How to Write a Post-Apocalyptic Fiction Novel

How to Write a Post-Apocalyptic Fiction Novel

By on Jun 2, 2016 in Fiction, Writing & Editing


Post-apocalyptic fiction demands a lot of different elements, or tropes, that need to be addressed, or present in the book in order to make it believable. Post-apocalyptic fiction goes together with apocalyptic fiction, because the post-apocalyptic world wouldn’t exist unless the actual apocalypse happened. Moreover, the apocalypse, the types of which we’ve presented below, needs to be believable. Today, there are plenty of books focusing on stories in an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic world. Hence, the tropes of the genre need to be interpreted in an original way – otherwise your post-apocalyptic fiction novel will be riddled with clichés. This is why we’ve focused on the key elements that form the pillars of a good post-apocalyptic novel and presented them below.

1. Different kinds of apocalypse

We could offer a list: nuclear warfare, a pandemic disease, alien invasion, sudden climate change, etc. The list goes on and on. But, the different kinds of apocalypse can be divided in two groups: apocalypses caused by humanity (nuclear warfare, pandemic disease artificially tailored in a laboratory, war) and apocalypses that are caused by other factors, such as nature, or space (sudden climate change, meteor impact, and alien invasion, among others). Both kinds of apocalypses are equally frightening, both kinds of apocalypses will end life as we know it, and both can happen at any moment. The distinction is important, because man-made apocalypses have a deeper psychological impact on the readers. If humanity was better, smarter, more humane, the apocalypse could have been avoided, but the other kind of apocalypses will happen, and all humanity could have done was attempt to stop it.

2. Before, during, and the aftermath

In a post-apocalyptic novel, the apocalypse already happened. However, you will need to find a way to show not only how it happened, but what life was like before. Once again, there are two distinctive scenarios: the apocalypse happened tomorrow, and life as we knew it was the day to day life of today, or, the apocalypse happened a century from today, ending a futuristic world the average reader will know nothing about. In both cases you will need to find a way to present the past: through trinkets, gadgets, people’s testimonies of what used to be, what happened and how the world has changed. Not giving details of what life was like before and during the apocalypse will discredit the post-apocalyptic world you’ve created and the readers will not find it believable.

3. Types of characters

Characters that have been alive before the apocalypse will have undergone a psychological change. On the other hand, characters who have been born in the post-apocalyptic world have never known anything but life in said world, a life focused on survival, and rebuilding life. On the other hand, try to avoid characters that have become post-apocalyptic fiction clichés – the villains who are evil for no reason, the chosen one who can save the world and can undo the apocalypse, the know-it-all character that is extremely resourceful and can solve any problem providing supplies out of thin air, and so on. Create characters that are original – the protagonist of the story doesn’t necessary have to be a former sheriff who can single handedly both provide and protect his group of survivors. It can be the nurse of the group instead, who struggles and worries about medical supplies and possible ailments she would need to treat.

4. The survival element

In the aftermath of the apocalypse, the people will need to focus on survival. Depending on the nature of the apocalypse, most of the luxuries we take for granted in our daily lives will be gone. If the apocalypse has taken over every aspect of the world, then food will be scarce, soap and shampoos will be lucky finds, plumbing and tap water are history, and forget about electricity, and thus forget about mobile phones, computers and tablets. Depending on the time your story starts, your characters and the world will be either in the middle of the survival period, or they have moved on to rebuilding the world and are working on bringing back the world as they knew it. These two periods of aftermath differ in the fact that during the survival period, supplies and food are scarce, while in the rebuilding period, the focus isn’t on surviving, but on rebuilding. Avoid the use of the promised false Garden of Eden the protagonist and his friends are trying to reach – because readers well read in the genre will know that the Garden either doesn’t exist, or is worse than the apocalypse itself or living on the road.

5. The rebuilding period

The rebuilding period doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of your novel – because the story might revolve around survival. However, if rebuilding is the focus of your story, then you should remember to avoid some of the overused rebuilt worlds that have become clichés. First is the dystopian world. Just because the world suffered an apocalypse, it doesn’t mean that a militia organization will pop up and take over the governing of the people. Humanity can also build a better world. What you need to remember, is that the survivors will strive to create the world they used to live in. This means that if the apocalypse happens tomorrow, the new world that the people will create will not resemble the Wild West, or medieval Europe. In fact, the new world will strive to resemble the world of today.

Image credit: Pixabay

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.


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