Writing Dystopian While Living In One

Admittedly we’re not there yet, but given the US’s recent Presidential and Congressional results a dystopian future may very well be in our future. I’d point to prescient articles like this one in The Guardian.

“There are plenty who believe that if Trump went ahead and actually implemented his programme, he would create a different country: closed, xenophobic and at odds with some of the founding principles – religious equality or freedom of speech – that have defined the United States since its founding. The country would still exist – but it would no longer be America.”Yesterday I wasted nearly 4,000 words writing a detailed critique of the Trump Inaugural Rush. His 100 days plan is littered with self-contradiction, mutually exclusive steps, and pie-in-the-sky notions of what he’ll be able to achieve. It looks like half of these he made up on the spot. These conclusions should have been obvious to anyone who bothered to read what he said back in October.

Yesterday I wasted nearly 4,000 words writing a detailed critique of the Trump Inaugural Rush. His 100 days plan is littered with self-contradiction, mutually exclusive steps, and pie-in-the-sky notions of what he’ll be able to achieve. It looks like half of these he made up on the spot. These conclusions should have been obvious to anyone who bothered to read what he said back in October.

Right now, I’m nearly 30,000 words into a dystopian thriller, a project that I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. I stepped back from another dystopian storyline I outlined in October because I wanted to let it settle a bit before I started writing. And there’s yet a third outline plus partially finished manuscript cooling its heals while I search for ways to increase its impact. All of this writing is gritty, is intended to make the reader think, and will hopefully sweep you into the narrative.

Now, I’m looking down the barrel several potential catastrophes. Trumps trade policies, as outlined, have the potential to destroy American jobs and plunge our economy into never ending trade wars. His foreign policy will likely plunge us into more wars. His domestic and security policies are little more than rewritten McCarthyism. On immigration, energy, manufacturing and anything else you can write a policy for he’ll be trying to reclaim the prosperity of the post-WWII liberalism by instituting failed 19th-century industrialist dogma.

Okay, so what does that mean for me, a guy who, ultimately, likes to tell stories about catastrophe?
My knee jerk reaction was “Holy shit! No one is going to want to buy or read dystopian fiction in the middle of a crisis.” Fiction is, at its heart, an escapist activity. For those of us who regularly partake, we’re trying to get away from all of our problems, anxieties, and sorrows. When zombies are roaming the land, when they just ate your grandmother, you’re not going to be interested in reading about roaming zombie hoards.

Here’s the thing, dystopias aren’t actually about all the trouble. They’re more about people, our heroes overcoming those challenges. In fact, that’s exactly why I love to write stories just like this. My protagonists often face what seem to be insurmountable odds with little more than their ingenuity and luck to carry them through. They MacGyver the shit out of those problems (which I really enjoy writing).

So my first reaction, “Oh no, more wasted words!” may not have been my most thoughtful. Dystopias can serve as a medium of inspiration on so many levels. Hang on, expect a wild ride.
I am a writer. My essential tool in this life is the written word. And history shows us that words can be the most powerful tools at our disposal. I intend to write stories of hope, in which ordinary people overcome significant resistance and enormous power. I mean to tell stories that will leave this man impotent and lost to time. Dystopia corrected, dominance destroyed.

When it’s done, when these four years are over, we can get back to putting America together again. We can get back to the hard work of making the world more just and welcoming.

I hope that this will serve as a reminder, as the last days of our brief golden age expire, we can all look forward to that next ballot. We can have those conversations that we were afraid to have before the election, we can confront bigotry, and motivate the lazy. We are the government we deserve, make this your story arc.

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