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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dystopia 101

This is going to be a two-part post about the ins and outs of dystopian writing. At least my take on dystopian writing. Part one is this week; part two will follow next Wednesday.

The first rule is there ain’t no rules

As most of you will realize, I stole that quote from the movie Grease. You remember the scene; Danny (John Travolta) and the slimly guy from the gang (I don’t recall their name) are lined up for a drag race in the aqueducts of LA. That’s when our hero’s opponent leans over and gives Danny a rundown on the rules - the short and simple rules.

Here’s what I like to do: tear society apart bit by bit. Sounds easy, right? Maybe not quite that simple. I can do away with of protection (Police and National Guard) but I have to give the reader a believable scenario in which the protection disappears.

A good writer cannot and will not create something so unbelievable that their audience immediately reacts with, “oh come on!” No, you have to give it some forethought. Find a good, viable (and believable) reason why the usual protectors of the people don’t show up to do their tasks.

In WWIV – In The Beginning I took away all power, all communications, most running cars. Gone was fresh water, delivery of fresh food, our most technical forms of medical care. I didn’t say how (that comes in a later book), but I put the entire world in the same boat.

Some folks figured this dystopian setting was caused by solar flares; others – EMPs. Later, some will blame it on nuclear war, or even God’s wrath. Here, the how was not overly important. Most people, to varying degrees, believe this can happen to our world.

The important take away from this step: The situation was believable.

Next: Begin the slow crumble of society

History shows us this is an easy step; a simple leap for the reader to make. Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami that struck Japan, earthquakes, tornadoes, riots. What do these events all have in common? The way that our society reacts.

Some people rise to the occasion. There are always a number of brave, selfless people who shine during troubled times. They believe in the good of all humanity, they are cheerleaders rallying the troops, believers in the common good.  My example was Bill Carlson from Book One (mentioned above).

Bill didn’t let a little thing like The End of the World As We Know It get in his way. No, immediately he set about trying to helps his friends, his neighbors. When someone was frightened, he tried to be rational. When someone was injured, his compassionate side shined. He was the All-American guy next door. The neighbor we all wish we had.

Creating Bill did not come without its critics. Some readers find him unbelievable, unrealistic. “Who would hang around 18 days while the world crumbled around him?” one reader asked. Others found his “come-on let’s hold hands and sign songs” attitude far beyond what their realism meters would allow.

No matter what you think of Bill, and his actions, I believe we can admit one thing – there are people like Bill all around us. Perhaps they’re not your friends or neighbors, but they exist. Bill is real; in every sense of the word (except for being a fictionalized character in a novel).

Then come the bad

How many times have you seen news footage of looters after some catastrophic event? A lot, right? Too many times most likely. The bad will always come to the surface during times of crisis. And sometimes, they will grab the upper hand.

Imagine, if you will, a world without power and police. No one can report any of your ill deeds to anyone. Absolutely no cavalry will come in and save the day. Whatever you want to do, for the most part you can. And if you’re stronger and better armed than the rest – too bad for them.

This is not to say that all of us will descend into lawlessness, but some will. Perhaps many will. In my dystopian world, many do. With no one to hold them and their dastardly deeds in check, they will do what they do best – cause chaos. I’m mean, who’s going to stop them? The character Bill Carlson I mentioned above? No, I don’t think so.

No one actually knows how bad the bad will be. How far humanity will slide. Many believe that most honest law abiding citizens cannot comprehend how far our world will fall. Bill Carlson didn’t know; thus, he was shocked at what he witnessed outside his own cul-de-sac in Woodbury, Minnesota.
My summary statement for part one of this post is: Keep your story believable. Give it some thought, a lot of thought. Look back on history, do some research. Somewhere you will find a believable voice for your dystopian creation.

Next week we will dive even deeper into dystopia. We will explore what it is, and just as important, what it isn’t. Until then, have a great week.