HOW TO WRITE A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL by Madeline Dyer
April 2, 2024
June 4, 2024
DURATION: 8 weeks
LOCATION: Private Slack channel, email for assignments, Google drive folder for teaching materials, pre-recorded lectures, and 30-min Zoom call. This is an asynchronous course that can be studied from anywhere, in any time zone.
FEEDBACK: Instructor critique and feedback on all assignments, peer workshopping
COURSE DESCRIPTION: Have you always wanted to write a dystopian novel but need help fine-tuning your idea? Got an idea for a dystopian novel, but have no idea where to start with the actual writing of your book? In this eight-week course dystopian novelist Madeline Dyer will take you through the steps involved in crafting a dystopian novel.
This is a genre-based course, so what you learn in this class can be applied to dystopian fiction for all readerships. While the majority of Madeline’s students are working on young-adult dystopian titles, there are also resources available for those writing dystopian fiction for middle-grade and adult readerships.
Each week will focus on a different aspect of writing the dystopian novel, and you’ll be provided with learning materials such as lectures, excerpts, links, and more, all of which you can access in your own time within that week. Every week also contains an assignment where you’ll get individual feedback from Madeline, including chapter critiques.
A private Slack channel will be set up for discussions among the students of this class, where you are welcome to discuss each week’s content with each other and form small critique groups too should you also wish to get peer feedback on your assignments too.
A 30-minute Zoom call is also available for each student and can be done in any week.
This course is aimed at beginners (whether you’re new to this genre or new to writing) and those looking to improve their craft.
This course was extremely comprehensive and is a great fit for a variety of levels. Madeline does a great job of tailoring the course to your needs and supporting your creative vision. Her kind, thoughtful and intelligent approach makes for a really wonderful class. Highly recommend! – Jade Small (WOW student)
I highly recommend this course to anyone new to writing dystopians irrespective of their experience in other genres. The comprehensive coursework and Madeline's razor-sharp feedback will meet writers wherever they are and take them to the next level. – Mary Helen Sheriff, author of Boop and Eve's Road Trip (WOW student)
I have played with writing like singing in the shower, alone and off pitch. The Narrative Structures Class helped me dry off and truly embrace technique to advance my craft. I feel like a writer now. Madeline pays attention to detail, provides a wealth of resources, and offers the perfect combination of humility and expertise. I could ask her questions without feeling embarrassed. Throughout the duration of the course I was stunned at how much I received for the cost and told Madeline more than once, we should pay you more.
Madeline is truly brilliant. Gifted and a gift. I am grateful and can't wait to take another class with her. – Alicia Luna, LMFT (WOW student)
Madeline's YA course (and her three hour thriller course) are hands down the best on-line writing courses I've ever done. Madeline is an excellent tutor. The course content is rich with information, with online workshops, exercises and feedback on homework, as well as support if you have any questions. Madeline also offers detailed critique, which has been invaluable. I had an idea for a YA story and by the end of week 6, I had a full plot, chapter by chapter structure and had several scenes ready to go. One of my favourite parts was the opportunity to talk science and ask questions with an expert, as part of the research week. It's hard to imagine doing all this in six weeks after 4 years of procrastination!
I'm presently on Madeline's Narrative Structures course and I am loving it. If you're looking for a writing course, I totally recommend any of Madeline's courses. They are worth every penny. – Lottie McKnight (WOW student)
M. Dyer’s critiquing skills are worth every single penny. She’s honest, thorough, professional, and an absolute peach to work with. I will keep coming back as long as she’s in business. – Frost Kay, author of Rebel’s Blade
This is going to sound like an idle compliment but I mean it with all my heart— you’re the best editor I’ve ever had. Like seriously everything I’m implementing is making this story so much better. Your notes have encouraged me to go deeper in so many ways. I basically want to hire you for all my future books. – Sarah Anderson, author of the Starstruck Saga and Aix Marks the Spot
M. Dyer’s critique is worth every penny. She is thorough and tough on the manuscript, but every comment helps make it just a little better, and by the time you’re done, with all her comments and suggestions, you’ll be sure to have a book to be proud of. – Rose Withering, author of Thornburg’s Daughter
WEEKS AT A GLANCE:
Week 1: An Introduction to the Dystopian Genre & How to Begin Writing in this Genre
We will begin by looking at the dystopian genre as a political space, understanding how authors such as George Orwell traditionally utilized this genre, and how the YA market has further shaped this genre and the power within dystopian writings.
We will then spend some time thinking about the first step in writing dystopian fiction: research.
Research is a vital part of any novel-writing, and we’ll look at the two different types of research that are hugely important in writing dystopian manuscripts: carrying out research that’s specific to your idea and carrying out research on the dystopian market.
Firstly, dystopian novels usually revolve around ideas of inequality, in some way. Inequality is almost always at the heart of any dystopian society—and often the premise of an idea for such a manuscript can be summed up in ‘what-if’ questions: What if some people aren’t treated fairly? What if those people revolt? What if they have to lose the things they love most in order to do this?
When these questions are paired with a theme (rich vs the poor, technological control, survival, etc.) and an antagonist (usually in the form of the leaders of a totalitarian government), we get more concrete things that we can research in order to give us the best basis to begin telling our story.
We will examine the different types of research you can do to flesh out your ideas, and these what-if questions, from reading psychological reports on human nature and the conditions that will drive people to do inexplicable things, to surrounding yourself with inspiration in such a way that you’ll be constructing your dystopian society almost subconsciously as you go about your day-to-day life.
You will then get the chance to discuss your ideas for your stories—the premises of your dystopian worlds—with me and other students.
Knowing the market and researching it is the second part of research that we’ll discuss in week one. In recent years, the popularity of dystopian literature has meant that die-hard dystopian fans have certain expectations of the genre. They’ll be looking for certain plot points—such as some sort of trial or challenge (prevalent in nearly all dystopian works, especially YA dystopian), and as such, writers need to be able to fulfil these requirements. We will be discussing exactly what the expectations are within the dystopian genre, as well as how to includes these ‘plot points’ without relying on tropes or stereotypes.
Assignment: You will submit a rough outline of your idea as well various topics you may want to research in order to develop your premise.
Week 2: Creating Your Characters and Conflict
The vast majority of dystopian books are character driven. Protagonists are usually from the oppressed sector of the dystopian society, and something has made them seek out change now. Thus, the protagonist’s decision to bring out change is what shapes much of the plot, while the obstacles that the character faces are usually put in place by the antagonist. Your protagonist and antagonist are the most important characters in dystopian fiction, and you need them to be believable.
Week two includes a masterclass on creating engaging and believable characters. By the end of the week, you’ll have constructed your protagonist and antagonist, and linked them into your idea that you researched in week one.
Assignment: You will submit character outlines for critique and receive personalized feedback on them from me.
Week 3: Creating Your Dystopian World
Worldbuilding is a huge part of the dystopian genre, and this week we’ll look at the different ways you can begin to construct and create your dystopian world. A number of exercises will be available to students this week as we look at the different starting points to creating a dystopian world.
We’ll be sure to map out your characters onto the world you’re planning, ensuring that there is something in the worldbuilding that directly prevents your protagonist from easily obtaining what they want.
We will do close readings of dystopian worlds from popular dystopian titles, and we will also think about the scientific research you may want to do to flesh out your worldbuilding. Guidance will be given on how to find credible scientific resources and how to approach experts in the field you’re writing about. We will also consider how much of the science should go into your prose, and how this might change depending on the readership you’re writing for.
Assignment: You’ll submit one of your worldbuilding exercises to me for personalized feedback.
Week 4: Narrative Structures, Planning, and Pantsing
We’re getting closer to the writing now! But, firstly, we’ll have a look at the various ways you can outline your novel or how to free-write if you’re a panster. We will also look at novel structure, utilizing screenwriting theory and template, and how and when you will use these regardless of whether you’re a planner or not.
Assignment: You’ll submit your observations on novel structure to me along with any thoughts on structures you want to implement in your own writing, and a rough three-act outline, for personalized guidance from me.
Week 5: Writing the First Chapter
This week sees us beginning to write our very first drafts! We’ll start off with a masterclass on writing engaging first chapters, and we will do several close-readings of the opening chapters of popular dystopian novels. We will also talk briefly about the various ways to go about writing your first chapter—whether you’re a planner or panster.
There’ll also be the opportunity to hear what NYT-bestselling author Emily Colin says about the writing process of her YA dystopian novel, The Sword of the Seven Sins.
Assignment: You will submit your first chapter to me for feedback.
Week 6: Maintaining Momentum as You Write: An Examination of Tension and Pacing
Week six is all about tension! Tension is hugely important in dystopian fiction, and a lot of it is bound up in pacing. We’ll discuss various methods to get your pacing and tension correct, including cliff-hanger chapter endings and the all-important twists.
We’ll have a masterclass on laying the foundations for the ‘big twist at the end’ moment, and we’ll do close-readings of pacing, tension, and twists in popular YA dystopian novels.
Assignment: You’ll have a go at writing a subsequent chapter from your manuscript that includes a twist.
Week 7: After the First Draft: Revising Your Idea and How to Edit
Now that we’ve covered research, characters, plot, worldbuilding, tension, and pacing, we’re nicely set up to draft the whole of the first draft. But what do you do once you’ve reached the end?
This week we’ll have a masterclass in how to revise, both on the plot/character and craft levels.
We’ll practice applying theories of structure to various novels as well as our own writing, and we’ll use structure maps to guide us in what may need revising.
We’ll talk about the importance of critique partners and viewing your own work as objectively as possible.
Assignment: You’ll revise either your first chapter or the chapter you wrote last week for the assignment, editing it according to feedback given.
Week 8: Odds and Ends
Now that we’ve reached the final week of our course, you’ll be familiar with the conventions of the dystopian genre, how to create engaging characters that drive the plot, and how to maintain tension. Week eight is where we’ll have some fun. We’ll have writing exercises designed to make us fall back in love with writing (because sometimes enthusiasm can waver when we’ve been working on a project for a long time) and there’ll also be the chance to get any questions answered.
Previous students have also asked for further guidance on how to write with emotion (especially applicable when writing for a YA audience), so this is also where we look at this. And if by the end of the course, there is anything specific that you’re looking for help with, let me know!
Assignment: You’ll submit a 5,000 word excerpt to me from the manuscript you’ve been working on, and I’ll be able to give you feedback on a specific area (such as maintaining tension, if that’s something you’re struggling with).
Materials Needed: You will need: an idea (however small) for a dystopian novel; an email account; Microsoft word access; computer and internet access.
Please also have copies of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field for week 5.
It is also helpful (though not absolutely essential) if you have read a range of dystopian novels (from the first novels in the genre to YA dystopian titles published in the last five years).
I recommend selecting six or seven from this suggested reading list:
1984 by George Orwell
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn
Sword of the Seven Sins by Emily Colin
Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
Scavengers by Darren Simpson
Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Book of Fire by Michelle Kenney
The End of Men by Christina Sweeney Baird
Vox by Christina Dalcher
ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR:
Madeline Dyer lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where she hangs out with her Shetland ponies and writes dark and twisty young adult books.
Madeline has a strong love for anything dystopian or ghostly, and she can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes.
Her books include the Untamed series, the Dangerous Ones series, and Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation.
Untamed won the 2017 SIBA award for Best Dystopian Novel and has been a #1 bestseller in its Amazon category in five countries. Madeline’s second novel Fragmented was also a runner-up for Best Young Adult novel at the 2017 SIBAs. Her memoir, Captive and her ace romance novel, My Heart to Find (written as Elin Annalise) have both been nominated for 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards from TCK publishing, for Best Memoir and Best Romance respectively.
She is represented by Erin Clyburn at Howland Literary. Madeline is also a staff editor at Bolide Books, a publisher based in Scotland, specializing in speculative fiction. Visit her website at www.MadelineDyer.co.uk
COST: $185, which includes a private group for discussions, weekly assignments and feedback from the instructor, and an optional Zoom call.
BUY NOW: How to Write a Dystopian Novel with Madeline Dyer (8 weeks, starting 4/2/2024) Limit: 20 students. Early registration is recommended.
For Class Session Starting 4/2/2024
BUY NOW: How to Write a Dystopian Novel with Madeline Dyer (8 weeks, starting 6/4/2024) Limit: 20 students. Early registration is recommended.
For Class Session Starting 6/4/2024
Notes: Upon successful completion of payment, your name, email address, and contact info will be submitted to your instructor. She will contact you and invite you to a private classroom blog.
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