8 Dystopian Plot Clichés That Will Bore Your Readers to Tears

Updated on October 22, 2014

Dystopian clichés plaguing your story?

Dystopian plots are very popular at this time and are applied to a lot of ways, be it on novels, short stories or films. Who wouldn’t get a least bit interested in a glimpse of the human race striving in a terrible world? On the other hand, writing dystopian stories enables authors to immerse themselves in unlimited plot possibilities and let their imagination loose based on what-ifs. It allows them to formulate their own world— a world that will eventually clash and test the spirit of their characters. However, despite of this freedom, a lot of dystopian plots that arise today seem to conform into a tedious pattern. The readers might even turn out confused on which is which after reading a lot of these said stories. Falling into plot clichés is never good for your writing. Readers often are drawn into fresher ideas, not severely rehashed ones.

Coming up with a very original plot in this genre is now hard to achieve. However, you could still accept the difficult challenge of turning away from the usual devices and avoid these dystopian plot clichés:

Government-issued labels, tags, number tattoos, human rights violations everywhere.
Government-issued labels, tags, number tattoos, human rights violations everywhere. | Source

1. Oppressive Government

Contrary to what is typically found in the genre, not every dystopian story requires this trope. The meaning of dystopia itself tells us about a place where everything is horrible as it could possibly be. There are still a lot of imaginable roots that can turn a place into a dystopia, not just government oppression. It isn’t even specified that one could only use countries, cities or towns as a place of dystopia. You could always use entities such as corporations, unions or even schools to build your dystopia around as long as it is also contained in a livable, physical setting.

2. Hell Sparked Wild Post-Apocalypse

I already couldn’t count how many dystopian stories I’ve found that has some kind of a prologue about the setting being a post-apocalyptic society. All of those fictional worlds always have its roots related to some apocalypse survivors rebuilding their civilization with their fear turning it into a totalitarian abyss.

For all the unexplored possibilities, there are a lot of other ways the world could go rotten and not because of something this clichéd.

3. The Utopian Façade

Our city and society is always fair, progressive and such a wonderful place to live in... NOT!
Our city and society is always fair, progressive and such a wonderful place to live in... NOT! | Source

A two-faced dystopian setting is already a common find. On the outside, the locales are shown as perfect places, looking so built-up and prosperous. However, on the inside lies a system that thrives on being rotten. All the people within are made ignorant, frightened or desensitized of the obviously filthy cogwheels up until the brave persecuted emerges and snaps them out of it. The same old t-shirt worn, laundered, hung and worn again.

4. A Persecuted Protagonist as the Brave Hero

We already have the oppressive government, and now what’s next? A persecuted hero breaks his own chains to fight and trample the domineering tyrants. His efforts will soon be noticed by the common people and eventually, many of them will join the resistance sparked by their symbol of freedom. Hand in hand (not really, the focus will always be on the gutsy hero), they will force the evil overlords and their system to its knees.

Please, do yourself a favor and stay away from this plot. It has already been forced into the readers’ palates over and over again.

The long- tormented hero emerges from unsupervised human weapons mass production.
The long- tormented hero emerges from unsupervised human weapons mass production.

5. The Protagonist is a Limited Edition Designer Baby

He would have skills verging on superpowers, blessed with an advantageous mutated gene or created to have a powerful genetic makeup. All of these might be the outcome of an extensively covered-up accident or a deliberate toying of human lives to create powerful living tools. Delving into the deepest roots, the protagonist’s angst would always come from his miserable experience at the hands of mad scientists.

These atrocities all started inside an extremely unethical laboratory... likely run by guess what? The government.

Can't our protagonist simply be a mere loiterer on the street?

6. A Great Divide

Rich-against-poor, the elite-against-the wretched slaves, government-against-citizens, alpha-beta-omega— a terrible place cannot be more terrible if there are no equal rights for all. This great divide is helpful to show how close to hell your dystopian society is like. However, you don’t have to make it the main point of your plot. Making it your character’s main source of suffering will only bland your story into being so ordinary.

Have you ever read or watched something where the rich or elite are the ones persecuted instead of the lowly?

See results
Photoshopping history at its best.
Photoshopping history at its best. | Source

7. Manipulation of History

This is good ol’ historical negationism and really does exist beyond just fictional worlds. It is where governments distort or revise historical records and destroy the existence of anything that might spark a “harmful” ideology. In fiction, this is often used as a method to conform a society’s collective way of thinking. It is not that bad to use this point per se, but it is still cliché nonetheless.

8. Relatively Happy Endings Where the Dystopia Topples or Will Topple Over

Most dystopian plots lead to an ending with a very predictable outcome of everyone destroying the reins. It would either be the end of a full-blown revolution or the certain beginning of it. Should all dystopian stories end this way to make sense? No, I think not. The dystopian genre never held authors to resort into this type of resolution. I’ve read a few better ones where the end didn’t promise a better place to live for the characters. One of those stories even finished with the dystopian setting worsening than ever before.

Storming the oppressors a la Bastille. Vive la révolution! Release the Kraken!
Storming the oppressors a la Bastille. Vive la révolution! Release the Kraken! | Source

Closing, dystopian stories are fun but are never easy to write. One day, you think that you’ve already found a perfect original plot formula to drive your story into success but the next day, you discover that someone had already been there and done that. Never fret and read a lot. It can always inspire and at the same time, help you find a lot more clichéd plot patterns to avoid. Soon enough, you’ll find it easier to uncover your distinct voice.


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 5 weeks ago

      Those are good points Chris Mills. Many story lines are thousands of years old and people still like them. New and original could easily end up being weird and stupid.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 5 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      This is one of the things which drives us to look for fresh ideas. The fear of writing the same old thing that has gone before is like hiking a well-trodden path into the forest when what you want is to explore. But I am also going to agree with the core of nothingnewunderaredsun's comments if not the delivery, that some of these "overworked" themes have been overworked for centuries in literature. That is because they resonate with common people. Your encouragement to avoid cliches should not mean that we ought to steer away from proven storylines but that we blend them with creativity of our own. The main plot of the story I am currently rolling out on HP is an overworked plot. But I've worked hard at adding my own, original twists and turns. I agree with you that as writers, we should be on constant alert to falling into staleness that is a result of laziness.

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      ??? 5 weeks ago

      this was soooo helpful thank you so mutch

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      nothingnewunderaredsun 2 months ago

      So, "Protagonist as a Brave Hero" is right out, eh? Preferrable, I assume, would be "Protagonist as a Coward who Does Nothing Throughout the Story" - "Protagonist Who Doesn't Much Care What Happens in This Story" - "Protagonist Who Does Stupid Things Which Are Boring" - just curious how you envision a whole plethora of original pieces that avoid one of the common themes that bring people to the page in the first place? And, what's the point of writing an apocalyptic environment only to have do-nothing Dostoevskies and Louisa May Alcotts walking around painting their fingernails with motor oil? It's like you're suggesting Star Wars should have kept its focus on the moisture farm for two hours.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 7 months ago

      JD brings up a good point. A dystopian future as a political critique it seems wouldn't use the same cliches, or hallmarks. A valid political critique of America in 1967 may be a dated critique in 2017. If people from 20 different coutries give the same dystopian vision it may be a good political critique for some of them, but the others are probably using a familiar formula, a cliche.

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      jd 7 months ago

      this article reads like a parody. while well intentioned, it kind of ignores how dystopian fiction is not just a pulp genre, but a form of political critique. before it was coopted into teen romance fiction, it was originally written to oppose governmental oversight. a lot of the things you say are 'cliched' are hallmarks of the genre. instead of exercising these aspects, perhaps we should question if we really need to make a story dystopian if it has nothing to critique and instead wants to use the backdrop of human suffering as window dressing for an action / adventure / romance.

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      bleh 10 months ago

      I understand what you are saying, though I admittedly don't see these as cliches. These situations are things to base your plot around, and also mark general features of the dystopian genre; what you DO with your plot determines whether or not it's cliched.

    • profile image

      Joss 13 months ago

      You say clichés, I say generic conventions.

    • profile image

      lol 19 months ago

      my comment is rather short

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I enjoyed this list of Dystopian cliches. The rise in popularity of Dystopian novels has brought a lot of them out to play. The cliches and blunt oversimplification of human issues found in the genre are reasons I write Topian fiction instead.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 3 years ago

      Interesting points, although it would seem a story could have one of these cliches without being boring. I can't write the same for a story that uses all eight.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hi there Rained-- congratulations on HOTD.

      You have done a fine categorization of the various cliché pools for the dystopian theme. I agree with Catherine Giordano that it is likely that dystopian-themed novels are pumped out like romance novels because there is a ready market of readers (and obviously, movie-watchers) who demand the familiar and predictable way of expressing anger, frustration, angst, loneliness, alienation, ?? against the powers-that-be. Just as the theory exists that 'childhood victims' of vile sexualized crimes sometimes gravitate towards predators and pedophiles in an attempt to gain a sense of mastery, perhaps those with a great sense of being wronged by governments, the elite, etc., are attracted to the dystopian novel with its happily-ever-after endings. Real life doesn't tend to order everything quite so positively.

      Look forward to reading more of your hubs to come! ~Cynthia

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      This is awesome. I'm a terrible fantasy writer, but I do love dystopian stories. I'm adding this to my Facebook author page.

    • TravelMike profile image

      Michael Belk 3 years ago from West Memphis, AR

      Congrats on Hub of the day. Dystopian is a little scary for me because I could not see myself wondering around seeing no one. It is hard to imagine a World without anyone for miles and miles.

    • Eamine profile image

      Elizabeth 3 years ago from U.S.

      Nice article. In my opinion there is too much oppression nowadays by the Governments controlled by the elite bankers.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Very interesting summary, but it seems like there is nothing that you don't consider a cliché. Dystopian novels may be like romance novels in a way--the readers like and demand the clichés.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting and thought-provoking. There are so many cliched dystopian settings and themes for books and movies today. I agree with all your points. But, in all honesty it is difficult to find originality as neatly every book / story written has been done before . Nearly everything I read I have read before. Even the fiction on the New Yorker magazine is basically the same. I think dystopian writing as a genre has peaked and we do need something new in writing. Congratulations on HOTD!

    • AnitaDRussell profile image

      AnitaDRussell 3 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your article. When I was much younger (my teenage years, specifically) I was fascinated in general by books and movies about the future, like This Perfect Day, Fahrenheit 451 and A Clockwork Orange. It's funny because that dystopian genre of today holds considerably less interest for me...to your point, much too predictable. Thanks for sharing.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 3 years ago from Arkansas

      While I love a good dystopian novel, I totally get what you're saying. The traditional dystopian cliches do get old. I think this is why The Matrix irritated me so much. It was a film just filled with cliches. Awesome read. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hannah Elise profile image

      Hannah Moskowitz 3 years ago from New York


    • profile image

      jack o' lantern 3 years ago

      I agree with #1 and #2. Very informative article. By the way, congratulations!

    • Sara2901 profile image

      Sara2901 3 years ago

      Interesting article. Totally agree with #2 and #3. Congratulations on getting the Hub of the Day.

    • Rained profile image

      Rained 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you everyone for the comments. I never expected this to get "Hub of the Day", since that I've just decided to give my thoughts a try just recently. I'm very happy if this could somehow inspire writers to think deeper and discover fresher ideas.

    • Staceycakes profile image

      Stacey 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Very interesting hub. I agree, I see these kinds of plot lines a lot. If written really well I don't mind sometimes, but it would be great to see something new and unexplored. Congrats on hub of the day :)

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      This is a very informative hub. Voted UP and extremely useful!

    • Lionrhod profile image

      Lionrhod 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Great article and major congrats on the Hub of the Day! I do think we've got so many books with #1 because of frustrations with our own governments, and a potentially logical extension of what they'll do next.

    • davidlivermore profile image

      David Livermore 3 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      I actually don't mind these at all. Sure, you know what will happen, but it's still interesting to read or watch.

    • Rchrdsnc profile image

      Carl Richardson 3 years ago from Midwest USA

      I found this list of dystopian plots interesting. It explains a great deal.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      This is a very interesting article. I write a lot of flash fiction. I read one story in which the hero was a youth who lived in a burned out car in a post apocalyptic world. Creativity and originality are hard work. Thanks for pointing out the pitfalls of cliché plots.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 3 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Certainly interesting. I've read both excellent dystopian books (e.g. 1984) and lame ones (Matched) as a librarian.

    • sweetpikez profile image

      Pinky de Garcia 3 years ago

      Congratulations for having the Hub of the Day recognition! You are right, dystopian stories are not easy to write. The twist and tweak of two-faced worlds are hard to connect. Only brilliant authors can successfully write an interesting dystopian stories.

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 3 years ago

      Excellent selection of dystopian plot cliches in this article. With present day digital technological advances in films, we now see these same plots with awesome special effects in graphic, sounds and visual recordings, making them more entertaining. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

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