Apocalypses, Worldwide Disasters, and the End of the World (As We Know It)

There are plenty of those kinds of stories out there. Alien invasions, zombie attacks, mass natural disasters, an uprising of malignant stuffed animals, and many, many more fall into this category. Basically, anything that signals the end of everything we know and love. We’re living in a new world, playing a new game.

While our apocalypse is pretty far-out in all probability (but it’s coming, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it…I have a side gig as a prophetic doomsayer), there are plenty of ways to handle an apocalypse in a story. Now, this is not to be confused with a Dystopian novel (something I will address in the near future), and the short answer to discern the two is that a Dystopian society is an organized government but the opposite of a utopia. They usually come after the apocalypse, which is a totally different occurrence. Sometimes they are connected, but don’t assume that they always are.

In many ways, the end of the world has to be so foreign, so alien, so unrecognizable that the readers will be afraid of it. Humans are innately afraid of the unknown, and introducing an element of an unknown but presently threatening problem can promote a feeling of fear in the reader, thus making your story feel all the more real.

This is why (most of) the best apocalypse stories create their own, unique world-ending phenomenon. Any amateur can fill the world with zombies, but it takes a good amount of creativity to make a new, never-before-seen world-consuming disaster. Try your hand at this if you’ve got the time.

However, all world-ending phenomena have two things in common: inevitability and the inability to recover properly. Of course, a good apocalypse needs inevitability: otherwise, it can be avoided and therefore stopped. It’s a pretty wimpy end of the world if you are able to prevent it. In fact, it’s not the end of the world at all: it’s another thing altogether.

However: ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the inability to recover properly from the end of the world as we know it is a trademark of disaster stories. We’ll call this phenomenon TITRP (unsurprisingly and without imagination), and it is crucial that this element is present whenever the EOTW happens (I love my acronyms, as you know all too well by now).

TITRP is what makes the apocalypse a problem. The apocalypse, in of itself, is no problem: eventually the survivors will be able to cope with the travesty. But instilling in the reader that the comfort and the familiarity of everyday life will never return–that the world will never go back to the way it was–is a problem that cannot be fixed. Hence, the end of the world: inevitable, and cannot be fixed (which imply basically the same thing).

With the end of the world, there are mainly two types of characters: those that are looking to the future with anticipation, and those who can’t get over what they have lost in the past. These are your standard “starter kit” personalities when it comes to TEOTWAWKI (have I gone over the edge yet with all the acronyms?). They can be spun in pretty original ways, so feel free to use them liberally.

If someone councils you to “create a whole new world” when dealing with your apocalypse story, ignore them. That’s a whole lot of wasted work. Instead, put heavy spins and changes on your baseline world, like putting dents in a garbage can with a sledgehammer. Creatively speaking, wreck your world.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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