Songs for Orchestrating the Apocalypse
How to Write a Dystopia? A Spotify Playlist for Writing Your Dystopian Fiction
Dystopian fiction has a way of revealing the ugliest parts of the reality we live in.
These dystopian stories can be some of the most important, complex, and weaving tales... but they can also exist in those small, universal truths laid out in simple, honest words.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where to begin when there's so much to navigate in the world you're creating. You can have an idea of the themes you want to touch on, but it can be difficult to figure out how exactly to put them forward.
I put together this playlist of music to set the mood as you venture into your own world. Certain songs are meant to help inspire those milestones in your story that will keep your dystopian short fiction moving forward.
When you break down the world you're building, you give it a chance to stand on its own two feet.
1. Kill Your Hero
"¿" by Bring Me The Horizon, Halsey
There is a particular nugget of gold in the novel, Adjustment Day where Chuck Palahniuk speculates on the formula of some of the most successful American novels from the past century. (117-118, Palahniuk, C., 2018, Adjustment Day, 2, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York.)
Palahniuk dissects the formula, tongue-in-cheek, as he comments on his own use and implosion of it in his novel, Fight Club.
To paraphrase Palahniuk, this formula begins with the death of a "childlike innocent." (117)
There is a literal way of taking this, but there is also the metaphorical way.
Sometimes, killing your hero means killing their innocence.
Sometimes, killing your hero means killing the thing that makes them innocent.
Ask yourself - what makes your protagonist soft?
Now kill it.
2. Assess The Wreckage
"Alibi" by Mansionair
What made your protagonist soft might have been a loved one, a personal token, or even a memory.
Get messy, here.
Pretend that you are a drone, passing over the scene. There is the bird's eye view, but there is also the ability to zoom in closer, to become a fly on the wall.
With each sentence, you zoom in a little further.
There comes a point, though, where you have to ditch the vehicle.
There comes a point where you have to begin to do the same kind of work you expect your characters - and your readers - to do. Let yourself feel just exactly what your character is feeling; really take a moment to experience their situation.
When we allow ourselves to get lost in the emotional wreckage of a moment, we invite our readers to join us on a much deeper journey.
3. Realize What's Wrong
"Panic Room" by Au/Ra
Once you start to address the wreckage of these emotions, you have a motivation to find out how we got to this place.
This is where we can begin to take what is happening to our character and apply it to the broader scope. In dystopian fiction, the author is often reflecting on the world we currently live in. The ideas for dystopian fiction are born from the real horrors and injustices of the world around us.
Themes of the real world often have a hand in the worlds we create.
How does your protagonist's personal tragedy relate to the worldly or societal tragedy in your dystopia? By taking a step back after taking such a deep look inwards, you involve your reader in the world that your character must face.
You prepare your reader for the things your character must do.
4. Get Angry
"Heat Seeker" by DREAMERS, grandson
It's time for your character to do something about the hellscape they're living in. They've lost too much to this dystopia to sit still any longer; maybe they've lost too much of themselves.
This is where your character has to face their morals. What are they willing to do to change the world?
In short fiction, sometimes this part of the story isn't written. Sometimes, this part of the story is the injustice or discomfort that your reader feels between the lines.
It isn't always your character who gets angry within the story; sometimes, it's the reader who gets angry at the parts of their world they see within it.
5. Get Organized
"Unperson" by Nothing But Thieves
The world can't be changed by a single person - not even in dystopian fiction. There is always a band of seen and unseen characters who are shaping the way your protagonist chooses to fight their battles.
Your protagonist's journey might be accompanied by friends, family, or with the help of strangers along the way. You can choose to add people to your protagonist's life wherever you see fit.
You can also choose to remove them, though.
Is everyone in your protagonist's life a good faith actor? Some characters may have hidden motivations. You can choose to reveal these motivations through foreshadowing and easter eggs, but you can also reveal them all in one go. This can be your protagonist's epiphany, their climax, or even the part where you make the reader ask hard-hitting questions about their own world.
6. Set Forth
"Sweet Disaster" by DREAMERS
Sometimes the "setting forth" part of your story is the firm resolution of its world's problems. Often, though, when it comes to short fiction, the "setting forth" is the feeling that you hope to leave your reader with.
In short fiction, sometimes the best ending is the lingering question - the possibility of a still turning world beyond the words you've just written.
There are some answers you can't find for your readers, but you can help them start to ask the questions.
Go write the world that breathes at the bottom of your soul - it might just help light a fire within someone else's.
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