Have you ever wondered ‘what if’? What would my life look like today if I’d ___? What if I had been popular instead of an awkward nerd in High School? What if… is a question full of infinite possibilities. Writing allows us to explore this question and unpack how we are shaped by things that happen to and around us. With each exploration of causality an entirely new world is formed. Sometimes the smallest most seemingly insignificant choices are the ones that make the biggest difference in our lives. This is why I love dystopian stories.
A good dystopia is an imagining of a world where one thing is different and then pulling on that loose thread until the sweater of the world we know unravels. From this ball of shapeless yarn, we weave a new world; a world that could easily have been our own should this one little thing be changed. The adventure of a dystopia is asking the question what if… on a global scale. Dystopian stories are a daydream of wild imagination where the characters guide you on an exploration of the very question: what if?
In my opinion, all good writing has a message. It’s not overt. It’s carefully woven into the fabric of a story. Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. What does the ring symbolize? He doesnt tell us directly but allows the reader to connect the ring with something in their own life. J.K Rolling tells a story about wizard but through it she shows that love is the most powerful magic and how the power of friendship gets us through even the most challenging of times. Even Lovecraft, though his message was riddled with his own prejudice, uses horror to express his fears about the future. With dystopian stories, the world itself can be a construct of that message. We can take our fears, our struggles, our worries about life and build a world around them allowing us to face that concern through the eyes of our main character. What’s great about the story is that, it’s not like life. We get to control the outcome.
I was surprised by how much fun it was to really unpack this question of what if. What would the world look like if this happened? What if the thing a society values and pursues above all else doesn’t work out the way we’d expect? As I worked on The Outlands, I focused on individualism. As individualism is one of the highest values in society I started diving deep into how things would be different if the individualism was supressed rather than celebrated. That’s where the story formed around a main character who was trying to find his place in a world of extreme uniformity.
What I didn’t expect is how it would change my view of the world that is. There are so many things I just assume about life. Things I’ve accepted as fixed. The more I look at the world and ask the question: what if, the more it seems fluid. That makes every day feel a little more like an adventure.
Here’s what’s so great about dystopian stories: through them not only do we get to dream, we get to face our demons, challenge our fears, and discover that, life has a lot more blessing than we might realize. Do you ever ask yourself: what if? What sort of things do you wonder about? Let me know in the comments below!