1. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    I have problems comming up with a conflict for my utopian city

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Bromabo, Jan 7, 2014.

    My view of a utopian story is that it does not have to present a perfect society but rather a critique of the present society or situation by proposing a better alternative.
    With that in mind I have this idea of a kinda utopian city.

    I'm not sure if I can explain my idea of this city but I'll try. If you don't want to read it all I'll put a shorter sum up in the next paragraph. I study urban planning and in my courses there are a lot of talk of how if we want to be able to sustain our current size cities without the use of fossil fuels every city will have to produce a lot more of it's goods close by. Combining this with the ideas of a circular economy (I'm not sure how many that are familiar with this one but it comes from the concept that the best economic system is one that has eliminated waste and instead reuses everything) it makes sense that a lot of production of goods would take place in the cities. Because that is where much of the waste is and the transport is expensive. In order to prevent sprawl these new production functions would have to be integrated into the excisting city and the land use would have to be more efficient. People would have to prioritize what they want to use their space for and often have multiple usage. Since everyone has different priorities it wouldn't work to try to make everyone live the same. Everyone would have different preferences and therefore it would make sense that the city was divided into smaller communities where people with the same priorities could gather. These communities could vary in size and they would all be in charge of their day-to-day affairs and their own infrastructure while the city government as a whole would uphold the basic laws of the city and provide help and guidance to the communities by offering consulting and expert opinions in different matters such as technical questions of resource and space efficiency and social questions of cooperations with other neighboring communities. Such a city would naturally be very diverse and to prevent conflicts based on prejudice and discrimination and the system would have to be set up so that interactions and cooperations between different communities is rewarded.

    For those of you who didn't want to read all that my idea is basically a city which is very dense and makes very efficient use of it's resources by reusing and recycling. To make this possible the city is divided into smaller areas where the people are in charge of their own infrastructure and day-to-day governance. The role of the city government is to uphold the basic laws of the city, to assist the areas with advice on how to run themselves and to promote tolerance, interaction and cooperation between the different areas.

    I guess the problem for me is that I have this idea of the setting, the city, but not much idea of the plot and the characters. I think I want it to be about a main character that either arrives to the city as an immigrant (either from another type of functioning society or as a refugee from broken down one) or one that already lives in the city since birth and perhaps leave his/her area for a time to participate in a sort of exchange program with another very different area. I just can't think of any good conflicts that would follow from that. I don't want it to be all perfect but I don't want the conflicts to go overboard either and make it boarder on dystopian.

    If any of you have read the book the Dispossessed you might get what I'm trying for. The society of Anares is in many ways superior to our present ones but on the same time there are a lot of conflicts in the story with the types of: man vs nature, man vs man, man vs self etc. I think almost every type of main conflict is in that book actually.

    As for a last comment English is not my first language so I'd probably would not use that as my book language, even though it could be cool to have that be the lingua franca of the city.
     
  2. Sueshep
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    Sueshep New Member

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    So, a couple of books come to mind as examples. In Iain M. Banks's Culture novels, replicators and endless free energy have created a utopia; in Niven & Pournelle's Oath of Fealty, Todos Santos is a dense and extremely efficient living community with some (mild, but it's there) similarity to what you seem to be describing in Anares.

    These novels focus on two things: culture clash and the problems that don't get solved just because everyone in theory has what they need to live comfortably. Culture clash could definitely happen, and could be driven by technology, envy, religious differences, historical enmity, someone in power getting the short end of the stick when dealing with Anares's people, etc. Plus, a densely packed area is particularly susceptible to certain kinds of sabotage: a water main blows, a biologically tailored virus is released via aerosol spray in a public bathroom off a major corridor, someone sneaks a bomb in such that the concussive blast alone will kill or injure scores of people...

    War is still a threat, in other words. And so are milder forms of sabotage and dissent. Additionally, people who live in a situation where they must do everything exactly so will often find themselves seriously constrained in more subtle ways. If water and food and biologically synthesized plastics are freely available, does that mean it's considered wasteful for a carpenter to ask for a specially grown hardwood for a handmade bureau? Does that mean everyone can freely get protein wafers but only the wealthy can dine on roast pheasant?

    Remember, even in a society where there's a fairly high minimum standard of living, some people will do better than others -- they'll be cleverer or more creative or more socially savvy or they'll know people in positions of influence, while a few people manage to do things like get addicted to drugs or gaming. Conflict will happen, in other words, just because people are imperfect and none of us are exactly alike in our wants and needs.

    So why not exploit this? Let's say there's one district -- Park, let's say -- and they have put a high enough premium on preserving wildlife that there are elaborate greenhouses and parklands on various levels of the city. You have a character whose older sister is responsible for culling animals when the population of squirrels or whatnot becomes too high, so your focus character just gets used to having squirrel meat sometimes with dinner, and they're used to being able to buy some handcrafted wooden items. (Whenever the trees get pruned back and the whittlers and woodworkers are allowed to take wood for their hobbies, a few more handcrafted wooden items enter the local economy.)

    Then they travel (maybe an exchange student program; maybe they cut ties with family because one of their parents is emotionally abusive) and find themselves in a place where people are grossed out by the idea of eating meat from someplace other than a vat, and they think she's a terrible person for saying aloud that she wishes she were better at woodcarving, and in the meanwhile she's homesick for the simple beauty of the Level Three Rainforest she used to visit on her way home from school.

    There are all kinds of stories here. What do you want to talk about? Kids' adventures? The social jockeying of someone who's just been promoted to deal with the major life support systems of his district because he's charming even though he's not as qualified? The blossoming of new artistic movements, or the way culinary arts would change if you had certain common foods but spices still hadn't been perfected yet?

    You've got a neat setting here. Now pick someone whose life is interesting to you, give them a problem (someone who's opposing them on something), and let them try to deal. Whether they succeed, fail, or change their minds and then succeed at that, I bet you'll come up with a lot of awesome material along the way.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    All fiction should be doing exactly the portion in bold. ;)



    Yes, I have read Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Anares is not exactly a communist society, but close enough to give a parable of it in the real world. I think your source of conflict presents itself rather clearly, it's simply a matter of how you wish to dress it. The question you should be asking is why do such utopian, highly efficient, ultra energy conservative societies not exist now, today, when we clearly already possess the technology? Why does pure, true communism - which famously makes so much sense when on paper - fail when put into practice? Why is it never a true representation of the theory? Why are there alway inclusions (to borrow a gemological term) that disrupt the clean formation? And not to demonize communism, why do true democracies tend to evolve away from the ideal? There is your conflict. The description you gave of the kind of city planning you envision would require near absolute, hive-like cooperation from all individuals. This is how ants and bees and termites live. All this cooperation sounds pretty until you factor in some hardwired facets of human nature. We're territorial, it's in our nature. We respect and respond to hierarchal structure, that too is in our nature. We dislike the different no matter how many councilors you put into place, and most important of all, AMS is a creature designed to live in groups of about 20 - 25 members. Until the last few seconds of our evolutionary history, that's how we have always lived, in packs. We were never designed to live in large herds or in hives. It goes against our limbic programming, a programming that is infinitely more ancient and hardwired than the neocortex giving rise to this conversation. How do you make a round creature, no matter how intelligent, fit a square social structure?
     
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  4. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    I like the idea of a utopian society, they are less common and sometimes far more interesting than a dystopian societies. As for plot and characters, your protagonist could be an immigrant from a broken utopian city, possibly because he broke the last one he was in. Utopia or not, there are always people who want power, your main character could be one of those people. A man/woman who seeks to change the society to better himself and the people he works with for said power.

    We've all seen the anti-power characters like Winston Smith in 1984, who seek to break an authoritarian government in a dystopic world; but we don't really see the exact opposite of that - something I find to be much more interesting.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    People often believe that their own preferences are the only rational and logical preferences. The longest debate thread that I ever read was about whether people should take off their shoes when entering a home, or not. Both sides were convinced that they were advocating guest courtesy, host courtesy, and sanitation.

    So I might suggest that you start listing some of the areas and their priorities and where they'd conflict. For example:

    "Do you *see* all that land they have out there, that they're doing nothing with?"
    "Well, they don't see it as nothing. They like all those trees, and playing frisbee, and..."
    "That's ridiculous. They can book a handball court like everybody else."
    "Well, it's their choice."
    "No. No. Look at the manufacturing shortages that we have. Last month we ran out of antibiotics. That affects everyone. Nobody has a right to keep idle land just because they like looking at the pretty leaves."

    "Do you *see* how they've filled every last scrap of space?"
    "Well, that's their preference. They like a higher standard of living, more products..."
    "That's ridiculous. Nobody needs that many pairs of shoes."
    "Well, it's their choice."
    "No. No. Everybody has to see it when they fly by. Nobody has a right to make the landscape that ugly just because they want to fill their closet."
     
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  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe the people aren't used to dealing with aggressors and get taken by surprise by …?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The conflict in a "utopian" society nearly always from showing the flaw in the system. There's not much story in a perfect society.

    Larry Niven once wrote a short story in a very advanced society to illustrate why he wasn't going to write much about such a time of marvels. The story is called "Safe at Any Speed," and the story is based on inconvenience and a minor consumer complaint. It's good for a chuckle, and is at least a snack for thought for writers.
     
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  8. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    Thanks for all the replies. A lot of good advice and reflections.
    I should clarify that I don't see my society as Anares at all. I only brought up that as an example of how there can be a lot of different conflicts in a story about a utopian society.

    I've started to think that the overall theme of the story I'd like to have is how people are different and how that can be both advantageous and disadvantageous to a society. So perhaps the conflict could be that there is some mass influx of refugees into the city due to a war or natural disaster. And the inhabitants of the city who have always thought they are so good at being tolerant and promoting diversity realizes that they might not be so diverse as they thought and that there are a lot of things they take for granted that these new comers don't.
     
  9. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    well their will still be lots of power struggles and politics in such a city. maybe one section is all hard chargers that work 80 plus hours a week and the next over are scrubs that barely manage 30 sober. can you imagian the conflict when they need the scrubs to do something that takes them forever?

    Also what about the people that hate cities and never would want to be in one? if forced into one they would see it as a disotopia. are they wiped out? oppressed? or in rebellion?
     
  10. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    If they don't like cities they are obviously not going to live in it. It depends why they disslike city life though. Everyone would be allowed to run their neighborhood as they want as long as it is within the basic laws of the city which is decided on by representative democracy. So if some people wanted to make their neighbourhood into a tiny village in a forest they would be free to do that. Of course they would have to be creative to be able to provide themselves with food and infrastructure and such and take care of their waste products. Perhaps they could make money by providing their area as a sort of recreational resort or a place for nearby schools to take their children to teach them about biological habitats.

    I have this very detailed vivid idea of my setting. Of how the society would work, technically and socially and what sort of positive things this would bring but also the everyday conflicts and questions that would arise.

    I wish my thoughts about the plot and character was at least half as thought out as the setting :D
    Well, I'll see if I ever get anything out of it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2014
  11. DPVP
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    So if cities are that cramped shouldn't most people make the choice they do now when they are cramped and move out side of it creating again suburbs?
     
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  12. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    Not if the city doesn't pay for the transport infrastructure and the tax on land is high.
     
  13. DPVP
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    so once again they use means to hold its population inside, i think you have a cause for resentment right their, along with no one liking high taxes. sounds distopian to me
     
  14. Revilo87
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    Revilo87 Member

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    lets say the city has 4 sectors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. We have a central "authority" that's not that strong and the people in the sectors answer more to their local mini govs. What this could lead to is a division in the society, sort of a nationalistic pride for each sector that causes conflict between them. It can also be a low key thing, like maybe everyone in sectors 1,2, and 4 are just dandy but secretly the people in sector 3 are not, or at least the people in sector 3's government are not, perhaps they want more land, or access to the water reservoir located in sector 4. Maybe the leader of sector 3 is a crazy dictator wannabe who convinces the people in sector 3 that they've been jilted and that they should take over the other sectors just so he can call himself king
     
  15. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    As I wrote no one would be forced to live in this city if they didn't want to. They could live in the countryside or in other cities. It's not like anyone would call Tokyo a dystopia for being really dense and having high price of land. If people didn't think the benefits of a dense city was worth it they wouldn't live there.
    I'm not bashing on your idea of a conflict. Just trying to clarify the setting. It's hard to explain the whole setting in a few paragraphs.
     
  16. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    I've actually thought of a plot now. It's more of a personal smaller scale conflict than one about the whole society. Of course possible problems with the society could be pointed out alongside with the main conflict.

    Is it not possible to edit the posts by the way? No one is going to read this far down before posting.

    Anyways I have to research some things before I can see if this plot would work. And try to think about the characters some more. We'll see if I ever get to the writing stage ;)
     
  17. TheApprentice
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    TheApprentice Contributing Member

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    I think you should brainstorm how many things could go wrong with your utopia. There are always flaws and people who don't like the way things are run. Then make examples of horrible things happening to certain individuals in this "utopia." I know there are different sections that are run differently, but there have to be laws that are enforced throughout the city that are just...wrong.

    Or another thing you can do is have rebels in the city trying to change things through violence. In this story, however, make the rebels be the bad guys. Have it so the main character is given so much by this society but it's all ruined after a rebel attack, and the protagonist runs into sleeper cells, hacked defence systems, and other turmoil caused by the crafty rebels.
     

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