D is for Dystopia

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Jennie Goloboy


Thanks to THE HUNGER GAMES, I get a lot of queries for YA dystopian novels. While I feel it’s perfectly reasonable to write a book set in a bleak society that destroys its citizens, there are some issues an author needs to consider before he or she gets to work.

1. Dystopias gain their power over their readers because they are a reflection–even an exaggeration–of issues that the author perceives in today’s society. They are fundamentally angry, righteous novels about correcting a wrong. THE HUNGER GAMES, for example, was about the need for the working class to unite, reject the illusory choices given by the capitalist elite, and create its own society. Every author’s dystopia must have similar roots in well-thought-out, coherent social criticism.

2. The author must also consider whether the dystopian society is, in itself, realistic. Could this society actually exist? If you’ve got a floating city, where does the food come from? Where does the waste go? And, for the love of God, what makes it float?

3. And most importantly, is a dystopian story really the way to go here? Would the author’s cause be better served by creating an aspirational society where the great social wrong has already been corrected? People loved THE HUNGER GAMES–but they also loved the egalitarianism of the original STAR TREK. Think of Nichelle Nichols meeting Martin Luther King.

If your novel is fundamentally an extended metaphor, make sure it’s the right one.

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