Utopia and dystopia are genres of speculative fiction that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction portrays a setting that agrees with the author's ethos, having various attributes of another reality intended to appeal to readers. Dystopian fiction (sometimes combined with but distinct from apocalyptic literature) offers the opposite: the portrayal of a setting that completely disagrees with the author's ethos. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take, depending on its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative-fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction.
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Dystopian novels that have a didactic message often explore themes like anarchism, oppression, and mass poverty. Margaret Atwood, one of literature’s most celebrated authors of dystopian fiction, thinks about it like this: “If you’re interested in writing speculative fiction, one way to generate a plot is to take an idea from current society and move it a little further down the road. Even if humans are short-term thinkers, fiction can anticipate and extrapolate into multiple versions of the future.”
The central themes of dystopian novels generally fall under these topics:
Government plays a big role in dystopian literature. Generally, there is either no government or an oppressive ruling body.
Advanced science and technology in dystopian works go beyond tools for improving everyday life—technology is often depicted as a controlling, omnipresent force and is often used as a fear-mongering tactic.
Dystopian novels are often set in places that are inhabitable, have been destroyed, or are preparing for destruction.
The oppressive powers and destruction in dystopian worlds often leave the inhabitants to fend for themselves.
How should the needs of society as a whole compare to individual needs? Many dystopian futures depict the dangers of conformity.
When it comes to writing your short story it may be useful to take a current issue and imagine what might happen if one extreme set of opinions could rule the whole world. What would it be like if:
Points of View Reference Centre may be a great site to browse for ideas as it:
"It isn't just brave that she died for me; it is brave that she did it without announcing it, without hesitation, and without appearing to consider another option."
— Veronica Roth (Divergent (Divergent, #1))
"If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?...But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated...'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan,'controls the future:who controls the present controls the past.'...All that was needed was a series of victories over your own memory."
— George Orwell
"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides of a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget that their is such a thing as war. If the government if inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it."
— Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) ll (1984)
"Your emotions are your own business."
— Brandon Sanderson
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It Could Be Worse: A Guide to Dystopian Fiction 2020, Penguin Random House, viewed 28 February 2020, <https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/campaign/it-could-be-worse-guide-dystopian-fiction#post-apocalyptic>.
Golder, D 2015, Dystopia: fantasy art, fiction and the movies, Flame Tree Publishing, London.
Science fiction 2020. Britannica School. Retrieved 28 February 2020, from https://school.eb.com.au/levels/high/article/science-fiction/66289#235726.toc