Creating societies that might exist in the future and making them seem realistic is a challenge. You have to do extensive world building—figuring out your government and how it works, developing a fresh culture with its own set of beliefs and norms, deciding on the chain of events that led to the development of this new world—and much, much more. It’s enough to make any writer’s head spin. And it isn’t as if you can research this new world you’re creating or follow some sort of template because we’re talking about the future, right? A blank page, uncharted territory and all of that. Well, actually, I don’t think that we are. I think that templates for future societies, in particular dystopian ones, exist right now. Let me show you what I mean.
Let’s start with a list of characteristics that Elana Johnson compiled on this blog in a post she did a little while ago. (you can read the whole post here)
A dystopian society is:
- A society that includes "bad" things.
- A society in a post-apocalyptic world.
- A "closed" society--one that exists without any outside influence.
- A society that includes an overbearing government.
- A novel that includes social commentary.
If you take out the post-apocalyptic part, there are lots of societies surrounding us today that meet the other requirements listed.
Let’s look at one example: the Amish. Now granted, they don’t make up most of our current society and are probably considered more of a subculture, but I’d argue that their world is good inspiration for any fictional dystopian society. They’re closed in that they refuse to be a part of the rest of modern society. They have their own system of leadership, specifically a deacon who decides how and when to enforce the set of rules that their society lives by. Their entire way of life is controlled, from what they wear to who they can talk to, to how they prepare meals and support their families. And many of their members are disillusioned by their way of life, but terrified to leave it because of how the rest of the society will react. Sounds very dystopian, right? And right now there’s even a television show, Breaking Amish, which follows several young people as they leave this society and explore ours.
Their stories are so similar to a dystopian novel that it’s eerie. This show and the Amish society itself are perfect inspiration for a dystopian novel.
And what about certain countries? Iraq under Saddam Hussein is a great example of a dystopian-like society, and even more currently, North Korea. Also, many cults fit most of this definition as well. My first novel, THE SILO, is based on a cult and I absolutely played up the dystopian elements to the society I created even though the story takes place in the present. There are a whole host of cultures and societies that look dystopian once you examine them a little. So really, when you think about it, all you need to inspire your own dystopian society is just a mouse click away.
Amy Christine Parker is the author of the upcoming novel, THE SILO, about a girl who's grown up in an apocalyptic cult. She begins to question what she's been taught as the "end times" approach, causing the cult’s leader, Pioneer, to alter his plans, which accelerate and grow ever more dangerous for all involved, debuting with Random House in Fall 2013. You can find out more about Amy and her book on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.