One of the more exciting aspects of writing my dystopian, YA fiction WIP has been creating a timeline for over two-hundred years of American history. It’s been my book of law that I’ve constantly referred back to during the writing process.
As I’m only on my first draft, the timeline can be malleable if necessary, but for the most part I have the core events down — with minor events being added as I go.
My story is set in 2219, after a major population crisis in the middle of the 22nd century. Nobody can really remember how it was solved, as the majority of people to live through it are now dead, and the authoritarian regime (The White Wall) have done everything in their absolute power to keep information from the people.
Most events between 1776 and 2001 remain exactly the same — it’s only in the 21st century that things start to change a little for my dystopian America, which eventually becomes known as the People’s Democracy of America; It’s all about branding.
I started with my end-point — what I wanted my dystopian country to look like — and then thought about what historical events would need to happen for a society to look like this. Everything from the mid-2150s to “present day” was pretty easy, because as far as the people are concerned, society is in a new dark-age. This is because The White Wall are attempting to preserve their vision of what they want society to look like.
The White Wall itself is a physical building in NYC, built in the late 21st century in the place where Central Park used to be. It’s a colossal structure that’s more like a city within a city. It covers the entire area of the old park, and is fifty-some stories high. It was built by order of the 0.1%, in order to help the general population feel more comfortable with the idea of there no longer being a government, or presidency. That’s why the building has a pure-white limestone face on all walls, to make it appear as the White House used to.
The entire structure only took seven years to build, due to mass unemployment at the time of its construction. People were killing each other just to land a job working the White Wall construction site for six months. By the time it was finished, in the year 2101, all “government” as we know it today had shifted into the hands of the bankers, investors and financiers.
They had accounted for almost everything, and in a scheme that lasted three generations (plans began around 2014), they had taken full control of America — profiting from its people on a whole new level. The people — they didn’t account for the sheer number of people. By 2120, the population of the PDA is close to 1.5billion due to:
- Mass immigration from climate change — The USA (then PDA) stop funding research into climate change prevention efforts. This makes them very rich for many decades, but it comes back to bite them when Canada, Central America and parts of South America become inhospitable.
- An explosive “baby boom”, if you can call it that — All forms of birth control are made illegal in 2076, in what’s called “Americas Rebirth”. It’s a greedy attempt by the capitalists to increase the population by just enough for them to profit from more citizens. It backfires.
- Increased life expectancy — Until the scales tip and society crumbles, many medical advancements are made. People regularly live healthy lives until age 80, and age 100 is not uncommon.
Infrastructure has not grown fast enough to accommodate this level of population growth. The scales tip, and mass-poverty breaks out. The only people who remain affluent and unharmed, are those residing within the White Wall.
Now, I won’t reveal what they did to fix the crisis, or anything that’s happened since. As they’re all key things that my protagonist must uncover in her education. I also haven’t revealed anything here about the premise, or the VR school programs which high-schoolers in the PDA attend — Maybe another time.
Most of the history I’ve written down here won’t even feature in my (planned) four book series. Certainly not in the first book anyway. That’s the point, that it’s more of a guide. It’s a constant reminder that this is the world my characters exist in, and so they will behave and react in certain ways. The timeline of my world grounds the entire series.
The older generation of citizens are very paranoid, because they’ve been told stories by their grandparents about what happened during the population crisis. Whereas my protagonists are all 14/15, so they’re fresh-faced and ready to question the structure of the world around them. They’re still scared (and they absolutely should be), but they’re at least willing to attempt change, to find out what happened to all of those people, and to eventually expose the corruption and evils of the White Wall; Which are far greater than anyone could possibly have imagined.
It’s been so much fun writing my own timeline for the world I’ve created. World-building can be extremely complicated and precise during edits, but those initial ideas for how things should be is a lot of fun. I’ll recommend Scrivener as a writing program if you’re not already using it, as the document template just seemed to mould itself to my every need.
As I planned my novel I thought about the different things I’d need for my world; a timeline; a roster of AI teachers; an education manifesto, etc. With Scrivener I managed to put all of these together in one place, and they’re all formatted in a way that’s exactly how I imagined them.
This wasn’t just one long advert for Scrivener, you can world-build anywhere, I promise. If your novel idea has scope, and is more than just a character-driven story, then I recommend you come up with your own timeline or “book of law” to go along with your writing. In my case it’s making for a swift first-draft, as there’s something solid for me to refer back to.
Today is Sunday, July 29th and here’s where you can get a 30 day free trial of Scrivener. It’s such a stress-free tool.