The challenge began last summer at the Utopia conference in Nashville, Tennessee. My roommate and friend, author KT Webb, came up with the idea of publishing an anthology of short stories each ending with the same line. Immediately, I was game, and several months later, nine other authors were on board.
"From now on, I'll save myself" was selected as the final line and dystopian the genre.
Dystopian? It's defined as relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. I'd never thought of writing in this genre before and didn't know where to begin. I almost bowed out, but I decided to step up. And before I knew it, I had a whole trilogy outlined in my spiral notebook.
Here are the steps I took that you can easily replicate to create your own dystopian world:
1. Ask the "What if" question
My question was taken from my favorite John Lennon song: "Imagine." In his imagining, Lennon's world would live as one in utopia. But what if a world without race or religion was instead dystopia?
2. Build a world that answers that question
For pages and pages, I scribbled out a world of no race and religion. I mapped out what the people would look like, how they'd work, how they'd live, how they'd interact, how they'd love.
3. Establish a history
This dystopian world didn't just come into being. There had to be something or someone who served as a catalyst. This new society had to be the answer to a historical problem. And what was initially a solution has now gone all wrong.
4. Birth a character who suddenly questions status quo
My heroine, Hope, is fine maintaining status quo until something happens to disrupt her thinking and motivates her to bring about change.
5. Identify an adversary in a leadership position over this character
There must be opposition. Typically in dystopian stories, the villain is the government or someone or something in power.
After doing all of this, let the writing begin.
Check out the beginning to my dystopian journey in the story "Something Old" in From Now On: The Last Words Anthology.