Friday, February 8, 2013

Writing Apocalyptic Stories

You know what's harder than building a world from scratch. Destroying it and then rebuilding it. I know, kind of a depressing topic but, I'm a dark fantasy writer. We gotta go there.  

With New York in the path of yet another "once in a life time" storm, it's really hard not to think about the end of the world. On top of that, Brooklyn has a coastal flood warning. I mean come on Mother Nature what did we do to piss you off so royally?! Don't answer that. 

Sorry about that little tangent, I'm back now. I didn't decide to write my series this way, the story did. And, as you know, an argument with our story is one we can never win. 

Here's what I've learned about writing apocalyptic stories while working on this series.

Read Books and Watch Movies and TV Series
Doing this will give you elements to remember when writing your own story and let you know what's been done to death. Elements of the Apocalypse is a collection of totally disturbing end-of-life-as-we-know-it novellas. Love them all but won't read them again. Something about those stories got under my skin. Books like this one are great research materials. A new TV series Revolution and an older one Jericho are also amazing resources.  

Anthony Horowitz's top 10 apocalypse books
B&N Community: The Best Apocalyptic Fiction Releases in 2011
The How is Important
We can have the world taken over by an army of mutant bunnies. We're writers. We can make anything realistic if we put enough thought and effort behind it. Also, does the event happen suddenly or is it a slow build-up until one day, the bottom drops from your characters' lives? For instance, in Jericho, the major cities were blown up. That's sudden. In, Day After Tomorrow, half the world didn't completely freeze over until days after the unusual and severe weather started. 

Know Your World
You need to know the ins-and outs of the world so you can properly portray what happens when life is disrupted on a grand scale. What happens with communication? How will the governing body react? If your world has a public water system, waste management and electricity, how long will they be functional?

Have Realistic Reactions
It would be nice if, at the end of the world, everybody helped each other but books and movies have shown us that more than likely people will act like they've trashed their minds and all sense of decency. It's every man for themselves. You can make the world a total cesspool but you could end up thoroughly depressing & disturbing your readers. On the other hand, if your characters become all bunnies and pink unicorns, you'll run the risk of no one believing your story.


Have Strong Characters
This one didn't occur to me until I started researching this topic. But, it does make sense. How annoying would it be to ride the end of the world with someone who cringes and cries at every moment; who can't do anything by themselves. You know, those people who, while running for their lives, cries "I can't go on!" and refuses to move. These types of characters usually don't last long unless they're being carried by a stronger person. Your characters might start out that way but if they're going to survive, they need some steel implanted in their spines. 

Plan How Your Characters Survive
Your survivors will need food, water, supplies, shelter and maybe even weapons. Let's say one person gets sick or breaks their leg while the group is fleeing the city. How are they going to get better with no hospitals? How your characters survive is a good way of showing who they are and what they really value. Does the person with the broken leg get left behind and your protagonist spends the rest of the book being tortured by that decisions or do they haul the injured one across their shoulders, refusing to leave anyone behind? 

io9: 8 Rules For Surviving the Apocalypse 
Apocalypse Tuesday: How to Survive 

Rebuild
You may want your band of survivors to roam the world for the rest of their lives but they aren't the only people in your story. Someone will want to establish a new community, to return to some semblance of stability. This is where the second world building comes in.

More Resources: