What Defines a Dystopian Society?

Dystopian future societies are all the rage in young adult fiction right now, ever since Hunger Games hit the bookshelves.  The question is if the topic still appeals to readers or if it’s already passe.  And for us writers out there who have written a young adult novel, what exactly constitutes a setting of dystopian society?  How do we know if we should be identifying our book that way or not?

I recently attended the MD/DE/WV chapter’s conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  It was a great conference, full of prospective new writers all willing to talk to each other about the excitement and strife of writing a novel and now trying to get it published.  I was fortunate enough to have lunch one of the days with a young adult and middle grade agent from New York City.

I asked her what exactly constituted a dystopian society in a young adult book.  She said the book would be set in the future with a restrictive government who thinks its doing the best thing for its people.  Right now there are lots of books about people having to live in “bubbles”.  (I guess these will be coming out on the market very soon.)

The bad thing about dystopian society themes flooding the market right now is that a lot of agents and publishers are becoming turned off to the subject.  So this agent’s advice was to call my book a sci-fi adventure story, instead of characterizing it as the buzzword “dystopian society”.  Also, since my book is told from the perspective of a girl who is about to become part of the government, not just a girl who is rebelling against that government, it provides a different twist.

I also did some research on the web as to how dystopian societies were portrayed in past fiction books.  Here are some examples of dystopian novels:

  • HG Wells’ The Time Machine
  • The Stepford Wives
  • The Matrix
  • 1984
  • The Terminator Films
  • Planet of the Apes

It does not seem that these new fiction books like Divergent or the Hunger Games are a new genre in and of themselves.  It seems like we’ve always had a thirst for dystopian future societies.  I think its a theme that will be around for years and years to come.


2 Comments on What Defines a Dystopian Society?

  • Jomar says:
    July 31, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for sharing this initvreew. Love your blog.I’m not too keen on marketing my own books (not too soon anyway), thats probably why I just keep sending them off to lit agents knowing full well that in the end they will be self published and self promoted. That, and at the moment, I would rather just world build:)


  • girl101 says:
    July 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Jomar. Are you sending the lit agents a query letter? And have you received any responses back asking to see the full manuscripts?


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