7 Tips for Writing Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Chapter 2 “Genres” – Section 9 “Apocalypse”
In recent history, there has been a surge of interest in stories surrounding the post-apocalyptic world and it makes sense. Not only does the genre play off our fears of societal destruction but it also creates some spectacular and brutal worlds where we see the depths of human resolve and emotions. However, movies and books in the genre (not all, but most) have begun to all share the same flavor. This can be disappointing when there are so many fresh ways in which one could approach this genre. Today we’re going to look at some ideas for how you can give your post-apocalyptic story its own flavor.
Tip 1: There are many different types of Apocalypse.
Zombies, nuclear war, sentient robots, prophesied religious events, extraterrestrials, floods, disease, famine, killer plants, and killer animals are but a few of the many ways that a Post-Apocalyptic world could be created. You can take these for what they are, blend them together, or come up with something completely new. The possibilities are limitless. I recommend thinking carefully about all the ways you could conceive of destroying the Earth that have not been popularly featured in stories and using those as a catalyst for your world.
Tip 2: Create a logical connection between the type/strength/timeline of apocalypse and the type of world it creates.
Think about what happens when you burn a fire very hot and very quickly. The fire extinguishes itself rather rapidly; it misses a lot of the fuel that it could have found if it had burned slower and gives plant-life an opportunity for quick recovery in enriched soil. You can create an abnormally large-scale disaster, like a weaponized plague that hits everywhere at once. But this must be carefully considered. Most realistic apocalypse scenarios must burn slow at first and build up, like a fire. And after the disaster hits, the survivors will most realistically thrive with an abundance of resources due to decreased populations. So, you should tailor your disaster to specifically fit the type of world you want to create.
Tip 3: The flavor of your world should be determined by the types of people who survived the apocalypse.
When watching post-apocalyptic movies, I often wonder why bikers who were into sadomasochism were most the population to survive, instead of librarians, veterans, country people, police, and other people with more resources, knowledge, and training to survive under rural conditions. There will be bullies who rise and take things by force, but they will only last until they run out of people to murder and ransack. Additionally, I cannot imagine that good people pushed to their limits to survive will not be as easy victims for biker gangs as what movies portray. The world will be shaped by the people who inhabit it, and the inhabitants will be comprised of those who were able to survive. So, make sure there is logic in what type of people will most likely survive your apocalypse and flavor the world you are trying to create.
Tip 4: Mix up the type of heroes/antiheroes in your story.
Not every hero in a post-apocalyptic world has to be the Gunslinger, from Stephen King's “Dark Tower” series. Don't get me wrong, I think Roland is an excellent character, but the strong, silent, gruff, cowboy protagonist has become a tired cliché in this genre. Try creating unlikely heroes that can be more likely to give us a type of story that we've never seen before. We know what a rough cowboy can do in the wilderness; the interesting story is how an elderly grandmother in a wheelchair managed to survive.
Tip 5: Keep your characters consistent with the time period that they are originally from.
Another cliché and failure of logic that I've noticed, is that post-apocalyptic worlds often become a remake of the wild west, complete with saloons, sheriffs, and cowboy hats. If your world is shattered in 2015, humans will not start back at the stone age and slowly try to get through the historical periods again. They will either try to recreate 2015, immediately or else create something entirely new. And if the first generation dies, they will leave that dream with their children. So, make sure that the type of world that your survivors create, makes sense based on the origins of those characters.
Tip 6: There will be smart and literate people after the apocalypse.
Unless you have a specific apocalypse that goes after smart people, there will be intelligent people who will try to recreate a modernized world. If they don't have the expertise to do something, they will look through old books until they find that knowledge. Humans, especially under pressure, are extremely resourceful. And smart people are not necessarily any weaker than anyone else—contrary to what our culture that reinforces societal roles and attributes to people, may want us to believe. Even old rednecks living out in the country often have engineering degrees or can piece together an engine or windmill from scraps. So, either address that problem if you want a barbaric wasteland or prepare for a humanity that will quickly recreate the world better than what it was before.
Tip 7: Know that your post-apocalyptic story is an embodiment of how you perceive human nature.
Any story you create in this genre will tell more about your personal view of human nature than almost anything else you can write. The post-apocalypse removes societal pressures and pushes humans to the extremes of desperation, forcing you to reveal what you think is at the core of human nature. This can also mean that you have influence on how your readers view human nature. If you think that smart and compassionate humans who would work together are ultimately weak and unfit to survive against people who behave like animals, then it will come out in your story. If you think that deep down there is no nobility to humans, then you will create a world of only savagery. So, keep in mind your vulnerability as well as your level of potential influence when working within this genre.
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In recent history, there has been a surge of interest in stories surrounding the post-apocalyptic world, and it makes sense. Not only does the genre play off of many our fears of societal destruction, but it also create some pretty spectacular and brutal worlds, where we seen the depths of human resolve and emotions. However, movies and books in the genre (not all, but most) have begun to all share the same flavor—when there are so many fresh ways in which one could approach this genre.
This is very good advise! I am writing a post-apocalyptic novel best I can, and this is very interesting. I agree that the silent tough cowboy is a cliche, and zombies are kind of over done. I think my story is creative, hopefully. Thank you for helping me out
A girl lives in a makeshift town near the ruins of Calgary, Alberta, four years after the Fallout, which disabled every electronic device on Earth, and a plague that prevents the body's production of endorphins (look it up if you're not sure). The town is destroyed by a faction wanting to take control of the survivors. To save the rest of the still rebuilding province, she has to team up with a group of people who are basically nomads, surviving by travelling around on horseback with no permanent home. They have to survive mutant predatory animals created in a lab, trying to find the other settlements and encourage them to take a stand against the faction. Along the way, they all have to face a hard question: try and recreate a world that crashed and burned or make something new?
Just an idea.
I actually wrote a post apocalyptic short story, i'd love if you'd give me some feedback on it!
Short StoryIn 2018, a war broke out. Some people called it World War 3, but those who fought in it simply called it “The War.”
The brutality of “The War” increased until Russian scientists created a new strain of the flu. They called it vladychestvo (that is, “Dominion”) and released it on the United States. It was a brutal disease, killing you in 3 days - three excruciatingly painful days. A secret group of scientists in the U.S. government created new gases, basing them on the gases used in the gas chambers of WW2 German concentration camps. The military proceeded to release these gases on Russia, but they absorbed certain particulates in the atmosphere and transformed them, causing the gas to spread over most of the globe. Almost all people went into underground bunkers and entered cryofreeze - unless they were unfortunate, or maybe fortunate enough, to die from the gases. The bunkers were numbered based on their location.
The Earth soon became
Constant high-powered earthquakes, causing the streets of coastal cities like Vancouver and Tokyo to crack.
Continuous lightning storms, causing power lines to go down.
Extremely powerful tornadoes, destroying the entirety of midwest USA and central Canada.
Heavy snowstorms, covering cities like Moscow in white blankets.
Heavy rainstorms, which end up flooding cities like London, Winnipeg and Edmonton.