How to Create a Dystopian Universe
Black Mirror is one of the best television shows around now. It’s tough to watch, but it’s addicting. It’s a very challenging show—it challenges how we think and what we see as normal. It even challenges how we watch TV, especially with their choose-your-own adventure episode ‘Bandersnatch’.
One thing Black Mirror does really well is their dystopian setting. It’s one of the prime aspects of their show. Every episode is a new dystopian setting, and both the characters and the audience are thrown into it.
And it does it brilliantly! So what can we learn from Black Mirror about dystopian worlds?
The Character’s Relationship to the Setting
A lot of stories focus on the character’s relationship to other characters (which is important), but Black Mirror treats the setting as a character. The setting plays a role on each character. It affects their behaviour and their decisions.
The Universe is Accepted
Sure, you have the odd character who goes heavily against the dystopian world, but most characters on the show ‘go with the flow’. They accept the circumstances and play the game. They accept where they live.
The Characters Still Have Control of the Story
This fits in to the previous two points. The characters ultimately make decisions that lead to results. It’s not the setting that is choosing what happens: it’s the characters. Sure, the characters are following what is considered normal in that dystopian universe (think of the Nosedive episode, where the main character isn’t making decisions because she’s forced to but the setting brings out the worst in her). Even though you live in a dystopia, it’s ultimately you that is responsible.
When writing your own Dystopian universe, ask how each of your characters reacts to the setting. Don’t immediately have someone who is protesting the universe, but rather have people who accept it and follow the rules of the system. And, ultimately, it is your characters who make decisions. It is their flaws that leads to their troubles.