Somewhere around the time that the world’s most powerful nation elected a direct hybrid of fascism and unwarranted white privilege as its leader, and my own country’s older generation decided to flush their descendants down a toilet of economic, social, and philosophical uncertainty, I remarked on Twitter that it was a tough time to be writing dystopian fiction. What with the rolling news of the day outpacing you for horrific developments.
I was hardly alone in that statement, it was one echoed by a thousand authors and writers, all of us spectacularly missing the point about the worst affected by these development and making it all about us.
But while the hardships of sitting at a desk trying to work out what things to make up hardly compare to those facing family separation or deportation, there still are difficulties in trying to navigate what future to paint for your readers during a time of such unrelenting uncertainty. I’ll wait while you get out your world’s tiniest violin to play while I tell you why.
For example, the book I’m writing at the moment has a strong current of corruption at corporate and governmental levels. But how the hell can I compete with the collision between stupidity and greed rolling across our feeds every waking moment? Every time I read about some other staggeringly unprecedented example of corruption by our current set of dear leaders, I have to bump up the level of corruption in my own tale. To do otherwise would be to appear idiotically naïve. Or worse, boring.
But where to put the line between reality and fiction? Recent BBC One hit The Bodyguard clearly felt the need to ramp up the potential narratives of political backstabbery beyond the levels of our current government, but because that level is ludicrously high the whole thing had a ring of unreality to it that was only just offset by its constantly moving plotline.
That’s not all. This is the first book I’ve written where I need to extrapolate a future world that will be recognisable to a modern audience, and hopefully not date as badly as Back to the Future Two (love that film, but hands up everyone who dresses like that and has a hoverboard). This presents a very strange challenge, of picking things to show that could change in the interim, be they technology and gadgets, transport, infrastructure, scientific understanding, cultural progression, or just how people eat their food. Pick just one of these things and keep everything else the same and there’s going to be people wondering why the hell people are still using cars a hundred years in the future. Change it all, and you’re in serious danger of overloading with change, and having to info-dump to do it.
The key, I think (hope), is in trying to show only that which impacts on the central plot, or the journey of the characters. Still, that can be daunting when you consider that characters are going to travel, they’re going to communicate digitally, they’re going to eat food. You need to show that, without being all ‘hey look at the changes I’m predicting’. On the other hand, you can’t just ignore it like every movie in the 90’s did when it came to mobile phones.
In short, writing a dystopia is challenging. I have sheets of notes on changes that the world might go through in the next hundred years. Most of it won’t come true. In fact, it’s probably better for humanity if not much of it comes true. Either way, I’d really like to stop the news cycle for a few years, so I can get this damn book out without it being dated before it even launches.
Which is probably the worst reason ever to be scared about the news.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon.