Writing from Life Symbolism and Motif in Your Writing



Mid-Autumn 2015

corporate domination led by biotech companies pushing

the envelope of manufactured micro-organisms (the

theme) causes the inevitable collapse of mankind. The

message: man is too smart for his own good; unfettered

technological advancement without ethical consideration

will have disastrous consequences. In The Hunger

Games by Suzanne Collins, reality TV is pushed to a violent

extreme (the theme). The message: gladiator

games appealing to the masses distract from the true

nature of the world within the thirteen districts. The

Surveillance State in George Orwell’s 1984 is all pervasive

(the theme). History is rewritten to suite Big Brother’s

needs, and the nation is in a perpetual state of war

(any of that sound familiar). The whole book is one big

message warning us about the nature of totalitarianism.

Why do readers latch on to such pessimistic, futuristic

novels instead of utopian works? Why are we dystopian

downer dudes/dudettes? Perhaps the reason lies in

what Nietzsche said, “If you wish to strive for peace of

soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee

of truth, then inquire.”

5. Dystopia seeks to uncover truth in the morass of the

present by projecting the problems of today into the

future and amplifying them. When the author is successful

at doing this, the writing immediately becomes

more relevant.

Let’s face it, utopia is a bore. As readers, we sense

utopia as innately unachievable. Humans aren’t wired

for stories without conflict, and perfect-world scenarios

are a bigger lie than the leap of faith it takes to jump us

into dystopian futures. Likewise, we’ve lived the horrors

of dystopia through two world wars. We’ve seen the gas

chambers smoking, the walking skeletons griping

barbed wire fences clinging for their lives, the groupthink

and fascism, the thought control.

6. When writing in a dystopian genre where the future

usually isn’t so bright, one can draw on horrific examples

of the past for macabre imagery. Keep in mind, almost

all dystopian fiction uses stark, depressing imagery

within the prose. What is crucial is to create something

unique that will stick in reader’s minds.

Much more based in the reality we know and understand,

dystopia magnetizes a reader’s sense of fatalism

when we speak of hopelessly deadlocked politics and

looming social and economic problems we all see habitually.

The battlefield spreads itself wide and far in dystopian

novels, where the imagination can dive into futuristic

minefields. Considering the current political landscape

and where we seem to be headed, a resurgence

of the adult dystopian theme is inevitable (young adult

seems to be already saturated and lacks a certain tie to

the present in most cases).

7. The key to writing great dystopian fiction is to entrench

yourself in current affairs. Does it piss you off? If

so, then the fire in the belly will help you create great

prose. Can you transfer it to paper? After each passing

day, the narrative lie becomes the inkling of truth. Militarization

of the police force, Ferguson, Edward Snowden

and his NSA revelations, BigDogs, Petman and advanced

robotics, crony capitalism and a ballooning kleptocracy

in a perpetual state of war are all spicy ingredients

for the next dystopian stew. Will you be the one to

write it? I don’t know, but you as the author have a

chance to say something, to slam home a point, so don’t

let the opportunity slip away. How do you see the world

differently and how can you express that through your

characters without writing a diatribe on your beliefs?

Therein lies the art of dystopian fiction.

Roderick Vincent is the author of the upcoming Minutemen

series about a dystopian America. The first

novel, titled The Cause, is out now. He has lived in the

United States, England, Switzerland, and the Marshall

Islands. His work has been published on the Ploughshares

blog, StrayLight (University of Wisconsin,

Parkside) and Offshoots (a Swiss publication).



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