Doing Dystopia

How to do Dystopia

There’s competition in every genre of writing, but there is one where publishers are actively looking for new work, and that's Young Adult. At least half of YA fiction seems to be set in some kind of dystopian world, so here’s a quick check-list of what you need to create one:

  • An authoritarian society run by a corrupt few (who are inevitably wealthy now if they weren’t before) on behalf of themselves and their friends and followers.
  • These few should talk of democracy while rigging the system to ensure their permanent re-election.
  • There should be an enormous wealth divide, so that most people have very little – but still have just enough to lose to keep them compliant. 
  • The poorest areas of the country should pay regular cash tribute to the ruling (and richest) city and its environs.
  • Take a tip from Brecht’s gangster city-state Mahagonny, where it’s a crime to be poor, and deport anyone who doesn’t have an arbitrarily high income.
  • Add constant divisive propaganda – set the rich against the poor, the young against the old, those in work against those who are unable to work, beliefs (for instance Islam) against others or none, and everyone against outsiders.
  • You’ll need constant surveillance. Watch and record everyone all the time: their mobile phone activity (including where they go); their Internet activity; their physical movements through CCTV, vehicle registration plate recognition, and their travel purchases. (A useful by-product is that this information can be sold commercially to augment the wealth of the rulers.)
  • Handle dissent with secret trials where the accused and the defence are not permitted to know the charges and where even mentioning that the accused has been arrested is itself a crime, to be tried in secret. Use the code-word “terrorist” in justification, with a definition so broad as to be meaningless.
  • Lastly (and this is one crucial detail that is often missed in YA dystopias) the general population - wanting a quiet life - raise no objection, each individual being confident that they will not personally be affected

For a practical example (I'm sure you're ahead of me, here) why not take a look at the country quaintly known as the "United" Kingdom?