description of the genre.
Dystopian Literature explores the darkest facets of the human mind and human nature. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dystopia is “An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible.” The easiest way to think about Dystopian Literature and dystopias is to consider that a dystopia is often the result of a society’s arranging its government and laws around good qualities for a perfect society, such as order, equality, and obedience, and taking those qualities to the absolute extreme. Dystopian Literature, while fiction, can also spookily echo our own past, present, and future. Dystopian Literature is one of the best genres to understand man’s inhumanity to his fellow men.Flagler College’s Kelsey White (highlights are my own)
This sums it up: dystopian fiction finds something good or bad with the world and takes it to an extreme.
Honestly, we’re all curious about the end of the world. We can’t help it. We know it’s inevitable. Perhaps that’s the real reason for the rise in dystopian literature and media.
But there are other reasons. Dystopian fiction is often used to highlight problems with our modern world that could become catastrophic. Many dystopian novels take the stance that nuclear and biological warfare (or warfare in general) should be done away with. But on a deeper level, these novels show the darkest parts of our humanity.
No one needs to be told that nuclear and biological warfare is bad. We don’t have to explain why racial supremacy, unequal gender roles, and caste systems are awful. We know that our world is hurtling towards an ugly end if we don’t clean up our issues.
But as the little frail humans we are, fixing these issues seems impossible.
That is a large part of why dystopian fiction is so popular. In these stories, heroes and heroines fight back.
Dystopian fiction is about facing impossible odds and refusing to back down. It’s about standing up for what is right. This genre is used to expose the darkness of the human heart, but it is also used show that there is hope.
We are the catalysts of the future, whether good or bad.
If the last two years have taught humanity anything, it should be that we are survivors. More than that, we can make our voices heard. We can change the world.
In fact, the world has changed so much in the last two years that many of us have begun to wonder if there is a dystopian future ahead of us. But we already live in a type of dystopia. Somewhere deep down, I think we’re all aware of that. There are so many extremes in society. So much unrest. Sometimes we’re left wondering, much like many of the characters in those dystopian fictions, whether we can actually do anything to cause change.
I can give you a simple answer to that question right now:
Yes, you. The person reading this. How, you ask?
Through your writing.
Every story counts. Why? Because stories change the world. Every major religion is a story. Every news station runs on stories. Even songwriters and social media influencers and gamers rely on storytelling to do what they do.
Stories are the very fabric of our reality. As writers, we are world-changers whether we realize it or not. That’s such a privilege!
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to explore the dynamics and tropes associated with the genre of dystopian fiction. I want to learn as much as I can, since the novel I’m writing is in this genre! I invite you to come with me and see where it takes us. You can drop your email here and I will let you know every week when I’ve found more to share!
Thank you for joining me this week. Until next time, writer!