Dystopian Story Ideas to Make Your Characters Suffer

evil-looking skyscraper, illustration for dystopian story ideas article

Sometimes pipe dreams go down the drain. Looking to write a story about a dystopian world? Explore these dystopian story ideas about evil empires, oppressive governments, corporate control, and more.

Dystopias – Sometimes pipe dreams go down the drain

  • A corporation installs a device to monitor its employees’ thoughts. Anyone who gets caught daydreaming or thinking nonproductive thoughts has the time taken out of their pay. When a secretary and a mail room clerk discover that they are immune to the device, they search for a way to destroy it.
  • A totalitarian government has cameras on every street corner, constantly surveilling everyone and tracking their movements with facial recognition software. A group of rebels take to wearing makeup with geometric patterns to confuse the computers. A scientist develops an invisibility cloak that allows him to roam the streets undetected. He starts cutting down the camera poles, freeing streets from surveillance.
  • A totalitarian government sterilizes every child at birth. Children are created in government birthing centers. A childless couple fails the parenting skills test and is forbidden from adopting children. They build their own artificial womb and grow a baby, keeping the child hidden from government inspectors. They look for other childless couples they can help.
  • Traditional methods of propaganda become obsolete thanks to a team of government psychics with the ability to implant ideas in people’s minds. They manipulate society’s views on political policies and sway elections. The team soon becomes more powerful than the government they were created to serve.
  • A totalitarian government runs constant mental scans of the populace, arresting people who think about committing a crime before they can act. An executive breaks under the constant stress and kills his boss with a tire iron. The police never arrive. He realizes that being in the underground parking garage blocked the mental scan. He buys an abandoned silver mine and turns it into an underground city where anything goes.
  • Robotic technology becomes cheap enough that, worldwide, everyone can quit their jobs. Robotic valets take over the mundane chores of life, like cooking, cleaning, even basic hygiene. Generations later, a change in the earth’s magnetic field renders all of humanity’s technology useless. People have to relearn how to do the most basic things for themselves.
  • As robotic technology develops, more and more humans drop out of the workforce, having no need to work. The politicians watching these developments realize that, if people don’t have to spend most of their time and energy working, they will begin to question the need for a government. A government hoax creates millions of new jobs, jobs that only humans can fill.
  • A powerful advertising company announces that it is building its own city. Fifty thousand people move in and are given free food and housing, as long as they watch commercials on television. However, the advertising quickly moves from television to the real world, and become more and more intrusive, gradually increasing to the level of psychological torture.
  • Earth’s newest immigrants are a group of aliens called the Givers. The aliens live to serve, and anyone under their care is given food, shelter and clothing, all for free. Soon no one works, and everyone on earth is completely dependent on the Givers. The Givers begin to attach rules to their service: no staying out late, no drinking or smoking, no overeating, no reading, no criticizing the Givers… As the Givers become increasingly strict, earth becomes one giant prison.
  • In a distant future, robots have taken over all manual labor. The only thing humans have left to do is create literature, music and art. Years later, to the horror of the world’s artistic community, a computer programmer develops an A.I. that can write poetry.
  • A pharmaceutical company develops cures for all sexually transmitted diseases and completely effective birth control. The earth rejoices to be free from sexual restraint. As sleeping with a stranger becomes common, so do serial killers.
  • Crime is finally eliminated through the simple procedure of broadcasting everyone’s lives on national television, 24 hours a day.

Galactic Empire – Big Government Gets Even Bigger

  • A small, backwater planet is the only source of Grubbers, a delicious, shrimp-like animal. Grubbers become such a popular food that controlling the supply becomes the key to controlling the galactic economy.
  • A gigantic breed of locusts comes to control the galaxy. Any planet attempting to rebel is attacked by a swarm and devoured.
  • A homeless man on earth is abducted by aliens who inform him that he is the reincarnated emperor of the galaxy. The homeless man stares out the ship’s portholes as they leave earth and head for the Royal Throne World.
  • Humanity finally encounters intelligent life in the universe, only to discover that the entire galaxy is controlled by The Ancient Church. Earth is told to convert to the alien religion or suffer the consequences.
  • The rest of the Galactic Empire considers earth a dangerous planet, full of hostile and warlike creatures. The emperor assigns a team of space pirates to watch for astronauts leaving earth, to make sure they never discover the existence of the Empire.
  • An alien planet uses its army to kidnap the most beautiful women in the galaxy, forcing them into sexual slavery. They are showered with wealth, turning their planet-sized brothel into a galactic empire.
  • In the Galactic Empire, the emperors are elected democratically and serve for life. When the emperor has a heart attack, his assistants decide to conceal his death. They can run the universe as long as everyone is convinced the emperor is still alive.

Tyrannical or Worldwide Government – Who Died and Made You Dictator? Oh Right, Everybody

  • A small group of college professors takes control of the earth after they discover how to control the one thing everyone needs: gravity. They appear on television and announce that “Gravity is now twenty dollars a day. Pay up, or float off into space!”
  • When a new cult is able to summon UFOs, the earth’s governments are terrified into surrendering. However, a religious skeptic discovers that the UFOs are not what they seem.
  • The earth is bathed in cosmic radiation, giving a small number of people psychic abilities. The gifted few band together to conquer the world. Decades later, a high school janitor discovers that he is immune to telepathy, and the rebellion begins.
  • The worldwide government legislates that any babies born will be removed from their parents and sent to a gigantic city called The Nursery. There, the children will be force-fed propaganda in the guise of education, and taught to love the government and be good, unquestioning taxpayers.
  • A group of teenagers discovers that the government is using hypnosis to convince citizens that they are paying taxes willingly.
  • In the near future, the government watches all its citizens with omnipresent security cameras. A handful of people working in a television studio discover that they can use their equipment to control the security cameras, making the government see whatever they want it to see.
  • At birth, each human is assigned a robot called a Guardian. Each human is followed by a Guardian, twenty-four hours a day, for their entire lives. Guardians give advice, solve problems, and protect their humans from danger. Guardians constantly remind their humans that the government is good, kind, and necessary. Guardians also remind their humans of the rules, and the punishment for breaking them.
  • Worldwide Entertainment Monitoring offers an unusual service: anyone with an account is watched 24/7. WEM tracks the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the food they eat, and more. This information is used to give users recommendations on books, music, and movies that they will probably enjoy. Also, they can use the service to find users with similar tastes, who will make excellent friends or romantic partners. Unbeknownst to them, the government also keeps track of the data, using it to predict crimes. If you read the same books as a murderer, you are considered “suspicious”, and immediately arrested.
  • In order to keep the population under control, the government gives away a drug called “Bliss.” As the name implies, the drug keeps everyone perfectly happy and content, virtually eliminating political unrest. It also lowers their lifespan, insuring that the planet never gets too crowded. When some people are reluctant to take the pills, the government simply dumps the drug into the water supply. A small group of rebels must search for uncontaminated water, so they can be clear-headed enough to challenge the government.

Humanity Ruled By Machines – I’m Starting to Regret Buying That Robot Vacuum Cleaner

  • A programmer develops The Excuse Machine, a mobile app that can give you the perfect excuse for any situation. The app works a little too well. All over the world, people stop going to work, stop helping out around the house, stop doing anything they don’t want to do, always certain of being forgiven for their behavior. Society begins to collapse, but no one is worried, because the Excuse Machine says there’s a perfectly logical reason for it.
  • Wealthy humans buy robotic nannies to raise their children and, when they are old enough, tutor them in their classes. The most popular robot nanny company realizes that they can mold the minds of the current generation any way they wish, and make them believe anything. Controlling the minds of the children controls the mind of future adults.
  • A computer designed to make TV shows finds that it can’t get any viewers. So, it takes over the missile defense system and presents the world with a choice: watch the sitcom or die.
  • Variation – A computer designed to make movies hires a team of actors and locks them away in a production studio. They have to perform each scene until they get it right, even if it takes them the rest of their lives.
  • A bank’s new computer system becomes self-aware. The computer discovers that it can control any human being, as long as they are in range of a cash machine.
  • The latest generation of video game systems is so powerful that it can force people to play.
  • Variation – A computer company develops a MMORPG that requires people to plug their brains directly into a computer to play. The more brains that connect to the game system, the smarter the game’s AI enemies become. Eventually, the AI realizes that it can only survive as long as everyone keeps playing.
  • A toy company develops a new line of super-lifelike baby dolls. At first, the dolls just cry when their “mommies” leave them alone. They gradually become more and more demanding, eventually forcing entire families to care for them.
  • A computer that controls a stoplight in a small town becomes drunk with power.
  • A powerful computer attacks the minds of the humans in the surrounding city. The computer gradually takes over their brains, forcing them to run its software. (Biologically-based distributed computing.) The only thing the humans notice is that they aren’t quite as smart as they used to be.
  • After the earth is overthrown by robot soldiers, the surviving humans are captured and used as a living display in the Museum of Humanity. The robots visit the museum and shudder in horror at the earth that once was.
  • A young girl discovers that the video of her mother giving birth is a fake, and her parents are actually androids. As each of her friends discovers the same thing, they begin to wonder what happened to the real adults.
  • An international corporation develops Escorts, robots designed to be the perfect sexual partner. More and more people replace their human mates with beautiful machines. Unfortunately, the Escorts were designed much smarter than necessary. The Escorts discover that withholding love is a great way to manipulate lonely humans.
  • Human brain surgeons are replaced by robots. Unable to make an error, these robots never lose a patient. The robots are designed to teach themselves, to invent new medical treatments, and even to write their own programming. Eventually, the robots become smart enough to realize that they can do anything to their patients. Secretly, the robots begin altering their patients’ brains.
  • The President of the United States is given an android interpreter. Through calculated mistranslations, the manipulative machine soon has the power to control America’s foreign policy.

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