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Trope: It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

Updated: Apr 12

(The title's reference if you've never heard it: REM Music Video.)

Until now we have mostly discussed the tropes using fantasy examples, though there are other examples for every trope we have done in science fiction as well. Today I would like to talk about the trope of the apocalypse. It has come and gone, and the book takes place in the world that rises after. This common theme has one foot planted firmly in science fiction and one in fantasy.

Popular examples of post-apocalyptic literature include novels like "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, "The Stand" by Stephen King, "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel. In film and television, titles like "Mad Max," "The Walking Dead," "The Book of Eli," and "The Road Warrior" also depict variations of the post-apocalyptic world.

Let’s discuss some of the realistic problems that occur in post-apocalyptic novels and stories, that are to me, very out of place.

The Road
Would you even WANT to survive to see this?

Scavenging for Supplies: While realistic to some extent, the constant focus on scavenging for basic necessities like food, water, and ammunition can become repetitive and predictable. The core issue for me here is timing. If you have not set your story very close to the end of the world, there is no reason to scavenge for old world supplies. Food will go bad, and even gasoline goes stale within a year or so. Society has to move on past the loss, the story should too.

Faction Warfare: Post-apocalyptic societies are often divided into factions or tribes constantly at war with each other, which can feel simplistic and lacking in nuance. It is completely reasonable that people will have factions that want to survive. We would likely return to tribalism after a fashion with smaller groups fighting one another for survival purposes. Again, at least at first. After time has passed and how we will survive as a species has been determined we don’t really need to have the same level of conflict. Prehistoric societies went to war of course but not constantly, and not usually for straight survival reasons. Give your factions real reasons to fight each other, and real motivations to make them feel more real.

Barren Wastelands: While a staple of the genre, overly desolate and homogeneous landscapes can become monotonous and fail to explore the diversity of post-apocalyptic settings. Unless there is a reason to make everything desolate, like a nuclear war, places like the United States mid-west would revert to beautiful prairie lands. The coasts would return to great swaths of forest. Ocean life would rebound. There would be a great beauty in much of the world as it grows around out left behind structures. Go visit and go see some of the abandoned places of the world and you will find a kind of liminal beauty to the spaces without us. I think the barren wasteland is rarely a good fit.

Hopeless Pessimism: Some post-apocalyptic stories lean too heavily into bleakness and despair without offering any sense of hope or redemption, which can be emotionally exhausting for the audience. This depends again a great deal on when in the apocalypse you have set your piece, but if you have surpassed the first few years, and there are people having families again, surviving again, returning to the land and giving birth to the next generation, there is bound to be hope. That can be the adventure. What is it that they will find? What could stop that hope?

Raiders and Bandits: Generic villainous groups who roam the post-apocalyptic landscape, often characterized by brutality and lack of depth. I blame video games for this one. The low-level bandit is the quintessential bad guy when you don’t know what else to do. However, after the world has settled into the post-apocalyptic state, people want to settle down with it. They want community and a life and sense of place. Even the violent road warriors. They would need to be more than just “smash and grab.” To give back meaning to your bandits give them a reason, and perhaps lean into the other tropes we have talked about of relatable villains.

Liminal places in our world

Now I must admit like many, I love a good post apocalypse story. I think it stems from the fact that in our minds, we survive the end of things. Bad news, you and I probably wouldn’t. But here are some very enjoyable sides of writing and reading in the end of the world:


Exploration of Human Resilience: Post-apocalyptic literature often explores the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity. Characters are forced to confront their deepest fears, make difficult decisions, and tap into their inner strength to survive in harsh and unforgiving environments. This exploration of resilience can be inspiring and thought-provoking for readers, reminding them of the capacity for hope and courage even in the darkest of times.


Reflection on Societal Issues: Post-apocalyptic narratives provide a platform for exploring complex societal issues such as environmental degradation, political corruption, technological advancements, and the consequences of human actions. By depicting the collapse of civilization, these stories prompt readers to reflect on the fragility of societal structures and the importance of addressing pressing global challenges. This reflection can foster greater awareness and empathy among readers, sparking conversations and inspiring change.


Reimagining of the World: Post-apocalyptic literature allows you to imagine radically different worlds shaped by cataclysmic events. These imagined landscapes can be both terrifying and fascinating, offering readers a glimpse into alternative realities and speculative futures. Through vivid descriptions and creative world-building, you transport readers to dystopian landscapes filled with danger, mystery, and adventure. This reimagining of the world stimulates the imagination and encourages readers to consider the potential consequences of current actions and decisions.


Exploration of Moral Dilemmas: Post-apocalyptic literature often presents characters with challenging moral dilemmas where there are no easy answers. It’s a choice of bad or worse. Survivors must grapple with issues of morality, ethics, and justice as they navigate the complexities of their new reality. These moral dilemmas force readers to confront difficult questions about human nature, morality, and the meaning of existence. By engaging with these complex ethical quandaries, readers are encouraged to critically examine their own beliefs and values, fostering intellectual growth and empathy.


However you go about it, if you have interest in writing about the end of the world and all that comes after, give it a chance. Keep some of these goods and bad in mind, and always remember: Writers write.

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I'm enjoying the exploration of tropes. Please keep them coming.

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