Remember, remember the ... 28th of November? Probably, because that is when we hosted our first workshop based on dystopia in collaboration with the David Wilson Library of the University of Leicester. And yes, true to the theme of dystopia, I started this article with a V for Vendetta reference.
About two months before that important date, we were approached by the university library with a very interesting proposal. Since we are the Creative Writing society, they asked us if we would like to deliver a comprehensive workshop based on dystopia in the spirit of this year’s Read at Leicester project, which placed Naomi Alderman’s The Power - you guessed it: a dystopian novel - in every student accommodation of our university. This proposal was within the wider spectrum of getting people interested in reading, but also writing, with the first workshop’s theme being that of dystopia. We couldn’t have agreed more and so we began planning from the beginning of October.
On the 28th November it was our brave secretary who took it upon himself to lead the session (yes, the same secretary who is writing this article and is definitely not biased in the descriptions of himself!). Attendance was good with many people attending who were not necessarily part of our society.
We began from the ground up, starting with the basics of constructing a dystopian world, identifying what went wrong in that world, how did it affect the people in it, what its rules and antagonists are and finally, our main character(s). We tried to make the workshop as interesting and interactive as possible by asking our audience what their definitions of a dystopia were and what examples of dystopia in novels, film, games and popular culture they could find. They were amazing and identified many of the popular dystopian stories (1984, A Brave New World, Hunger Games, etc.) but they missed Children of Men. How can one miss Children of Men? As I mentioned when presenting, “CoM is a textbook dystopian story”:it contains all the elements of a dystopia as if the scriptwriters were checking them off a list. In fact, a lot of the workshop was built around following Children of Men’s structure and ways of going about delivering the cinematic experience of a dystopia.
All throughout the workshop we tried to encourage moving away from the established notions of what a dystopia is like, into more original territory (for example, we advised them to try and create a dystopian world that isn’t dark, completely industrialized and polluted, but rather sunny and green, for a change). Towards the end of the workshop we had a whole slide dedicated to dystopian clichés and avoiding them (e.g.: the antagonist is always a plutocratic, autocratic Big-Brother government of some kind), and that was when the audience roared up and intimidated me when I tried to criticize the Hunger Games! A dedicated fanbase indeed …!
Finally, we all took part in a writing task which would have each group (the audience was seated in specific tables-groups) try to create their own dystopian world based on what they had learned throughout the presentation. Each table presented us with amazing dystopian worlds like one where men were the minority after a major war and they were revered as god-like beings by women who were the majority and had replaced them in almost every way… Happy stuff...!
After all was said and done, we shared with our audience a small literary competition we are hosting as a society which called for the submission of 3000-word dystopian short stories by the 5th of December, with the prize of a possible chance for publication and (what everybody likes) a £10.00 Amazon voucher.
All in all, it was a very interesting and enlightening experience for all involved and, we believe, everyone left equipped with all the necessary knowledge of how things could go wrong at any given moment ... Now, we’re waiting for the submissions for our competition to see how our creative audience chooses to employ all they learned with us at the workshop.
For further details about the competition, including the rules, please email the society: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the writer
My name is Xenophon and I am from Hellas (Greece), on my second year of study here at the university. I am quite interested in history and writing and I like to see myself as an aspiring writer. Presently, I am serving as Secretary in the Creative Writing Society of the university, regularly leading creative writing workshops on a range of themes and literary genres.