I finally swooped / settled in on my next novel project - it's idea #1 as posted a few weeks ago, for those curious. As I started to work on the worldbuilding, I decided I needed to do it in two phases. First, the science fiction / speculative angle: advancing the world as we know it to the early 2200s. Second, the fantastic angle: altering / devolving / mutating the setting in response to the magical cataclysm.
This has turned out to be a smart choice. It's made me think about developments that could become plot points, enhance the conflicts I've already considered, and at the very least, provide flavor and authenticity to the setting. For instance, one of the things I realized in working on the "fast forward" of modern times is that money is almost certainly going to be wholly digital. What happens when a cataclysm destroys most of that recording system ...?
In the original journal story, I was working off the top of my head, so the setting could most charitably described as generic dystopia with some default cyberpunk elements. As I've worked on the retread, though, I realized that I assumed a lot of things just because they "should" be there, but they don't really make sense with a forecast of where the future is going.
It wasn't just the setting that had some cliche assumptions. The story my narrator is telling comes after a rebellion falls apart ... but a lot of it relies on the assumption that, of course, the government is bad and the main characters are good because That's The Way It Is. I did some mental kibitzing to strengthen this, but somehow, the idea of a rebellion just wasn't setting right with me.
Then while browsing Facebook, I came across a few posts relating to the television show Leverage, and I realized what I really had was a team working for individuals outside the bounds of the law. It seemed to fit much better with my budding sense of who these people are and how they came to find themselves at odds with the establishment.
But there's still one more problem of assumption that I'm chewing on, because the way I handle it says a lot about humanity as a whole - or at least, my opinion of humanity as a whole. I don't believe in setting out to write a story with a message - let the message evolve organically from the tale. But here, I'm very conscious of the tension between what I might be saying and the conflicts in the story.
I'm positing a future society where bias in respect to gender, race, disability has been largely erased. (If this is somewhat utopian, so be it - it gives me a headache to think that we're still screaming at each other in virtual-reality-Facebook decades later.) But what happens when you ruin the world with magic and then dump magically-infused people into the population? Do people go back to their ingrained tendency of labeling and dehumanizing those they don't understand? There's a huge difference between "your skin color / plumbing is different than mine" and "you could set me on fire with a look" ... with a side order of "the stuff that's running through your veins destroyed our world."
How radically does the government react? To what extent do people support the official stance ... or think it's too lenient, too stringent, not protecting us, fear-mongering?
As a storyteller (and since I'm writing about magically inflicted characters), on the face of it, it seems obvious that my best course is to make things as bad as possible. But is that too easy? Too black and white? Too bleak?
Still working on that.