YA 101: The ever popular “Dystopian”

I must confess I have used this word to describe books that are not dystopian.  While dystopian stories are very similar to apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, they are truly two different beasts all together.

“Dystopian” seems to be the catch-all phrase for novels that take place in the future after some disaster, survivors fighting against some horrible event.  It’s easy to confuse the two because a dystopian society can rise from a post-apocalyptic event; however, that doesn’t make it a dystopian story.  Here is how I would like to define the differences.

A dystopian society is one where  “social perfection” is obtained at the expense of something else, such as enslavement, loss of personal freedoms, or the surrender of some aspect of human nature.  The plot tends to focus on the slow process of societal change, or an abrupt change to a cataclysmic event.  The society that is in place is stable, strong.  That doesn’t make it a good place to be.  In fact, what’s in place is usually sickening and appalling.  There are usually two warring factions:  those in control and those who are oppressed.  It’s utopia turned upside down.  There also doesn’t appear to be an explanation as to why the current society grew the way it did; it is simply a story of the character’s struggle against an oppressor, whether it’s a government, enslavement or both.

In an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic story, the plot focuses on the instability of a society during/after a cataclysmic event shatters society.  The small society that is left is usually isolated and threatened.  There is usually very little hope, the future is bleak.  Humanity and existence is endangered.  These stories explore man’s struggle to battle Earth’s shattering events.  They take the reader on the characters’ quest for survival.  These types of stories explore the hows and whys of the apocalyptic event, they show the rebuilding of the society, who is put in charge and why.  There is nothing utopian about it.   It’s nitty, gritty and intense.  The world is in shambles and folks are trying desperately to survive and rebuild.

Examples of YA Dystopian novels:


Samples of Apocalyptic/Post Apocalyptic