It seems like a lot of dystopic fiction has been cropping up lately. At least, over the past five to ten years I’ve noticed this trend. And this trend is probably due to the fact that it’s starting to feel like we live in an actual dystopic reality most of the time nowadays… But that’s an inquiry to entertain some other day.

Today, I’m wondering: Why is some dystopic fiction better than other dystopic fiction? Are there any key elements dystopic fiction must contain if a writer is serious about writing better dystopic fiction?

A key element behind writing better dystopic fiction I discovered

I recently started re-watching The Walking Dead as I wait for the final season to be released on Netflix. I also just finished reading Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh. And I’m working on a novel that has dystopic elements in it. So… dystopic worlds, and the characters in them, have been on my mind a lot lately.

It’s no surprise then, that I’ve been thinking about what a good dystopic narrative should contain– what elements it should have. And so far, I’ve encountered one element that’s absolutely necessary to great dystopic fiction: believable yet complex characters.

I’ve enjoyed The Walking Dead series because each character has his or her own flaws, and even experiences moments of psychological and physical breakdown. And these moments of breakdown make the characters more believable and relatable. No one, even the best among us, will know what to do every second of every day after the zombie apocalypse begins. No one. And when the rules of society are thrown out the window, psychological breakdowns will happen too, even to the strongest among us.

On the other hand, the characters in Blue Ticket seem to each have only one speed, one flat personality, and aren’t based on how I perceive real-life humans to be, especially within a dystopic world. Don’t get me wrong, the novel has many merits and is worth the read. But the characters don’t seem believable and relatable, as they don’t do or say anything that’s ever really surprising or complex. They each have their own personality and lane and stay in it, never really reaching or overcoming arcs or evolving in some way.

For better or worse, characters in dystopic fiction must evolve in some way. And they must be displayed at their best and worst. That’s what dystopic fictional narratives are about– how humans evolve as they learn about and deal with their dystopic circumstances.

A Stephen King quote to help you write better dystopic fiction

β€œBad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do― to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

In other words, I think great dystopic fiction will include characters who are complex yet believable, as they’ll resemble how people would actually behave in the real world– even if that world is a dystopic one.

What do you think should be included in good dystopic fiction? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or tag @kecreighon on Facebook.

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