Second Annual Writers’ Roundtable Discusses Utopian vs Dystopian Fiction

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Writers Stephanie Grey, Gary Morgeinstein and Robert “R.C.” Davies take part in the Second Annual Writers’ Roundtable Discussing Utopian vs Dystopian Fiction.

Daniel Knauf once said to me (and I am paraphrasing) that writers are some of the most egotistical and neurotic people at the same time. What’s more neurotic than fear of a a utopian society is constantly visiting the dystopian on in the works of fiction we create in our own heads.

Writers Stephanie Grey, Gary Morgeinstein and Robert “R.C.” Davies took part in the Second Annual Writer’s Roundtable discussing Utopian vs Dystopian Fiction and luckily, my literary friends did not disappoint, nor did they fall into world that Knauf had joked about with me.

The conversation followed influences, what is more ideal for better storytelling and which of the two will allow their characters to possibly seek redemption or at least strive for hope and peace.

A bit of background on our writers and their most recent works:

Stephanie Grey

I write different kinds of fiction, actually. My first book, The Immortal Prudence Blackwood, was a historical fiction/thriller. A Witchly Influence is fantasy. My book coming out next year, which is currently untitled, is dystopian. It’s a genre I’d wanted to write about for a while, mostly because I love the idea of thinking of alternate routes the future can take. That’s what’s so interesting about dystopian work: everyone has a different view on what our future will look like. Some go with zombies, or a form of biological warfare that decimates the human population, or a catastrophic event like an asteroid impact or alien invasion. There’s probably a book out there about genetically altered waffles morphing into real people, and suddenly we’re all waffle people wearing human skin as a suit to blend in until all of the waffles take over. Either way, that’s why I chose to write a book in this particular genre. I wanted to create my own version of what dystopia could be.
As for the main challenge of writing this kind of story, well, that’s easy: making fiction sound plausible. Everyone’s on board to read fiction, but if it becomes too far-fetched, people lose interest. The trick is to create a story and a world that’s out there enough to engage interest and maybe even be thought-provoking on some level, but to also keep it reeled in enough that people won’t just stop reading because the plot has become too far-fetched. 

Author page: Follow Stephanie Grey on Twitter @AuthorSGrey

Gary Morgenstein

Dystopian fiction is simply more interesting. Who doesn’t want to play God and get to re-do the whole bloody thing? But you have to make sure that when you’re world-building, you follow your own Divine Rules. In A Mound Over Hell and the upcoming A Fastball for Freedom, I created a dystopian world set in the 22nd Century where an America which has failed at democracy lost World War 3 to the Islamic Empire and is now ruled by The Family. There are many layers – since social media is banned under the Anti-Narcissism Laws how do people communicate – which, whether that complicates my creative life or not, I must obey. But the demands of your brave new world always comes second to the overriding role your characters must play. Their courage and survival always drives the story. Even within the most terrifying and seemingly hopeless situations, people cling to hope and the belief that they can survive. That’s why the human race didn’t die out at the entrance to the cave. Putting average people in bleak situations is foundational to smart fiction. All of us aspire to be heroes, though few of us would put that as a career goal (except novelists). The best characters are the ones who have glory thrust upon them.

Author page Follow Gary Morgenstein on Twitter @writergary

Robert Davies

Yes, and I combined both to describe a future world where countries are replaced by city states.  My book examines two neighboring mega-cities – one horribly dystopian, and the other a polar opposite that would be considered Utopian. I wrote dystopian/Utopian to establish and examine the effect of societal isolation in the aftermath of a cataclysm:  Two totally different realities born of the same event, but geographic distance from other cities has compelled unique and unaligned approaches to reviving human civilization.

Dystopian/Utopian models have always been soapboxes from which authors preach, but now, the sermon is conditional.  For authors in 2020, writing in these genre brings risk of rankling the science-fiction orthodoxy, as well as alienating a large swath of the reading public.  A dystopian story is pejorative by default, but those most successful books today seem to be rooted in a profoundly Left/Progressive political point of view (Margaret Atwood’s anti-Christian Handmaid’s Tale is an example).  Conversely, If Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged within the last five or ten years, it would likely have been rejected, if not outright attacked.  The apparent requirement for a far-Left tone creates a chilling effect, discourages opposing views and stifles creativity.

Author page Follow Robert “R.C.” Davies on Twitter @rcdaviesbooks.

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