Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.
As readers we seem to have developed a fixation with dark future worlds. Are we purposely casting a sinister slant onto human destiny? Is it a desire for sensationalism, or simply realism that colours our apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction trends? Are we heading rapidly towards disaster? Or is it a slow unfurling of all that we hold dear? Love it or loath it, dark future sci-fi is here to stay. Here is my pick of common themes in the post-apocalyptic / dark future world.
There are always survivors
No matter how bad, no matter how much decimation, no matter what we do to our world, there is always the residual hope of the survivors the book is based around.
They don’t always tell you how it happens
Often there is just an indication that life changed, but no one actually knows the cause. Much of the book may be dedicated to understanding the trigger event, fitting the pieces of the puzzle together in an attempt to rectify or resolve the damage done.
Sometimes they just move on to dealing with the consequence. It all comes down to whether the trigger to change life in this new dark direction was fast or slow.
A slow trigger such as climate change could provide people with plenty of warning.
A fast trigger such as a natural disaster could keep people in the dark.
And many triggers can be applied in different ways depending on how you pitch the book. For example a war could be swift or take decades to tear society down. The same with diseases, and even an alien invasion could be pitched from multiple directions.
The search for a better place
The book can often be themed around a journey or search. Always seeking to find a safe zone or utopia homeland that is just around the corner, over the hill, or a hidden message away.
It brings out the best and worst in people
Even a localised natural disaster can bring out the hero…and the criminal who wants to prey on the weak. An apocalyptic event just does this exponentially more. Dark, lawless futures, likewise set a grim backdrop that provides plenty of scope for the scourge of society to step into. There is a big difference between an opportunist criminal that knows he has a few days or hours to take advantage of his fellow men, and the far more profound knowledge that the law and order we have come to rely on is never coming back.
Awesome character arcs
Dark places and events can change people, but perhaps more dramatically it can leave them the same. I love the way this genre is often centred around the character arc. Some characters change significantly as their survival instinct kicks in and they adapt. They become something more, or worse, or better, than they were. My favourite is when they stay exactly the same, for example the person who doggedly retains their innocent, hopeful, and caring ways, no matter what hardship or horror comes their way.
Best bad guys
It’s not just about surviving against the evil humans in these dark future worlds. Zombies, mutations, diseases, out of control robots, rabid dogs, and alien attack! So much creative scope when it comes to the bad guys.
I particularly like the…trying to write characters who are smarter than you…Enjoy🙂
At the bottom of the article is a wonderful video, and well worth a watch for those who might be struggling to match their writing passion to their desired quality of work.
There are a few takeaways, but amongst them, that it is Okay for it to take time between starting your writing journey and achieving that illusive thing called quality.
Here’s a great notion to wrap your head around…most writers, even successful writers, still consider themselves to be amateurs. Not sure what that makes the rest of us, but I guess at its heart, we should simply only ever strive to do better tomorrow than we did today, should make our next book better than our last, and should not judge our first work too unfairly.
We have to start somewhere, and we have to learn along the way.
I recently went to a writing seminar, and as always at such events you quickly get into a discussion with fellow writers, about what you have done so far in your writing journey, and what you are planning to do next.
I was surprised by the number of people who wanted to be a writer but had written virtually nothing to date.
I realised that I was nothing like them, and that my own journey was considerably longer and slower.
Were these new writers being overly ambitious? Perhaps they were, or perhaps they were simply starting from a higher baseline than me. One thing I have realised from my own writing journey is that I am incredibly slow, and I have (in my old age) become comfortable with simply reaching my writing destination at my own snail-like pace.
So, here is my writing journey.
As a child
Sometimes parents just know their children love books – I was one such child. As long as I can recall I was either being read to, or reading for myself. I consumed books at a voracious rate, and my whole family indulged me. Not sure what to get me for Christmas or birthdays? Just get me a book, and they did in vast numbers. I read them just as fast. Pretty much at any point of my childhood I was reading age relevant books. I loved the fairy tales of mythical places and imaginary kingdoms, talking animals, dragons, castles, that was right up my street. My mother bought me a new ladybird book every week, and it was my absolute favourite treat. Sleeping beauty, The Princess and the Pea, The Roald Dahl collection, Aesops fables – these were my staple reading as a child. Later, I progressed to books such as The Mill on the Floss, and The Hobbit.
I started writing myself just after university (over twenty years ago now), and I have been writing pretty much ever since. It ebbs and flows as with all things in life. That pesky thing called reality and work can get in the way, but I have always been drawn back to write. And of course I never stopped reading.
I write a lot
During the last 20 years I wrote hundreds of parts of books, and a total of 2 full books, before I considered myself close to proficient. That’s a lot of writing. I wrote whatever and whenever I fancied. I didn’t constrict my ideas or my genre; I just leapt right in and wrote.
I considered this my apprenticeship of writing. I have no formal writing qualifications, I have the usual high school exams and good grades in English language and literature, but went on to complete a degree in maths and computing, and my career is based around that.
If I had one regret it would be that I did not stop to consider what I loved doing when I was younger, and that I had selected a degree that would complement my love of writing. But that’s just life isn’t it, we don’t always make the perfect decision, and we learn from whatever we do.
You know when it’s the one
I guess some people, such as the ones I met on my writing course, just know straight off that they have found the ‘one’, and some people, like me, have to battle through a vast and extended apprenticeship before they decide to commit to publishing a book.
One thing I do not regret is all the years I have spent writing, or the books I wrote that were not quite right. They taught me a lot.
We all have to start somewhere.
As the video mentions, we all must pass through an apprenticeship of some kind, whether that apprenticeship is long or short doesn’t really matter, the important thing is that we keep going and we come out on the other side.
I realise that I am not a finished product, that my life will teach me much more about writing, and that I will ultimately look back on my first published novel and realise it wasn’t my best. And that is a wonderful thought—to expect that I will always keep improving.
I also realise that we all have to start somewhere, and that the most important step is simply to start.
I hope you enjoy the video🙂 and happy writing!
My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool;
it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.
~Ursula K. Le Guin