Utopia vs. Drama

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Initially, I made this site for presenting my science fiction stories and some related philosophical ideas. I wanted to update the blog with new versions of my drafts, but I found it more convenient not to upload every intermediate stage of my stories and only present finished stories. Unfortunately, finishing stories takes a lot of time.

There’s one particular problem which makes it rather difficult for me to write the science fiction stories I’m thinking about in an appealing way. As those stories play in relatively utopian worlds, it is hard to include a lot of drama and tension into the plots. Utopian societies can solve most problems you throw at them easily. That doesn’t make for interesting and exciting stories.

Compare that to stories about superheroes who have all kinds of superpowers but no weaknesses. Stories about superman would be rather boring if he was immune to Kryptonite. Unless there were enough villains which are strong enough to have a realistic chance at defeating superman.

Some possibilities to write an interesting story about an utopian civilization would be to threaten it with something like war, secession, revolts, terrorism, or just massive bad luck. If nothing else helps, just come up with some nasty invaders from a parallel universe. However, I want to write about utopian civilizations in a state of relative security. So, I need to come up with something else.

What remains as option are personal dramas. Personal failures, mistakes, defeats, losses. Those can happen in any kind of world. After all, the possibility of these things happening is one of the main reasons why life is interesting.

Nevertheless, in very utopian worlds even personal dramas might be unlikely. Society might be sophisticated enough to help any individual who is struggling – by solving es problems, or at least ameliorating the pain caused by them. How can personal dramas be made captivating if the stakes aren’t really high?

Honestly, I haven’t found a completely satisfying answer to that question, yet. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m only making very slow progress with my stories. After all, I want them to be interesting and being able to provoke strong emotional reactions.



  1. HHELLD  June 14, 2011

    It might be preferable to write about nearly-utopian worlds, not completely-utopian. For example, a world where people have solved most technical and critical problems (like war and poverty), but are still sometimes struggling with organizing their own social relationships, or, maybe, with finding what want to get busy with, with nothing external taking their time (ref. fun theory at lesswrong).

    Bit more generally, I think you can either use storywriting as a medium for expanding own thoughts on a subject not completely known to you, or use it for describing some ideas in a fun-to-read form (that’s mostly what HP:MoR does).
    And with a specific topic it should be possible to choose a maximal level of utopianization which still leaves it plausible. Though I guess it might leave most readers (with few group exceptions) feeling less relevant and involved with the story.

  2. RadiVis  June 14, 2011

    Cool to read your comment here. Yeah, well, completely utopian worlds might not be possible at all. What’s utopian and what’s not probably depends a lot on personal preferences. And even if everyone gets a private (virtual) world, there might be stuff in the global world that you feel are totally unacceptable. Take extreme religious indoctrination for example. I don’t want that to be legal anywhere.

    Such interest and preference conflicts could still give rise to interesting stories.

    As you said, I really use my story writing to gain more clarity about the worlds I create in my mind. And I hope they turn out to be entertaining to some (I actually have read a book that really emphasizes that stories have to deliver a strong emotional experience (Fiction Writing for Dummies, a really good book)).

    Writing stories which make readers feel involved might be difficult for the stories settled in the Our Ascent universe, because there’s just this insanely advanced supercilvilization, which is pretty utopian, but the major characters are superintelligent post-human entities. Actually I’m very much interested in such characters, which is why I want to write about them. Well, the most interesting aspect is that those guys just blow your mind, but if you want to get your mind blown, my approach might just be the right one 🙂 Storytellers’ Chronicles and Da Vinci Omega is really hardcore stuff.


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