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Writing

8 Dystopian Writing Prompts to Inspire Your Next Book

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 30, 2020 • 3 min read

If you’ve read the bestselling books The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or Animal Farm by George Orwell, you’re already familiar with dystopian literature. This genre of fiction flips the real world upside down, creating an alternate universe in which humans are subject to powerful forces like a tyrannical government or climate crisis. If this is your first go at a book in the dystopian genre, and you don’t know where to begin, creative writing prompts can help you create a dystopian world.

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What Is Dystopian Literature?

Created as the antithesis to utopian writing, dystopian fiction places characters in a world that’s in a state of decline, with storylines based around tropes like an all-controlling government, a postapocalyptic wasteland, or an environmental disaster that threatens to eliminate human civilization. Unlike a utopian society in which everything is harmonious, a dystopian society is often chaotic. Dystopian settings are often found in science fiction, another type of speculative fiction.

8 Dystopian Writing Prompts

Writing a dystopian novel or short story requires imagination, worldbuilding, and the ability to create memorable characters who can fight for their survival. But if writer’s block has hit and you can’t think of any dystopian story ideas, you can look to writing prompts to help ignite your imagination. Here are eight story-starters that will help you craft a dystopian narrative:

  1. A world wrecked by sea-level rise: Climate change has ravaged the earth, and in this new world, people are living on small islands spread across the planet. The ruling parties inhabit the largest landmass and ration out resources to the rest of the population by boat. But the people are preparing to revolt.
  2. Postwar reconstruction in the distant future: Outline a dystopian book that takes place after World War V. Humans have lost. But to whom?
  3. Artificial intelligence runs amok: A city is run by robots that take over after escaping from a manufacturing plant. Now, the roles are reversed, and the robots program humans to work for them as they attempt to take over the rest of the country.
  4. Water wars in postapocalyptic California: As the water in the California aqueduct runs dry, it’s everyone for themselves on the streets of Los Angeles. Different factions fight for survival and as they race to the government-controlled headwaters to get the water flowing again—or die trying. Think of it as an environmental thriller.
  5. A world where all adults have vanished: In this dystopian young adult story, a 15-year-old boy wakes up, gets dressed, and walks to school, meeting his best friend on the way. But the streets are eerie and silent, except for other kids. When they get to high school there are only students, no teachers. Where have all of the grownups gone?
  6. Love in the aftermath of a meteor strike: A sonic boom and then silence. A meteor has hit Earth. In this dystopian love story, the main character, a woman in her thirties, goes on an epic hike to search for other survivors and meets her match along the way. Together, they must figure out how to survive in this new world.
  7. Zombies descend on rural Arizona: In a dystopian future, the Arizona desert is the perfect place for camping, dust storms, and a zombie apocalypse.
  8. A strange virus affects human behavior: An epidemic moves through the human population. But instead of making people sick, it makes them happy… and submissive to a higher power. Who is controlling them, and for what purpose?
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