Writing Dystopians

Hi! I’m Hazel, yet another teen writer. There seems to be a lot of us, doesn’t there? I live with my mom and dad up here in Canada and spend almost all of my time either writing, reading, or watching Community. As of Fall 2014, I’ve been shortlisted for a national short story contest and am working on the fifth draft of my novel, No Peace Without Victory. You can find me on my blog atwww.hspankratz.wordpress.com.


When you wake up in the morning, you breathe, your eyes see, your skin feels. We walk through the world every day, under our governments, interacting with people through what has become convention. Our five senses absorb information every moment of every day. From what? Our world.

But sometimes our protagonists inhabit different worlds. The far future, the distant past, even a fantasy realm of your own imagination. But to simply carry over traditions from our present world is not only weak outlining, but it just might not work for your story. Today, I’ll be talking a little bit about sci-fi, dystopian and apocalyptic worldbuilding—but I hope to speak about fantasy later on.

In the case of many dystopias, as well as in science fiction, the world is already in place. It’s an old world. They live and breathe the soot of the cities, or maybe they have adjusted to life with lower gravity. They understand the limitations and realities within their universe.

Apocalyptic fiction is often different. It can often be an example of the new world, or a different paradigm that begins after the story’s opening. The YA novel SYLO by D.J. MacHale is a shining example of this—Tucker lives a normal life until the day that everything changes. Likewise, in Michael Grant’s GONE series, Sam Temple and the other inhabit a 21st century California until all the adults mysteriously disappear.

This isn’t necessarily a given. Many works of apocalyptic fiction are set after the disaster and reference it only through flashbacks or memories. James Dashner’s The Kill Orderbegins about a year after the sun flares ravage the Earth and gives flashbacks every few chapters to bring readers up to speed.

These categories aren’t in stone: you could have a galactic empress descend upon the planet and establish a fascist regime in the first few pages or an apocalyptic landscape that has been nearly empty for hundreds of years. It’s all a matter of what you think would work best for your story and—perhaps more importantly—what doesn’t.


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