In general, dystopias can be considered a place or time in which a character or multiple characters discover that they live in a cruel or controlling society. These dystopian societies often have an elite or governing class which controls the citizens within. Harsh punishments are usually created to keep the citizens from ever thinking about leaving the society or breaking the laws until a character starts to ask questions. A character will oftentimes wonder why the society is built the way it is and will then diverge from the common path the other citizens follow. Many times this leads the character down a pathway of struggle as the character battles out of the conforming society.
Dystopias have a range of reasons why people or a person decides that their society is not suitable to live in. For example, the dystopian society may be killing babies based upon their fitness level and hiding various events of the past from their citizens (The Giver by Lois Lowry), children are being sent off to kill one another for sport (The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins) or teens are required to undergo surgery which both alters their appearance and personality (Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld). In each, the main characters discover that they are being manipulated or kept in the dark by their government or ruling class.
The reason why I say dystopias can be tailored to people’s perspectives is because not all people immediately come up with the same nightmare societies. For me, a dystopia would be having to live in a society where there is an extreme gap between the poor and rich. All choices would be lost because the government would decide what the population would do, who they would marry and who would survive. On the other hand, other people could say that their worst fear is that they have to live in a society where they have to survive on their own without light or caged into a place where they couldn’t leave for fear of the outside. Others may say they would fear living in space or a different time period. Fortunately, by thinking of a variety of dystopias, we are able to grow up knowing what we don’t want society to become. Dystopias give people a chance to identify what we do not want to happen in the future and a choice to keep the dystopia from actually occurring.