In this type of conflict, a character must take on society itself, and not a single person. The character stands at odds with societal norms and realizes the necessity to work against these norms. (Conflict Examples and Definitions)

For example, in Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag resolves a man vs. society conflict (but doesn't defeat the society), while in 1984, Winston Smith resolves a man vs. society conflict by being assimilated by the society. Given that it's NaNoWriMo, I want to break the status quo of losses in the man vs. society conflict. What is a reasonable way to overthrow a globalized, dystopian society?

Notes on my dystopian society:

  • They live in a globalized, ocean moon of a planet approximately the size of Neptune. The moon is locked in sync with the planet, with one side always facing the planet, in darkness and frozen over, and one side facing the star, a G8IV star, and going through phases of day and night, each of which lasts 10 hours.
  • Children are taken from homes at birth and indoctrinated in 'conditioning centres' (stole this from Brave New World) into three castes: Ruling, Military, and Working. Working adults generally waste away, engaging in minimal intelligent conversation and working away their lives, using their free time by taking lubentia, a psychedelic drug with minimal side effects.
  • However, due to the isolation of some islands on the ocean planet, parents are sometimes able to hide their children away from the government. This loss is minimal, and all in all, only about a few thousand are hidden away. The protagonist is one of these characters.
  • The military is very well disciplined and has put down a total of 35 uprisings in its 600-year history. Their best aspect is their Orbital Superstations, behemoths that have enough active camouflage to eliminate all but their shadows. The mere presence of them puts a stop to most revolts.
  • This world is part of a group of planets colonized by different countries (this one is colonized by China) while the world was terrified by a nuclear war caused by escalations in the Taiwan Strait. Thankfully, Earth has not been destroyed and it was decided that these colonies would continue growing on their own.
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    $\begingroup$ The story of how the globalized dystopian society was overthrown sounds like an interesting story. If you write it please share it with us. Unfortunately we don't do storybuilding on this site, we do worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 20, 2017 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @sphennings, is there a way to modify this question so that it is within worldbuilding’s scope? $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2017 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that the core of your question, "How to overthrow my dystopian society?", is not about building a world. I don't believe that this question can be salvaged without fundamentally changing the core question. To make this post on topic you would need to change the core question you are asking. I cannot tell you what question to ask, since I don't know what problems you are trying to solve. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 20, 2017 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ Ok @sphennings, I have created a proposal on Area 51. I believe that the aspect of storybuilding is as important as the aspect of worldbuilding in terms of novel writing. If you (and others who are interested in my proposal could follow the proposal on Area 51, I will be forever grateful to those who help make a site to further help people write novels. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2017 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt it's going to go anywhere. Just last week this proposal was brought to our attention. It was rejected and deleted. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 20, 2017 at 2:41

4 Answers 4


The most important thing for a tyranny to fail is not the man who overthrows, it's the tyranny's own faults that bring it down.

As you have described it, this dystopian society should work quite well. Now, let's start bringing in some issues:

  • China asks that soldiers and orbital stations be moved to a different planet, for security reasons (weakened military).
  • Trying to bolster its dwindling ranks, the station's government allows previously undocumented people to join the army. Your hero might get to be a part of the army.
  • The war effort reduces the amount of lubentia available for non warring stations, and lubentia is only produced back in Earth. This leads to civil unrest.

Now, this is only one way to destabilize this dystopia, to make a single man able to take it down. There are plenty, you just have to find the dystopia's defects and find a man willing to exploit them.

The other alternative, since you are working with what is essentially a colony, is for this single man to work his way to the metropolis and convince the powers back home to change this colony's organization. His methods and reasons to do so can be quite varied. Consider reading about Bartolomé de las Casas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolom%C3%A9_de_las_Casas) for an example.


The real answer to this is that this isn't a proper world building question. What you're asking for is for someone to write the primary focus of your book for you. However, this is not the first time such a question has been raised, so perhaps I can answer it in a more general fashion which will help not only you, but other writers who come across this answer.

As a general rule, global or galactic civilizations do not easily crumble around the actions of one individual. By the law of large numbers, there will always be an individual acting out against the system. For such a system to be as powerful as you describe, they have to be pretty darn good at what they're doing. So we'll skip over any plans which involve gross incompetence or conveniently placed exhaust ports.

The first reality of writing such a story is that your individual needs to be very difficult for the empire to fit into their models. Any reasonable empire will have some mental model of how they believe people behave around them, and will have taken efforts to make sure that nobody can upset the 600+ year status quo. And, of course, they will have systems in place to detect people who don't fit their models, because they are dangerous. You can work with this any way you like, but I find self awareness to be a very effective way to break these molds without being detected too quickly. It creates nice story lines too. Let this human discover who they are, and then let them craft that person into who they want to be.

The second reality is that these sorts of people will keep appearing. We're always finding new ways to push towards self awareness. The empire is big, and can afford to take a few losses, as long as they make sure these individuals don't get to anything sensitive.

Your main character is going to have to be born into a particularly "lucky" position. They're going to have to be lucky enough to get close to something important in the great empire to dismantle it from the inside. This is going to feel like a really cheap trick unless you can show that there's more than luck to it. Consider the possibility that there have been dozens of heros before who, instead of trying to win the game on their own, have been biding their time crafting an environment for the next hero to have better chances. Your story's hero isn't just magically lucky, your hero is simply the exciting cusp of several hundred years of tedious work building up to it.

Finally, as Pablo Oliva's answer points out, you must cause the empire to destroy itself. There's no way your hero will have enough energy or momentum to destroy the empire directly, even with the help of a long line of heros building up to this moment. It's not going to happen. The only way it will work is if you use a Judo or Aikido like approach of using the empire's own energy against them. They must throw themselves to the mat; you will never have the strength to thrown them there on your own.

With those pieces, you should be able to resolve any "overthrow the powerful tyrannic empire" storyline. Where you go from there is story based, and up to you!


Sorry to be a pessimist but I find this situation is highly-unlikely for the Protagonist to "win" (in the traditional sense). Hence the status quo.

The main reason for this is that there is no "antagonist" to defeat. Take down an individual and anyone else indoctrinated into this society takes their place. Nevermind dystopia, look at real world societies and cultures. There are places where foreigners are rare (such as Japan) where these experiences occur regularly. Being assimilated is the success story here: you learned their culture and language and that's a major achievement. This is a relatable story that many readers will have experienced.

If your society is going to be a bit darker than a modern day country, then you still can really have one person change the status quo and maintain the reader's suspension of disbelief. At best you can present a "no win" scenario. Now a stalemate or tie seems like an underwhelming ending but there's plenty of moral substance in that. No one wins a war, after all: even if it's basically that one guy in Tiananmen Square standing up to the entire Chinese Military. He can still make a statement without "winning" without some absurd deus ex machina.

It's not really feasible for anyone on their own to successfully overthrow a dystopian society but that doesn't mean their story within that world has to be a failure. They could still set a precedent for wider change. Many of the first revolutions were not successful after-all but much of what came later was only due to the courage of those who came before.


The Bitcoin model

A single person can't overthrow society, simply because if and when they become a large enough threat, especially in a totalitarian society, they will be eliminated.

However, one can plant the seeds of a decentralized organization, recruiting agents that recruit other agents, that all work together, eventually gathering enough power to accomplish their goal. (see Clandestine cell system)

Thus, like the creator of Bitcoin created a new and hugely valuable global currency, which is an impossibility for any traditional bank or organization, your protagonist could create a powerful resistance that will eventually replace the government.

This, of course also relies on people being disillusioned by society and motivated to change it, unlike in Brave New World

Btw, sorry to nitpick but why would the planet-facing side of the moon be dark all the time? Just look at our moon, it's earth-facing side is almost always partially lit


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