dystopian writing prompts

7 Simple Dystopian Writing Prompts & Dystopian Story Ideas (2023)

Dystopias are always fun to think about and dystopian writing prompts are even more fun to tinker with. What would happen if the surveillance state became real? Oh. 

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Anyway, dystopias present an interesting study of social and cultural constructs that can present a drab, dreary world to the reader. These are the kinds of worlds you don’t want to live in, even for the most hardcore dystopia fans.

But not all dystopian fiction is based on cultural or social constructs. Some dystopian worlds are constructed from science fiction story ideas. Some are post apocalyptic. There even exists sub-genres of dystopian writing that bring our history to life – such as fiction about the darkest acts of World War Two, or the harrowing existence of a person living amid the Black Plague.

So, if you have a knack for government controlled conspiracy stories, a zombie apocalypse, or a post apocalyptic world then you have come to the ‘write’ place indeed. This volume marks just one of many Lore has planned to explore dystopias and dystopian writing ideas.

To keep the article short and sweet, we’ll present three ideas in this volume for you to develop. 

Dystopian Writing Prompt 1 – The Open Ender 

open wooden door with keys as analogy for open ended dystopian story ideas

For this prompt, I want to set the scene to try to ignite the creative writing spark within you. We all have it and sometimes you need a little bit of inspiration to bring it out.

The alarm blares its shrill chirp, over and over, until you can be bothered to roll over and turn it off. Today marks Wednesday; the middle of the workweek slog that always sinks your heart back into your chest. Your already in negative social equity. Today needs to end already.

You lazily drag the covers off to one side and stand from the warm embrace of your bed sheets. You look around your room and despite the normality of another work day beginning to clutch your senses, you feel that something is off. But you think nothing of it and head for the main room.

When you get there…

Well? Keep it going! 

Dystopian Writing Prompt 2 – A Subtle Reminder

Sometimes I like to give subtle nods to build up a work of fiction. And for the dystopian worlds that I like to read, it’s always the subtleties that sell it for me. So let’s begin by presenting a situation and exploring how we can weave in subtle nods to build upon. How do you build upon them? Well, that’s what the prompt is for!

I took a seat at the café, but despite my tokens, it still took long enough to get service. Even then, the ordinator wasn’t too sufficient and the service was sub-par at best.

In this prompt we have three variables we can dissect and run with;

  • The Token; what is it? Why is it needed? What does it represent? How is it used?
  • Ordinator; again, what is it? Why is it needed? How does it help construct the world?
  • The social construct; why does this person speak with a sense of entitlement? Where do they get it from and why?

Let’s see what you come up with!

Dystopian Writing Prompt 3 – The Educators

This is a brilliant way to introduce certain cultural and societal aspects into your dystopian story idea. How a culture teaches its youth and what it teaches them shows a lot about society as a whole. It also adds a nice flair of juxtaposition for such horrid concepts in a setting like a high school.

Using this universally understood idea we can construct a dystopia that explores the values of your worldbuilding in a way that is PG, as I am aware not everyone will want to write R-rated stuff.

So thinking about what the youth will be taught in this world you are crafting can lay the foundations to explore ideas later on in your story – no matter if we are talking a short story or a full-length book series. Begin by thinking about questions our educators use to inspire the youth to learn and then start twisting them.

A shocking statement is always a good option for this kind of prompt for hooking readers. Some examples could be:

  • An educator praising a child for something morally horrid; like bullying.
  • A teacher asking a question that is seemingly innocent, but the true ugliness of this world you are creating is hinted at through how the child answers. Eg; Educator: What would you say is a strong personality trait? Child: Selfishness.

Don’t be shy. Get dark. Get brutal (if you want). But most importantly, get writing!

Historical Dystopian Story Ideas

metal gladiator helmet sitting on stone wall to represent historic dystopian writing prompts

History is full of injustice and, unfortunely, it always has been. Be it the division of wealth between the commoners and kings of 16th century Europe, or the apartheid of South Africa in the 20th century, analysing these historical events can help inform your ideas.

Here are just some story ideas you could develop:

  • Imagine a world where the slave trade was still permitted in modern times. Without straying too far into politics, try and imagine how this would impact our day to day life. How would it impact how our nations of the world are governed? What kind of system would be in place to even facilitate such a horror in the first place?
  • Open up your browser and start researching the Ancient Egyptians. Their culture has some very questionable practices in it but, again, slavery was rampant in their era. From the eyes of a slave or worker, their society would have absolutely qualified as a dystopia. Why not try writing a story from the perspective of a slave in Ancient Egypt?
  • Another dystopian idea I want to suggest is writing about the Black Plague. We know ourselves from recent times how much a virus can impact the world and society. Now, just imagine how back the Black Death must have been without modern medicine. You could easily explore a multitude of stories based in this era such as a drama about a Nurse, or about a household trying to survive. Get creative!
  • Finally, a last idea has already been mentioned; the world wars. And that doesn’t necessarily mean World War One and Two. History is rife with conflicts and the more you look into it, the more you can educate yourself about dystopian times that have already come and gone. One particular war I want to draw attention to is the on-going struggle between the British Empire and India before India’s independence. This often resulted in skirmishes throughout the occupation but do some research into the Jallianwala Bagh massacre – and try and write from a protesters perspective.

SCIFI Dystopian story prompts / scifi dystopias

Usually when people think of dystopias they think of the future. In particular, people often think about our current world and how it could turn even more dystopian than it already can be. This is a natural thought process to have, especially as a writer. 

So, let’s take a look at some sci fi concepts you could develop for a dystopian story idea:

  • Imagine you live in a world that exists in the not too distant future. The only difference is aliens have taken over our civilisation and societies, imposing their own moral beliefs on us. One such belief is that procreation is only allowed for the purpose of child rearing. How do you think people would cope? What would they do? To make this interesting for you – the act of physical rebellion is not an option. Now, let’s see what you come up with!
  • I have a very simple concept for this next entry; imagine a world where fiction is outlawed and enforced by regional governments across the globe. Now write as story as you. What do you do? Why?
  • For this dystopian story idea I want to ground it in real, current science to give it a more visceral feeling. We all know that climate change is a huge problem. For this dystopia you will write within, imagine that climate change could not be slowed down but we are hundreds of years in the future. What does this future look like after the food shortages, flooding, and extreme weather becomes the norm? How does one go about their day to day life and what does that look like?

Some Resources To Help You develop your dystopian short story ideas

In addition to the ideas themselves, I decided to collect some resources and links that you could use to help you out when it comes to developing your ideas.

To begin with, here are relevant links for researching the historical ideas proposed earlier in the article:

Why Are Dystopias Important?

Without going into too much depth with social theory, I felt it was appropriately to lightly explore why I think dystopias are important. For context, my final year dissertation was a Diachronic Study of Dystopian Science Fiction (in cinema), so I believe deeply in the role of dystopias in our current societal climate.

For me, dystopias are crucial because they can bring to the forefront atrocities that have happened in the past and remind us of atrocities that could happen again. 

Just as it is important to study history and learn from our mistakes as a species, I feel that studying dystopias of the past can help us accomplish the same goal. Equally, I feel that projecting our minds forward into dystopian science fiction can help us assess what could go wrong with our current world affairs. Nuclear weapons are a good example of this.

In the end, it is all about learning from them to ensure they never happen.

About This Article’s Author

Stewart Storrar is a professional writer and hobbyist filmmaker from Glasgow, Scotland. He writes fiction, poetry, and loves to skateboard in his free time. You can find him on Twitter here, or you can follow his other passions over on YouTube.

Read More On Lore

Want to read some fiction we’ve published on Lore? Or maybe you are looking for some more prompts or writing aids? Check out what we have: