Worldbuilding in the Dystopian World

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In the last article I wrote for The Story Grid, I talked about the importance of worldbuilding belief structures and its importance in Fantasy and Science-Fiction literature. In this article, I am going to focus on worldbuilding in the Action Genre. Furthermore, I am going to focus on worldbuilding governments and dystopian literature. We will look at The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I will also include examples from other prevalent texts. So let’s begin.

Why should I worldbuild a government?

Like religious beliefs, political beliefs often create controversy, which is great for storytelling. Governments have been hailed as the savior of civilization. Others believe it is a dirty word and mankind should run itself without the need for political order.

The reason why governments and political systems are so essential for storytelling is because of conflict. Conflict is the backbone of storytelling. If a story didn’t have conflict it wouldn’t be considered a story.

Let’s face it; people become the most upset when their values are attacked. If you need proof of this just look at Facebook or another social media website. Those places are hotspots for where people spout off their ideals and values.

Beliefs drive everything in worldbuilding. Our core values define what we believe in religiously or spiritually (organized religion such as Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) or politically (democrats, republicans, etc.).

Now it is important to note that your main character does not have to like the world they live in. In fact, in dystopian fiction that is a key element. Furthermore, because stories are about change you can always have your character be a part of the society in the beginning and then rebelling against it at the end of the story.

Worldbuilding a government?

In our world, there are different theories on how to run a country. These include:

  • Capitalism
  • Communism
  • Anarchy
  • Republic
  • Monarchy
  • Theocracy
  • Democracy
  • Dictatorship
  • And many more.

In Dystopian literature, the government takes on some form of a dictatorship. These books deal with some type of totalitarian government.

What is a dictatorship?

What is a dictatorship? A dictatorship is a political system where a single individual or a select group of individuals holds absolute power. If there is any resistance against the person in charge it will be handled with harsh penalties or even death.

This is seen in various types of fiction. Someone opposes rules and they are either executed or tortured.

With a dictatorship, the person in charge (the “dictator”) often disguises themselves under other titles, such as:

  • President
  • Party leader

Some examples of fiction stories doing this are:

  • President Snow, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Emperor, Star Wars by George Lucas
  • Big Brother (The Party), 1984 by George Orwell

Dictatorships are often the go-to political systems for bad guys. It’s the mentality of “it’s my way or the highway” that forces other characters to either go along with it or they rebel against it.

Some examples of a rebellion are:

  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (more on this later).
  • 1984, by George Orwell (spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well)
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
  • Divergent, Veronica Roth

We will discuss the importance of rebellions later on in this article. For now, let’s look at other political systems you can include in a dystopian setting and how to build a government.

Dystopian governments revolve around dictatorship, however they can often be a blend of other political theories. For instance, Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a story where the government is a blend of dictatorship and theocracy (a government based on religion).

The story revolves around Christian Old Testament “values” and a society where women have been reduced to being baby makers. In this world, women have no rights and they cannot own land, vote and are subservient to their husbands. Their purpose in life is to serve the patriarchy and have babies.

The Handmaid’s Tale is not only a really good example of a blend of theocracy and a dictatorship, but it is also a good look at how dystopian literature reflects real life.

Worldbuilding is all about layering. The purpose of worldbuilding in science-fiction and fantasy novels is to enhance the theme of your novel.

Brainstorming a government:

Ok, so you want to worldbuild a government but where do you begin?

You first need to figure out what type or types of government you are going to build. (Again, dictatorships are a hallmark of dystopian literature, but feel free to include and weave in more than one political system)

Other Questions:

  • How did your government start?
  • Typically new governments start because of a power usurp and a rebellion.
  • Is this a relatively new government or a government that has been here for years?
  • Who are the significant figures? Why are they important?
  • What are the certain freedoms your government protects? Are some people protected more than others?
  • Is government and religion entwined? Are they in complete opposition? There separation of religion and state?
  • How does the government deal with other countries? Friendly? Hostile takeover? Foreign wars? Civil Wars?
  • What is the process of becoming a citizen?
  • How does the government punish criminals?
  • Is there a system of lawyers and judges?
  • Who is considered a terrorist? A criminal?
  • Taxes? How does your government collect them?
  • Welfare? Does this exist?
  • Federal vs. local? Who has more power?

These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself while you are brainstorming. Let’s move on.

What is Dystopian Fiction?

First of all, I must confess something. This topic could cover a book, however for the importance of this article I am going to condense this genre into a few short pages. Let’s get started.

Novelist Naomi Alderman once said, “Utopias and dystopias can exist side by side, even in the same moment. Which one you’re in depends entirely on your point of view.”

When you are worldbuilding a dystopian world, you will have both the utopian society as well as the dystopian society existing side-by-side.

A utopia is a perfect world. In utopias, there are not problems like war, disease, poverty, oppression, discrimination, inequality, and so forth. Sir Thomas More made up the word utopia from Greek roots. In 1516, More wrote a book called Utopia.

On the other hand, a dystopia is a world in which nothing is perfect. The problems that plague our world are often even more extreme in dystopias.

Characteristics:

Utopia:

  • Peaceful government
  • Equality for all
  • Access to education, healthcare, money, housing employment and so on
  • Safety

Dystopia

  • A controlling, oppressive government or no government
  • A huge gap in wealth (between the richest and the poorest) or everyone lives in abject poverty
  • Propaganda which controls people’s minds
  • Freethinking and independent thought is banned

Utopias are typically reflected in “The One World Government” that has taken over the world. For the people who live in the safety of the world government they have the perfect life. They have the power. They have the control. These characters literally hold life and death over others.

Dystopian literature is an exploration where the utopia and the dystopia meet and clash. In the end, dystopian literature has several characteristics. They are:

  • Power/Dictatorships
    • Utopia vs. Dystopia
  • Class Divide
  • Individual vs. Collectiveness
  • Rebellion
  • Propaganda/Technology
  • Love/Hope
  • Commentary on Society

Let’s look at these characteristics individually. To do this, we are going to look at several dystopian worlds in order to explore this successfully. Please note, there are several spoilers for the following novels:

  • Anthem, by Ann Rand
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Let’s look at the characteristics.

Power/Dictatorships

As mentioned above, dystopian worlds revolve around governments that are dictatorships in nature. Let’s explore this further. J

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem is a story about a 21-year-old Street Sweeper named Equality 7-2521. From the first page, the reader is thrust into a world where the individual has been completely erased. No one who lives in this world has a name. They are only assigned numbers. The World Council of Scholars runs this society.

Led by Collective 0-0009, the Council enforces strict rules and punishments. They are:

  • You are assigned your job
    • You might not like it, but you do it for the good of the “Collective”
  • The word “I” does not exist. You call yourself “we” and everything is done for the collective good of the society.
  • The Council determines when you go to the Palace of the Mating. If you have any children, you will never know it (unless you are a woman and gave birth) and/but you won’t raise them.
    • Sex is not enjoyable and seen only as a duty carried out in the Palace of the Mating.

1984 by George Orwell

In a future world, the Party’s figurehead Big Brother controls Winston Smith’s life. In this world, the Party is rewriting history to suit their version of historical “facts.” Winston works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth.

Throughout 1984, the government exercises their authority by:

  • Thoughts against Big Brother and the Party are illegal
    • You have to display your love and devotion to Big Brother all the time
  • You can’t divorce
    • Sex outside of marriage is outlawed
  • You are being watched all of the time
  • Organized religion (other than the worship of Big Brother) is outlawed
  • The only version of history is the history that the Party teaches you

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is a story about a boy who wakes up with no memories in the dark of an elevator. The only thing he remembers is that his name is Thomas. When the elevator opens, he looks around and sees about fifty boys staring at him. As the novel progresses, he learns that all of the boys (and him) are trapped in a glade surrounded by a maze like structure where creatures (the Grievers) live. The Grievers are violent mechanical creatures that come out only at night. Every day, some of the boys who are trapped in the Glade run the maze looking for a way to escape. Before nightfall, the runners come back to the glade and close the doors to the maze so that the creatures cannot get to them during the night.

In The Maze Runner, there are two governments. There is the government of the Gladers and the government of the WICKED. THE WICKED is a group of people who (spoiler alert) put the boys into the glade. This isn’t discovered at first. The author reveals everything slowly over the course of the book and the next two sequels.

So how are these dictatorships?

The Glade:

  • Rigid rules
    • The Gladers have defined rules and punishments
    • If you break a law, you will be punished.
    • In one instance in the novel, a boy was sentenced to leave the Glade and put into the maze. This was a death sentence.

WICKED

  • Puts the boys into the Glade as a social and medical experiment
  • Does medical experiments on the boys and other children
  • Will sacrifice a few for the “good” of all
  • Portrays themselves as the “saviors” of mankind.

How does your dystopian world reflect dictatorship values?

Class Divide

In your dystopian world, there will be a power divide between the people who have power and those that don’t. Often, there will be further divisions in classes in the remaining population. The government that oversees everything will try and put tension on the classes and have them at odds with one another. The reason for this is simple. If the classes are mad at one another and are fighting amongst themselves, it makes it harder for the collective population to team-up and overthrow the government.

Anthem, by Ayn Rand

The World of Scholars oversees everything. They tell the citizens what to do, what to eat, when you get entertainment, who you socialize with, when you socialize, when to go to the Palace of the Mating, etc. Those that aren’t in the World of Scholars have to accept this whether they like it or not. Why? Everything that a character does is for the collective good of all.

The class divide that exists in the novel is between those in the World of Scholars, and those that aren’t. When a person is assigned a job in this world, they have to go and live with that group. They don’t get to interact with other people from other jobs. This further divides the people and isolates them.

1984, by George Orwell

The society is made up of three social classes. They are:

  • The elite Inner Party
  • The industrious Outer Party
  • Vast uneducated proles

Winston (the main character) is a part of the Outer Party, yet he longs to overthrow the government. He hates the world he lives in and wants the proles to revolutionize and overtake the government. Winston reads a lot and becomes familiar with Marxism. Marxists believe that there are three groups of people:

  • The High
  • The Middle
  • The Low

It is the job of the Middle group to usurp the High. After the Middle group seizes power in a revolution, they become The High and the group that was once the High becomes the Low and eventually the cycle begins again.

(Note: this is an example of the dystopia vs. utopia. There will always be a group of people living in the “utopia” and those living in the “dystopia.” Where you are on the spectrum, depends on where you are in the class divide.)

However, Winston doesn’t think that this will ever be possible until people wake up from their unconsciousness. The class struggle is experienced through Winston. Winston’s one of the few characters who’s aware of the danger of the Party and Big Brother.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

WICKED oversees all. Those that are a part of WICKED are saved. Those that aren’t, live in the chaos of the slums that surround WICKED’s corporation.

In the Glade, the boys (the “Gladers”) have to follow what the three leaders tell them to do. Those on top make the rules.

How does the hierarchy of your class structure affect your characters? Who is making the rules?

Individual vs. Collectiveness

In dystopia fiction, there is always a split between the individual vs. the collectiveness (the will of the government). The individual represents the consciousness, and the collectiveness represents the unconsciousness of society.

In a dystopia society, the government is beyond repressive and tries to control what people think. Depending on your character, they may not even be aware of the evil that the government or their world is doing. They might be blind to it, and might be living in a metaphorical sleep. Eventually, something happens and they have to wake up from this “sleep” and see the world for what it truly is. Whether they choose to go to back to sleep is up to the character and the author.

Or, your character will understand the dangers of this world (like Katniss in Hunger Games) and will have to learn about the strength of their individualism and their personal power against the repressive force of their government.

Dystopia fiction lends itself to the “coming of age” story very well because of this tug and war between perceptions vs. the reality. In many ways, it is a story about characters becoming an individual or it is about a loss of individuality. Let’s look at a few examples.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Individuals in Equality 7-2521’s collectivist society are forbidden from thinking of themselves as individuals. The pronoun “I” is not only forbidden but unknown, and everyone must refer himself or herself as “we” in order to ensure all actions and thoughts are united for the common good. This is further enhanced when the character of The Golden One is not content telling Equality 7-2521 that “we love you.” The word “I” does not exist in their vocabulary. Rand illustrates Equality 7-2521’s epiphany when he discovers the pronoun “I.” He moves from unconsciousness to consciousness and re-baptizes himself as Prometheus, the name of the ancient Greek Titan who brought fire to humans and rescued them from darkness.

The main character goes from being a part of the collectiveness of society to being an individual and exiled from society. Equality 7-2521, now renamed Prometheus, builds a community that is going to be founded on the pursuit of the happiness of the individual.

1984, by George Orwell

Winston starts off hating Big Brother. He keeps a private diary, engages in a forbidden sexual relationship, and insists that his version of reality is the only reality. He doesn’t go do group activities, and instead engages in alone time (which the Party doesn’t like). After he is arrested, he is forced through seven years of torture. The torture is designed to destroy his forbidden thoughts and make him love Big Brother.

When Winston is moved to Room 101, he breaks and betrays the woman he loves. This betrayal forces him to relinquish his own morality and self-respect.

Winston Smith goes from being an individual and hating Big Brother, and becomes a part of society and ends up loving Big Brother. Instead of rising over the dangers that his world represents, Orwell’s character becomes tragic and he succumbs to the totalitarianism of his world. He loves Big Brother and moves from consciousness (individualism) to unconsciousness (collective identity)

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

It is revealed in later sequels, that Thomas (the main character) was actually a part of WICKED. This takes place before the start of The Maze Runner. The reason why he was put into the Glade at first is because he rebelled against WICKED (the company he worked for) and tried to help the rebels who were fighting against WICKED.

Hence, at the start of Thomas’s journey he existed in unconsciousness. He believed that WICKED was good. However, as he continued to work for WICKED, Thomas had an awakening and realized the truth of the world he lived in. This is the reason why he was put into the Glade. Thomas had moved away from the collective mentality of The WICKED, to the consciousness of the individual.

When Thomas’s memories are stripped away and he dips back into unconsciousness, As his memories become clearer and he rediscovers the truth he dips back into consciousness and affirms his individuality.

His character arc moves from unconsciousness to consciousness.

Rebellion

At some point, your characters will rebel against the totalitarianism of their dystopia world. This rebellion will escalate as the novel(s) progress.

Anthem, Ayn Rand

Equality 7-2521 writes in a diary (which is forbidden in his world). He wants to record his thoughts, but doesn’t know why. Individualism is considered to be evil in his world. After he starts writing in his journal, he finds a tunnel from the Unmentionable Times and finds manuscripts. Eventually, he re-invents the light bulb.

After the Council of Scholars rejects Equality 7-2521’s invention of the light bulb and decides to punish him publically, he escapes and runs into the Uncharted Forest.

His rebellion stars with his thoughts against the Council of Scholars, and then his rebellion is further emphasized when he runs away from his community/society and forms his own society.

1984, George Orwell

Winston rebels against the Party subtly at first. He reads forbidden fiction (books that don’t align with the Party’s values), and writes in a diary. When Winston is arrested and tortured for seven years, he dreams of being executed publically to show that he isn’t loyal to the Party.

Winston’s thoughts are his rebellion. The rebellion in this novel doesn’t come with guns and swords (although that happens on the sidelines); it comes with the power of thoughts.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

The Gladers live by strict rules and harsh punishments. These rules were put in place to maintain order in the Glade.  

When Thomas arrives at the Glade, he upsets the strict order that was established by Alby and the other Gladers. Thomas constantly breaks the rules and asserts himself as a rebel/leader. However, he is met with increasing opposition and is repeatedly thrown into the Glader’s jail.

Later on in the series, the story escalates into a full-blown society rebellion against The WICKED.

Propaganda/Technology

Every government tries to promote themselves to the masses. They have slogans, TV commercials and try to get people to believe what they believe in. Every political candidate and political party does this. How do your characters do this? Let’s look at some examples.

Anthem, by Ayn Rand

All of the characters have to recite collectively as a people certain phrases at specific times of the day. For instance before going to bed, they have to recite, “we are nothing, Mankind is all.”

1984, by George Orwell

The Party employs different tactics to control their people and promote their thoughts. The Party’s figurehead is Big Brother, who is mustachioed face and is displayed on posters and coins. Every citizen is compelled to love him and serve the Party. Anything contrary to the Party has been destroyed.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Repeatedly throughout the novel and the two sequels, characters are told that “WICKED is good.” WICKED wants the children to believe that their government (WICKED) is good. They want the Gladers to place their trust in them and corporate with them.

The technology that exists in The Maze Runner is futuristic and enhances The One World mentality. The One World government of this world is WICKED, and WICKED watches over the boys in the Glade. They put the boys there and force them through a trial through the Maze.

A brief look at other technology:

  • The Maze shifts every day and reveals different sections.
  • The Grievers (the creatures of the Maze) are mechanical.
  • In this world, all of the characters that arrive at the Glade loose their memory. Their memory was taken from them.

How is your government trying to promote themselves to the masses?

Let’s move onto the next point.

Love/hope

In a dystopian universe, characters will cling to something. Let’s face it; dystopian novels are dark and sometimes a tough read. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins literally has children killing other children. That can be hard to read. Therefore, you have to give both your readers and your characters something to hope for. Hope is going to be the driving factor of your novel. The loss of hope represents that the dystopia society is going to win.

This dynamic doesn’t have to be a love triangle either (although that does happen in The Hunger Games and other popular YA fiction). The main thing with this aspect of dystopia fiction is that you have to give your characters something to root for.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Anthem, Ayn Rand

In Anthem, Equality 7-2521 falls in love with Liberty 5-3000, whom he renames as The Golden One. The collectivist culture that both Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 are born into is designed to eliminate close relationships. Deep personal relationships are forbidden.

The collectivist society even frowns upon the intimate act of sex and is reduced to being a shamefully impersonal once-a-year trip to the “Palace of the Mating.” However, the love that is sparked between Equality 7-2521 and The Golden One is the driving factor for both of them rebelling against their society and fleeing to the forest.

Their love gives each other hope, and it is that hope that eventually frees them from the confines of their dystopia society.

1984, George Orwell

The Party forbids relationships outside of marriage. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Winston is separated from his wife and often wishes he had murdered her when he had the chance several years ago. They live separately because they can’t have children, but are unable to divorce due to Party regulations.

Winston meets Julia, another woman who doesn’t believe in the Party and practices secret disobedience against it with her thoughts. She delights in breaking the rules, and inspires Winston to do the same. Julia disguises her actions of sexual rebellion (by having an affair with Winston), by being an active member of the Junior Anti-Sex league. Both Winston and Julia give each other love and strength to battle the Party.

Ironically, both betray each other when they are arrested and imprisoned by the Party. The only way for them to accept the Party and love Big Brother is for their love to die and for them to betray each other. This loss of hope and loss of love proves to be their downfall and the Party’s triumph over their individual thoughts.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Throughout the novel, the boys struggle with being in the maze and wondering why they were put there. In the Glade, they go through horrific ordeals and they have to cling to the hope of getting out of the Glade.

Alby:

  • Believes that strict laws (a system of laws and punishments) will give the Gladers (the boys in the maze) hope that they will someday escape.
  • You follow the rules, eventually it will pay off and I will be able to get out of this hell.

Newt:

  • Believes that if you work and keep your mind active, you will have hope and be able to get through the day.

Minho:

  • Believes that the Runners daily routine of going out into the maze gives the Gladers hope.

All three of these characters view hope in a different way, but it is clear that they are clinging to something. They all want out of the Glade.

In every dystopian story, all of your characters (save for the ones controlling the government) want out of the darkness. They are living in nightmarish and horrific circumstances. How are your characters clinging onto hope?

Commentary of Society

Dystopian worlds are a reflection of real life. Dystopian stories are meant to expose the darkness of the human condition whether that is injustice, poverty, racism, human rights, gender roles, etc. and bring it to light. All dystopian novels do this to some degree.

Anthem, Ayn Rand

Rand is the founder of the philosophy of Objectivism. Rand believed that the individual was superior to the collective, and that man has free will (the choice to think or not), self-interest was morally right and should be pursued, and reason. Objectivism advocates for scientific advancement, and industrial progress. Rand writes to promote her philosophy and promote the value of the word “I.”

1984, George Orwell

Orwell was a socialist who hated communism. His books frequently are written to promote the dangers of communism. Orwell was also influenced by anarchist critiques of Soviet communism regime and Marxist texts by Leon Trotsky.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

The Maze Runner explores the dystopian reality of when a government becomes too powerful and starts to hold power of life and death over their people.

Ok let’s look into one of Shawn’s genres and see how it fits into the dystopian worldbuilding. We are going to look at a book in the action genre (The Hunger Games). Let’s look at the Action genre first.

The Action Genre

The action story is our most primal tale. It concerns survival and securing the ground floor of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our must-have physiological requirements.

Shawn Coyne

As you can see in the diagram above, the action genre moves from life to damnation. A story that explores this SG genre will be fast paced. These are the blockbuster YA books and movies that you see on the screen. When you are combining a dystopian world with the action genre you have to make sure that worldbuilding serves the global value of life to damnation. If it doesn’t fit the life to damnation global value you might not be writing an action story.

For instance, Anthem is a dystopia story. However, it is not an action story. Instead, it has strong ties with the Worldview genre and Status genre. The main character goes from meaningless to meaning and the worldbuilding that Rand created only emphasizes and serves that global genre better.

With the Action Story, everything exists on the life to death/damnation value. Therefore in this story, while you will have an internal story going on, there isn’t going to be much thinking in terms of philosophy going on.

In 1984, Winston thinks about philosophy and reads a lot. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is fighting for her life. She is not going to sit down and drop her bow and start debating about the importance of Marxist thoughts or Objectivism in front of the TV. If Suzanne Collins had done that then her book would have either failed or would have not been an Action story. Both 1984 and The Hunger Games are dystopia stories but both are different Story Grid genres.

Let’s look at the dystopia criteria for The Hunger Games (warning spoilers):

Power/Dictatorships

First, let’s look at the government of The Hunger Games and how it reflects a dictatorship.

The novel portrays a government, the Capitol (or District One), as the defining party responsible for the governing of the other districts. District One maintains control over the other districts in two ways.

  1. It destroyed District Thirteen. All the districts obey the Capitol based on fear.
    1. Notice the life to death/damnation value.
      1. District Thirteen rebelled against the Capitol and was destroyed. (Life to death)
      1. The other districts follow the Capitol because they don’t want to be killed (threat of death/loss of life)
  2. It reminds the other districts that without the Capitol they would not be able to survive.
    1. If they don’t follow the Capitol, these districts won’t survive (life to death)

Collins brilliantly designs all of her worldbuilding techniques and tailors them to the Action global value of Live vs. Death/Damnation.

Class Divide

Panem is literally split into 13 districts. The 13th district when they rebelled against the Capitol (life and death value).

Wealth is distributed unfairly in Panem. Those that live in the Capitol do not have to participate in the annual Hunger Games.

Those that are picked to be participants in The Hunger Games are put into a gladiator-like event where the teenagers have to fight-to-the-death to win. The last man or woman standing wins. Usually, the winner is someone who was born into the wealthier Districts. The reason why is because the tributes have had better access to learning how to fight and succeed in the games.

The Life to Death/Damnation value in this part of the worldbuilding is the class divide. Those on the richer districts who are chosen to be tributes are closer to the Life value simply because they have better training, while those who live in the poorer districts. (Life to death/damnation)

Individual vs. Collectiveness / Rebellion

At the start of the novel, Katniss is her own person. She’s already disobeying the Capitol with her illegal hunting. She’s an individual and she doesn’t blindly follow the Capitol.

So if Katniss was already “conscious” at the beginning of the novel how does her character arc move? This is tied into the Rebellion part of a dystopia novel.

When Katniss is in the annual Hunger Games, the rules are changed stating that the rule that only one person could be the winner will be changed. If the last two remaining tributes standing are from the same District then they will be co-winners.

She then partners up with Peeta Mallark who has secretly loved Katniss for years (this was revealed earlier in the novel and Katniss knows this). They team up and end up defeating the rest of the tributes (life to death). However, when they are the last ones standing the rules are suddenly changed. Only one tribute can win. One of them must die. (Life to death/damnation).

Who dies?

Katniss moves to Peeta and she almost does what the Gamemakers want her to do. She almost becomes the hypocrite that is embodied by the Capitol by killing Peeta. What stops her is Peeta throwing his knife aside and telling her to go ahead. He’s willing to die for her. Why? Peeta loves her and he wants her to live more. (Life to death)

Ashamed, Katniss drops her bow and convinces Peeta to eat poisonous berries with her. Both of them will die, and the Capitol won’t have their winner. By doing this, they will defy the Capitol.

This is the moment where Katniss transcends beyond just consciousness. Her story starts to become a Society story. It should be noted that the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy functions as an action story.

The Society story global value moves from impotence/wellness masked as power/strength (negative) to personal power/well being.  

When Katniss makes the move of eating the poisonous berries, she is exercising her personal power over the Capital. This move eventually propels the trilogy in the third book into full-blown Society story. The reason why this is such a dangerous move (eating the berries) is because this move empowers the rest of the Districts to rebel against the Capitol. She becomes the Mockingjay and a symbol of hope for the other Districts.

This is just one of Katniss’s rebellions against the Capitol. (Life to death)

Love/Hope

Love exists in The Hunger Games. Peeta has loved Katniss for years and has watched her form afar. Later in the novel, he accidently reveals that he is in love with her and in the games the two of cling to each for hope. While Katniss does to a certain extent pretend and manipulate the situation (Peeta being in love with her) to better themselves in the games, it is revealed that she does care for him. At the end of the novel, she is sad about the distance between them. However, she is confused about what their relationship is.

Eventually, as the trilogy progresses the two cling to one another for strength and eventually marry. (Death to Life)

Propaganda/Technology

The Hunger Games are shown to the people of Panem as a reality TV show where people place bets on the tribute they want to win.

Appearances play a huge part in the Capitol. Surface appearances (dresses, make-up, food, etc.) cover up the brutal reality of what takes place in the games. The reality TV shows promote the values of the Capitol.

Other technologies include the surveillance in Panem. The government of Panem doesn’t trust its own people and watches them with invisible cameras all the time.

Commentary on Society

Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for her trilogy while watching news coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “detachment” the news media portrayed the violence, led her to envision Panem where violence was almost a reality TV show where people would sit, watch and be entertained. Collins has also cited that when she was writing this the world was going through a global recession, which emphasized the wealth gap and the conditions of poverty. This was also an inspiration for her novel.

What’s next?

Please remember that as much as I advocate for authentic worldbuilding, don’t spend all of your energy or time focusing on world creation. Take the time you need to build it, and then begin to write. Eventually, you have to take that jump and write that novel. Remember, your worldbuilding should be designed to enhance the theme and message of your story. I hope all of you are doing well. Take care. – Victoria

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About the Author

Victoria R. Girmonde resides in beautiful upstate New York and believes that everyone has a story inside of them and enjoys the long-game of crafting a novel that works. She earned a B.A. in Journalism and a M.A. in Professional Writing. Visit her at www.kyrunediting.com, where she frequently blogs about worldbuilding and story craft. She specializes in fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, romance and memoirs.
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