I’m a lover and writer of dystopian literature. It wasn’t the haunting hope within post-apocalyptic environments, futuristic warfare, common grunge scenery, or even the ruined memories of former civilizations that drew me to the genre.
It was the great unknown at my fingertips. The ability to play with times that haven’t come to pass yet.
Which, in hindsight, totally negates the biggest pet peeve I see in this genre. Actually, it’s a common flaw found within fantasy and sci-fi as well–really, any genre that involves some type of optical world building.
It’s characters being too deep “in the know.”
Let me explain.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve witnessed authors’ make when writing these kinds of books is their characters knowing FAR too much about the world they live in. The full history, all the happenings, etc.
Your MC, much less your entire cast, shouldn’t have that level of omniscient hyper-awareness, especially right out of the gate. Because it sets up three issues that will damage the story as a whole:
One, it shrinks the world you’ve invented to such a small scope. The world we live in– the world every human being has ever lived in–is vast. The way we reimagine said world (or even the worlds we create from scratch) should mimic that reality. Your characters knowing too much shrivels up the expansiveness of the atmosphere they reside in. There’s so much people don’t know, a lot beyond their normal bubble. To take that away, is to rid your story of elements of realism.
Two–and this may actually sound contradictory to the latter–your characters being too deep “in the know” can make them inaccessible to your reader. Because when they possess buckets of information in their brains about a world your readers have never experienced before, it’s not digestible to them. Every story’s reception thrives when knowledge is presented in a bite-size manner, because the audience can eat it up easier.
Connected to that, reason number three, if your characters know too much at the start, there isn’t any room for intellectual growth within them. It stunts arc potential that could have been available to you and your plot, if you had simply allowed your characters to learn and be challenged mentally by things they didn’t previously have any idea existed. This issue can even be the basis for the creation of Mary Sues.
Because let’s be real: What person (especially a young person, should you be writing YA or even middle grade) knows everything there is to know about their nation, their homeworld, their universe? Even when (within the context of dystopia) they breathe air within a society where disciplinary indoctrination saturates their education?
No, it’s far more realistic for a person’s mind to be consumed with what’s within their “reach.” Their immediate home, their interests, things that ultimately captivate them, for good or for worse. (And yes, the textbooks shoved under their noses.) Because it truly is a natural progression, over time, for every human being to witness and explore new things, and grow from those experiences.
And to write your characters in that kind of organic light? It puts them and their world within reach of the READER. It allows your audience to form a proper attachment to your words. Because they’ll be able to walk beside your story and link arms with you as a storyteller, rather than being separated at arm’s length.