Yesterday, we addressed basic setting details – the whats and whys – of post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian fiction. Today, we’re going to delve more into the character side of things. And while we do it, we’re going to get a bit psychological.
You have to be when you write about any kind of character, much less one surrounded by setting details you find unfamiliar…
Such as after some post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian fiction event where life as we know it completely and permanently changes.
Dystopian fiction messes with our sense of security.
Just like alternative history fiction makes readers ponder the real past through “what if” questions, dystopian fiction makes them fear the potential future.
What if another world war happened? A flood wiped out half the Earth’s population? Electricity failed?
The best way to capture the ensuing scenes is to study human nature without romanticizing it. What would you really do if? How about your friends? Your family?
One of my absolute most favorite TV shows of all times was Terra Nova, which was sadly cancelled after one season – not due to lack of proper fandom but because each episode was so stinking expensive to make.
Terra Nova was post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian fiction that started out in a futuristic Earth where we’d destroyed the planet’s atmosphere, leading to exceptionally heavy population control laws, which were brutally enforced by a totalitarian government (see the anti-big-government elements sneaking in?).
Fortunately or unfortunately, the American government has found a wormhole back in time though, which it's sending select citizens through in batches – back to the days of the dinosaurs to start all over again.
Stop and consider that for a moment. Surrounded by those post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian fiction setting details, how would you react? Keep in mind that you’re very far from everything familiar, surrounded by awe-inspiring wildlife, some of which will happily tear you to pieces.
No doubt, most of you would play it safe, staying well within the already-constructed compound with its protective fences and trained people with big guns. I know I would.
Or maybe you’d get more adventurous, volunteering for special duties that take you outside the safety zones. Sometimes with worthwhile results. Sometimes with death and dismemberment.
Terra Nova did an awesome job capturing that full range of human activity and emotion, playing realistically off of personality profiles when placed in intensely unfamiliar setting details.
Then there’s The Crossing, another post-apocolyptic sci-fi dystopian TV show, this one having just started.
150 years into the future, we go too far in trying to advance the human race. We create the Apex, a set of genetically modified humanoids so much faster and stronger than we are. Hardly stupid, they capitalize on those factors and take over, establishing a – you guessed it – totalitarian government with a list of goals that include killing all humans.
So, a group of persecuted humans find a way of making it back in time to the early 21st century, where they’re promptly scooped up by the FBI and relegated to an isolated commune where nobody can hear their supposedly crazy story.
Most everyone in that group (at least by episode 3) isn’t fighting the FBI in those efforts. As most of us would be, they’re scared, bewildered and thinking that they need to place nice.
For better or worse, that’s normal human psychology: to conform. It’s a survival instinct.
But sometimes, we have to choose between the fear of the known and the fear of the unknown, which is what one character finds herself up against. So she bucks the rules – not because she’s a naturally rebellious person, but because she’s facing a double helping of extraordinary circumstances that force her hand.
So if you’re going to write something in the same genre, then close your eyes. Visualize your setting details.
Then really think about how you and other personality profiles would handle that post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian fiction. Which is pretty much to say dystopian fiction. Which is pretty much to say it’ll never happen. Hopefully.
But if it did…