Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Lit: Questions

Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Lit: Questions

Figure 1: Look, it's Norman Reedus. Smoking. Which I haven't done in fifteen days. Yeah. Go me.

Figure 1. Look, it’s Daryl Dixon smoking! Which I haven’t done in fifteen days. Yeah. Go me.


Today’s question:

How does plot/character development differ in dystopian stories v. post-apocalyptic?

Awesome question.

Easy answer could be – they don’t. Just write it real good and everything’ll be fine.

But that’s a dipshitty answer. Lazy, too.

The better answer involves lots of generalizations, of course.

With dystopian stories, the heroine/hero is almost always a member of the dystopian social system. This often means that he or she must come to a realization that this structure is no good. Remember, whether a social system is dystopic all depends on your position within the system. Some people are reaping lots of rewards, while others are not. Often our main character has to wake up to the fact that this system has big flaws, like Cassia in Matched; she’s fine with things, for the most part, when that story opens. Since isolation and restricted information is such a big part of dystopian structures, our  main character will struggle with what to do about this. Conformity, as well, plays a role in suppressing the main character’s ability to communicate with others his or her concerns.

So, often the story opens with us seeing the heroine/hero moving through the society as a functioning member, and seeing some small cracks that may be apparent to the reader but not the characters involved. Slowly, the hero/heroine learns more, becomes aware, perhaps of others who are also feeling the same way about the social system that rules them, and then there is usually an inciting event that compels the hero/heroine to act boldly.

With post-apocalyptic stories, we are dealing with the rubble and wreckage of a world gone to hell. There is no question about the state of things – everything sucks. There may be questions/gaps in knowledge about what truly happened – District 13’s role in the war of The Hunger Games, for example – but for the most part it is clear that this world is a disaster and survival is the main driver of plot/character motivation.

The post-apocalyptic character has either learned to be a survivor or must learn immediately, depending on when the author has made the apocalypse happen in the narrative’s timeline. Many times, post-apocalyptic stories involve restricted information, too – like Aria and Perry trying to find the legendary Still Blue in the  Under The Never Sky series or Rick and his group traveling to the CDC in The Walking Dead – because the circumstances of life are so difficult, it is hard to communicate or travel without great peril.

Lemme know if I missed anything! Because it’s a very good question and I don’t know everything, obviously.


  • Matthew MacNish on Oct 22, 2013 Reply

    Those little girls in the The Walking Dead better stop bringing rats to the fence.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Oct 22, 2013 Reply

      That’s not who it is, I don’t think. I think that’s the go-to answer. There’s something worse, something else, I think.

      • Matthew MacNish on Oct 22, 2013 Reply

        It’s possible, I suppose. You think the burnt bodies were Hershel or Carl? Or someone else?

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