10 Signs You’re Reading a Dystopian Novel

Catching Fire

Considering the fact that we’ll all be living in one in the very near future—if depressing internet articles are to be believed—we heart dystopian novels probably more than we should. Case in point: instead of doing practical things like building underground bunkers, learning how to purify water, and getting some serious crossbow/nunchuck skillz, we’ve been busy reading books that forecast our impending doom in a variety of entertaining ways. Sometimes they’re even set in space!

And this goes for writing blog posts, as well. If we’re being honest, sitting down to write this probably wasn’t the best use of our time when there are plants out there that could save our lives if we only knew how to identify them. Plus, panic rooms don’t build themselves. But who cares WE WANT TO MAKE LISTS.

Here are 10 scenarios you’re sure to find in a dystopian novel:

1. A major event has changed the world as we the reader know it into the world the characters live in. Many times, this major event happened before the book begins. But it’s when Everything. Changed. Forever.
See Especially: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick, which begins after World War Terminus blasted us with mad radiation. Everything went amok and everyone got a robot.

2. War is often alluded to. Either it’s going to happen and it must be prevented, or it happened already and it can never happen again, or another one’s brewing in secret and everyone’s nervous.
See Especially: The Divergent series, by Veronica Roth. The Erudites aren’t your friends, Tris. RUN.

3. Revolutionaries/terror groups are efficient, merciless and dramatically named.
See Especially: The “Sons of Jacob” or the “Mayday Resistance” from The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

4. There exists one Special Person™ who is in some way different and has a destiny. This destiny is to end the war. OR start the war. OR reveal the secret of what happened to the world. OR hide the secret. OR simply question the way things are (which is forbidden, by the way). Anyway, this person has a lot of any of the following: smarts/strength/fighting spirit/pluck/resilience/at least just a minor amount of free will that has yet to be crushed.
See Especially: Winston Smith (1984, by George Orwell). Tris (Divergent). Guy Montag (Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury). Katniss (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins). The list goes on. Just like the revolution.

5. One or two things happen in the book that feel eerily similar to things that currently happen in real life.
See Especially: How everyone in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World worships Henry Ford = how everyone in 2014 worships the internet/kale/Jennifer Lawrence. Or, how Londoners in Children of Men treat puppies and kittens like kids (pushing them in strollers and having parties for them and stuff). Sound familiar? Feeling uncomfortable yet?

6. Eventually, someone’s gotta pick a side. Whose side are you on, reader? The side that DOES SOMETHING? Or the side that’s COMPLACENT?! Because that’s how we got this dystopia in the first place, you know. All us idiots just sat on our couches watching True Detective until the world blew up and we had to start over—but we got it all wrong! And it’s up to Special Person™ to right it.
See Especially: Darrow of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, who has to choose sides several times. He has to decide whether or not to be the man his wife wants him to be, then he has to decide whether to go to Battle School to infiltrate the world of his enemies, then he has to decide with whom to ally himself, then he has to decide who his benefactor should be. Darrow’s got a lot going on right now.

7. Society is separated in a way that is far more organized than we could ever be. (Because currently, as far as societies go, we’re kinda like the clearance section of Old Navy. There’s stuff all over the floor. The extra-smalls are mixed in with the mediums. Things are inside-out and dangling off their hangers. It’s a mess, but that’s the way we like it.)
See Especially: The colors of Red Rising. The districts of Panem in The Hunger Games. The Alphas, Betas, etc. of Brave New World. The factions of Divergent.

8. There’s an elite class that has a bunch of stuff that the rest of the world doesn’t have and is so ridiculous and excessive you sincerely hope a hard rain’s gonna fall. And soon…it might. And then again, it might not.
See Especially: The Oligarchy from Jack London’s The Iron Heel. They’re all just running around and making everyone their serfs, which is obviously outrageous on a lot of levels. And let’s not forget the Capitol in The Hunger Games trilogy, where people gorge themselves on rich delicacies until they’re stuffed, and then make themselves throw up so they can continue mainlining macaroons ’til the break of dawn.

9. At some point, Special Person™ loses their confidence. Trust has been broken. People have died. The Elite Ruling Class has just gone…too…far.
See Especially: Remember how Katniss lost it when she realized she had to go back into the Hunger Games for the Quarter Quell? Yeah, like that.

10. It has a twist ending that scares the junk outta you.
See Especially: 1984’s chilling line, “He loved Big Brother.”

What are your favorite signs of a dystopian novel?

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