Whether it’s video games or novels, we seem to be surrounded by futuristic dystopian stories more and more in recent years. Most of which are bleak with the world in ruins by whatever calamity has befallen upon North America.
I mean, why are most of those stories centered around this area of the world?
Recently, I found a webcomic of a dystopian future in Russia and it’s been a fascinating story so far.
We could dive into the psychological depth of why the past few generations see our country’s future as bleak and dismal, but that’s a can of rotten worms I’d rather not unpack right now.
Instead, let’s dive into common tropes we see in apocalyptic fiction. Or– what I’ve noticed quite often from the perspective of someone who now writes her own apocalyptic stories.
#1 The Main Character Can’t Die
I like to use abbreviations when talking about writing so from now on, I will be using MC for Main Character.
The MC is meant to survive the story. No matter what peril they may encounter or near-death experience. Or even scenes where the POV (point-of-view) shifts to another character to make you think they’re dead, there’s always hope deep inside you that they’re going to be okay.
The MC will make it out alive because that’s what they do!
Although recently, I was informed that Tris did not in fact survive the end of her series! The movies lied to me. -_-
They get their happy-ish ending. (Looking at you, Katniss.) Maybe their ending isn’t what they wanted or what we as readers expected, but we want them to make it. A good writer makes their readers cheer for the MC. And sometimes the villain but that’s also another topic for later.
#2 The MC is Usually a Teenager
Question: why do we imagine the world being saved by those who have yet to fully experience the world?
I mean, it’s possible, but with how the next generation acts in our modern world, I would personally choose the apocalypse to continue than to be “rescued” by a kid who thinks they know everything about everything.
I can’t help but hear Thorin in my head from the first Hobbit movie: “You know nothing of the world.”
And yet, perhaps that’s the purpose for choosing to have the hero be a teenager: young ones bring about a sense of hope for the future. A need to make things better. And in some cases: they’re not afraid to take the risks because they haven’t fully experienced the world.
This is speculation on my part, of course, but I can see the idea behind making a young person be the MC.
#3 A Tyrannical Government
Whether you read The Hunger Games or 1984, the government is almost always cast as the bad guy. And the government always has someone to act as the face to blame: President Snow, Jeanine Matthews, O’Brien from 1984, the Fire Chief in Fahrenheit 451.
The government may have taken over the country slowly over the years or something drastic happened to cause the people to lose their freedom.
Either way, they’re in charge and the MC is called upon to bring about a revolution to save humanity.
#4 Some Big Calamity
Aliens. War. A Virus. Zombies.
You pick the drastic nature of the world’s upheaval. Whatever happened, it’s enough to make the world flip upside down and the people to turn on each other.
I’ve always seen these types of stories as a way to see the world experience a reset button. Nature takes over. Humans return to the basics of living.
In a weird way, I think I’d like to experience this in real life. Imagine not caring about your credit score or student loan debt ever again. How amazing would that be??
Yes. The world would be going through chaos beyond imagination and I’d be cheering about is my current debt being washed away with the mess.
#5 A Revolution
You can’t have a story about the world starting over without people stepping up to take the lead.
Whether those people are part of the Tyrannical Government or the band of misfits that push the MC to become the main hero, there will always be a group that wants to take charge in making the world a “better place for humanity.”
And typically, you learn throughout the story that both sides may have valid arguments for why they want to change how things used to be.
Valid or not, humans will always be human: selfish creatures looking out for themselves.
Here is where you bring in the MC to act as the moral guide to make you want them to win in the end. And in turn, cheer on the revolution.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Beside my desk here, I have a shelf full of apocalyptic stories I’ve accumulated over the years as research for my own dystopian novel. Believe it or not, The Hunger Games is my favorite series while Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite novel.
Despite the amount of years between their publication, they each contain:
- slow government takeovers
- the MC acting out in selfishness before reluctantly agreeing to help those around them
- questioning what they’ve been told their whole lives
These happen to be tropes I’m including in my dystopian novel because they resonate with me on a deep level.
But what about you?
- First: do you like to read dystopian/apocalyptic stories?
- Second: what do you like or dislike about them?
- Third: have you noticed other common tropes with these types of stories?
I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic!
Believe it or not, I’ve also used these stories as a form of research when it comes to prepping. Part of the reason I became a prepper was from the hours of research I’ve done for my novel.
Which brings me right around to letting you know that next week we’ll be back on a prepper topic. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it!
Until next time, friend,