8 Dystopian Plot Clichés That Will Bore Your Readers to Tears
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:
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
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.
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?
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.
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.