Dystopian fiction is a big thing right now, and YA books like The Hunger Games and Divergent are pretty individual and subsequently are bestsellers. But a lot of stuff is also really cheesy and trite, and is only published to make money. But I really like reading dystopian fiction, especially stuff with political messages like 1984, and I love writing it too, but I can't seem to be able to tell whether my storyline is cliche.

I'm drawing inspiration from racial injustice and genocides like the Holocaust and the annihilation of Native American culture, and trying to send a message about the dehumanization of others through the oppression of mutated humans by a fascist dictatorship in my storyline.

These types of stories don't sound cliche to me, but would they to others? Or are they too cliched (and done before) to be interesting?

Is this kind of topic cliche? And, if so, how would an author fix it?

  • 3
    So.. the X-Men storyline then?
    – user18397
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 0:33
  • 3
    so more akin to District 9 then. The problem you're going to run into is that it IS cliché and it HAS been done before. So you need to either embrace it, or make it unique through your characters and setting. Because at the end of the day, every story is cliché and has been done before
    – user18397
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 4:06
  • 5
    As Ecclesiasties said a couple of thousand years ago, there is nothing new under the sun - and that's OK. There were vampire stories before Twilight. A story become a cliche when it doesn't add any new ideas. What most of those stories do not have is the knowledge of our era - what is a culture, how many ways are there to undermine (or build) a sense of identity, etc. Just don't have paper blowing in the street and Big Brother on a screen, or kill off all of the intrepid minority characters in service of the white leads and you will be offering an improvement on 90% of what's out there.
    – lonstar
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 7:46
  • 2
    @user57423 I'd be careful with drastic edits. Your change to the question invalidated both existing answers. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 13:09
  • 4
    I'm also going to disagree with @user57423 's edit. There are only 2 answers so far. The edit invalidates both answers to varying degrees. While the question did lean over to the "critique my story idea" side, it was fine to leave in as an example. I will see if I can fix it.
    – Cyn
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


Your story sounds interesting.

But even the best ideas can be awful when written up and some of the simplest, done-to-death, plots can be amazing. It's all in what you do with it.

If a book sells well enough to make the author and publisher money, then there is something compelling about it. It might not be "good" in a literary sense. But the author did something right.

Don't let your theme drive your story.

Make sure the story is interesting on its own. With characters the reader wants to know more about. And a plot that engages.

Talk about your book with friends who like that genre, or join a writing group. Find people who will show you their interest by asking questions and anticipating the next chapters. People who will tell you, yeah, this just doesn't work.

  • 2
    +1 for the sentence in bold. The rest --sorry @Cyn -- is a clichè answer :-P
    – NofP
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 9:17
  • A theme has to drive a story, otherwise it's not a theme. If you don't have a central point for wanting to write, if you have nothing to say, then why bother? I think you meant don't let your futuristic gimmicks drive the story, which I agree Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:28
  • Stories aren't cut and paste; they need to be placed in a context, this is true. My point is a bit broader than don't rely on gimmicks. The story needs to be the centerpiece. Those larger questions are important but need to work synergistically with the story, not be a replacement for it.
    – Cyn
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:38

This is an addition to Cyn's crucial point that the center is the story and not the theme.

[...] dehumanization of others through the oppression of mutated humans by a fascist dictatorship

When summarized like this, if you ignore the "mutated" part, it is not just clichè: it has been the object of numerous studies in psychology, philosophy, economics and other fields [1].

One issue with your summary is that it is "obvious". To make it less obvious you could borrow from Lovecraft and Poe and twist elements that are common and reassuring by making them the core of your dystopia.

I give two examples:

oppression of mutated humans by a constitutional democracy

This is not really an invention. Internment camps were used in US during WWII to detain Japanese individuals [2]. One could borrow from this, and picture the dystopia of a nation that is willing to brace arms and fight for freedom, while denying that very freedom to a minority within its borders.

[...] dehumanization of others through the glorification of mutated humans by a philantropic society

Why should it be an oppression? An absurd, unjustified, glorification, could also lead to dehumanization. In fact the objects of such extreme adoration may find it impossible to live a normal life, or to communicate with others. They may feel excluded and segregated even if that was done with the best of intentions. Imagine millions living in the dust of coal factories, covered in grease, barely able to afford a loaf of bread, and working restlessly out of their own volition (fanatism) to grant a few mutants a golden paradise beyond the crystal walls of the shrine. How would these mutants feel if they had even but a shred of empathy?


I would say the fact that you choose a fascist dictatorship makes it cliché, it is too close to the Holocaust and reminiscent of Hitler exterminating the Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc. No matter what you do, the "fascist dictator" will be equated with Hitler, your "mutants" will be equated with Jews, your "extermination" will be equated with concentration camps, gas chambers, etc.

Not only that, but you will invite terrible comparisons: Because of the obvious parallels to the Holocaust, the first question of any critical eye (including agents and publishers) will be; Is the hidden message of your book that Jews (or Native Americans) are the equivalent of "mutated humans"? Flawed humans? Sub-humans? Worthy of hatred because they are ugly or different? Is this a metaphor for race? Or homosexuality?

IMO, in the current political climate of the world, that makes this book very difficult to write; the mutants have to be unequivocal heroes and the government unequivocally evil and the non-mutant citizens mostly disagreeing with their government; because readers are going to identify with those non-mutant citizens, or the mutants being oppressed. Those dynamics will apply to ANY book discussing discrimination based on appearances, which is what I worry you are aiming toward. And that, in turn, can make your story seem predictable and cliché, unsurprising and lacking depth.

Your better bet is along the lines of Avatar, in which the villains are powerful but motivated to evil by the profits to be had by taking the alien's land to mine. One could say much the same about Native Americans; their extermination was in large part a war of conquest for their territories. Subtract racial motives and the government, and you have Avatar.

Greed is and will always be an understandable motivating factor.

I think much of your story line can be the same, but I'd rethink what you are trying to do. I wouldn't make the reason for discrimination a visual difference or religion or beliefs; those are too reminiscent of the Holocaust. For the same reason, I'd ditch the Fascist Government (no matter what you think Fascist means, to most people it means "Hitler"), and go with some other motivation. Perhaps by corporations. Perhaps it isn't the government doing it, but the government is weak and underpowered, or even non-existent.

A Dystopia is generally (even in the Hunger Games) a situation in which "good" civilization has broken down and cannot protect any citizens from predation; it is humans in the wilderness without resources and subject to predation and lethal conflict from all sides. Nobody is safe. Everybody has to be self-reliant to avoid being prey to other humans.

The heroes become the good vigilantes and/or law enforcement or saviors that risk their lives for others: Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. An old west tale, a rich guy hires mercenaries to terrorize gold miners into giving up their claims; gunslinger Clint happens to be in the area and fends off these attacks, but the rich guy escalates and -- Right prevails, then Clint rides off into the sunset.

If you think about it, these are metaphors for the dream (or fantasy) of "good government" protecting the weak from the strong (instead of catering to the strong).

Now some might say that is itself a cliché, but I'd say it doesn't matter. Readers (and thus agents and publishers) like happy endings, they outsell unhappy endings 10 to 1. It is also okay to take inspiration from the Holocaust, but it is not a good idea (if you want a lot of people to enjoy your writing) to make this too obviously a retelling of the Holocaust.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.