How to write a Dystopia
A dystopian setting always begins with a social or political idea. What is the greatest threat to human society or happiness? Disease? World war? Robot uprising? Whatever your answer to that question is, take it to the extreme and you have the basis for a dystopia.
The besetting sin of dystopian literature tends to be that it slips into a one-dimensional tone. The dystopian idea should form the backdrop for a story, not be the story. For example, if the author’s ideology is anti-capitalist and the dystopia is the aftermath of capitalism run amok, that makes perfect sense as a dystopian backdrop. However, if all the characters ever talk about is how much they regret their decadent capitalist ways and how much better things would have been if they had abolished the profit motive – very quickly, the story will start to get long-winded and boring. Some kind of human or philosophical drama has to play out in the story that goes beyond the author’s mere political or social statement.
When to use a Dystopia
A dystopian setting can be great inspiration for a short story or novel. It lends philosophical weight to a story and gives readers the opportunity to work out ideas and concepts as they read. However, dystopias can also play a minor role in formal essays, especially those about political theory. If you think that a particular theory is wrong, you might show how following it would lead to a dystopian future: for example, a society with no environmental protections might be prosperous and free for a while, but ultimately it would exhaust its natural resources, destroy the air and water, and collapse under the weight of its own waste and pollution.
If you do want to use dystopian imagery in a formal essay, though, don’t get too caught up in it. Remember, you’re just using the imagery to illustrate your point – it is not, in itself, the point of your essay.