Try This Dystopian Novel Recipe That Isn’t Totally Depressing

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Sure – doom and gloom might be a solid portion of your narrative. But that isn’t all there is to dystopian stories – and it’s your job to highlight all of it. This week, I’m sharing some of my favorite tips to point you in the right direction as you craft a thrilling story that holds readers captive.

Mix together a chilling concept.

My favorite way to do this is to start with the idea of fear. Imagine what could potentially happen in the real world if a totalitarian government took over. What sorts of rights and liberties would be lost? Then, think about how and when people might revolt. Bam – you have a concept that has just enough reality in it to be terrifying, but mixed with enough sci-fi, it goes down smooth enough after the burn, like a good whiskey.

Throw in a good dose of dystopian plot twists.

Plot twists and dystopian novels are like peanut butter and jelly. I’m not sure how you can possibly have one without the other. Plot twists keep your reader turning pages, while the dystopian setting makes it impossible to think of anything else while they’re reading. You’ll want to aim for as immersive of an experience as you can. Set the scene with all the sensory details you can dream up (of course, this piece of advice is crucial for any genre). In dystopian novels, sensory details ground the reader in a story that feels real – even if it’s mostly preposterous. And then plot twists throw that totally upside-down. Fun times, right? If you’re feeling especially frisky, you could even kill off some your disposable characters. Learn how to do that by reading this recent article HERE.

Stir up some romance.

Ah, my favorite part of any dystopian book. Yes, I am totally a hopeless romantic – so I live for those doomsday romances that sizzle every bit as much as the falling asteroid they’re running from. Bonus points if you can work in some kind of feverish make out in battle-torn, grimy clothes, with sweat trailing down the dirt on their faces and bodies. That’s so hot. Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah – romance in dystopian novels. It can also function to show the softer side of the story. Enter one of my all-time favorite tropes, what I like to call, the cranky one falls for the sunshiny one. It’s so cute to see some gruff, angry character start to slowly strip away their angst just long enough to get closer to the more positive character. For more help writing romances, read this article HERE.

Let your dystopian concept bake long enough for the edges to get nice and crispy.

The thing about dystopian romance is that you can’t rush it. Well, that might also be true for any concept. But because of how intricate these can get, you really need to think about your story for a while. You can’t think up crazy plot twists over night, or dream up the perfect vigilante love interest during your coffee break. Well, you might get a quick flash of an idea, or the beginning roots of a concept, but that’s when the developing phase has to start. You might not be ready to start writing your story yet – and that’s totally okay. No one can rush your process. And if they try, tell them to bug off. You know, go jump off a cliff, or something. Then you can use that in your story concept. See? It’s all very meta. And that’s what all good dystopian stories should be. At their delicious, molten core – they’re an unfavorable image of life. They can be used to make political statements. Or maybe they make a smaller point about how the author perceives the microcosm of their own life. Either way, give it its due time. Your characters will thank you, even while they’re cursing your name, running from elephant-sized tarantulas.

Serve with a healthy dollop of confidence.

As always, not everyone is going to vibe with what you’ve dreamt up. But that’s not your problem – you wrote the kickass story of your dreams (or, nightmares). And that’s worth celebrating. You can’t pull a concept out of thin air very easily – but you did it all by yourself. Most people can’t write stories the way authors can. Have you ever actually considered how special you are for accomplishing all of this? It’s nothing short of fantastic. So sit back, put your feet up, and gaze lovingly at the tyrannical, horrendous, suffocating, and psychologically damaging world you’ve built. It’s fun to be a little indulgent now and again, isn’t it?

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