World Building – Post Apocalyptic Writing Prompts
When it comes to dystopias, especially post-apocalypses, it can be hard to know where to begin. But, with some post apocalyptic writing prompts, you can begin turning those awesome concepts into story ideas ready for use in your next piece.
So, no matter if you are writing a short story, flash fiction, novella, or a full length novel, I hope these writing exercises and prompts help you.
Let’s delve in!
Historic Post Apocalyptic Writing Prompts
A good place to begin looking for inspiration is history. There are periods of time that could be considered dystopian such as:
- The great depression of the 1920s
- The oppression of Nazi Germany and its rule
- When the Spanish Flu swept across the world
- The oppression of India by the British Empire
- The slave trade
Taking a closer look at these times and the measures people had to go to for their own survival can help inform your own stories. The events that led up to these atrocities can also be analysed to help you build your own world.
And not all post apocalypses and dystopias need to be set in the future. Alternate histories are a great way to have a new take on real world events – bringing your stories closer to real stories in the real world.
Using history to learn about social concepts, structures, and how dystopian conditions can arise in the real world can help inform you when building up these aspects for your own worlds.
Sci Fi Post Apocalypse Writing Prompts
When it comes to the sci fi genre and the apocalypse, there are many different tropes that you can implement into your story ideas. But it is vital that you have your own unique take on these tropes, or risk falling into the trap of using the trope to write your story.
It is also important not to cross the boundary into science fantasy (unless you want to, of course). The best sci fi post apocalypse stories use technology we currently have – or will soon have – to build into the apocalypse or have caused it prior to your story beginning.
So, for example, think of aspects such as:
- Nuclear technologies; such as power plants, nuclear accidents, or nuclear bombs.
- Existing Artificial Intelligence; but rather than the A.I. itself being the main apocalyptic threat, the A.I. should be a tool used by a third party. So, for example, A.I. and big data facilitating the rise of a one world government.
- A lack of technology; our world is so dependent on tech nowadays that a sudden absence of it could bring about the end of the world. Maybe begin thinking along the lines of a mass viral infection event, a huge magnetic storm, or even the development of Quantum Computing (and the Quantum Apocalypse that their programming power can present).
But just like every kind of sci fi story, you need to ensure that you don’t let your idea drive the story. Keep it character driven!
A Tribal World
This next prompt is a long one – so stay with it!
In a post-apocalyptic world, it would be natural for groups of people to segment themselves to form their own communities, societies, and even networks of communities. We only need to look at every post-apocalyptic story ever written to see some semblance of this idea woven into the story; either as something for our protagonists to protect or something for them to overcome. For this post apocalyptic writing prompt I want you to imagine a world where this segmentation has been taken to the extreme and isolation has formed vastly different tribes of humans that have developed this way after a few generations of separation.
Imagine each tribe in this post-apocalyptic world has developed a unique culture, this culture shaped by their new experiences of the post apocalyptic world, their ancestral experiences of the old world, and the different environments they now need to face. This idea can be expanded upon depending on what kind of apocalypse you have. For instance, a nuclear apocalypse will drastically impact the environment whereas a geo-magnetic disaster may not. How does this impact how people function and the beliefs they hold?
For example, one of these new tribes may have developed a deep reverence for the natural world as the generations have come and gone. Perhaps they hold a belief that nature is sacred – more so than humans – and must be protected and respected at all costs. Such a tribe may have a detailed system of farming in a sustainable way and raising animals in a way that shows them a great deal of respect.
The people that are participants of this tribe may take this belief and implement it across all of their day-to-day living such as wearing clothing made from natural fibres. How are these clothes designed? Are they purely functional? Or are they bestowed with symbols of the earth and the elements? How do they handle sickness and medicine? Do they draw everything they use from the natural world or are segments of this tribe hypocritical in using old world knowledge?
Another tribe in this new world might have a society focussed around a complex system of trade. Maybe in this tribe certain goods or skills are highly valued and sought after – so much so that a class system has evolved? How do they trade? Do they use currency? Or is it a system closer to traditional socialist communism? How does blacksmithing, carpentry, or medicine fit into this society? Are they valued? Are they not? What about the people responsible for cleaning the streets? A fun thought could be that such as tribe would likely have an apprenticeship style system like times of old. Do fathers and mothers teach their sons and daughters certain skills? Perhaps it is forbidden to learn a skill or trade out-with your family’s specialty. Are certain families known for certain things?
As an added dimension to think about, it is often the case that factions or tribes will like to distinguish themselves from others through how they dress and their aesthetics. Perhaps some of your tribes may have developed a ritualistic use of tattoos? Do tattoos denote importance? Status? Maybe the elaborate body art people indulge in tells the story of their lives and the lives of their ancestral line?
When it comes to being a writer the options are truly endless for stories such as these. The only rules that you’ll have to limit your story and your world are the internal limits you set for it! Take this opportunity to explore how these tribes would function and how they may finally react when interacting with one another for the first time. Delving into the nuance of human culture, customs, and beliefs makes for an interesting world. Make each tribe its own with very detailed reasoning behind every quirk they may have – this will help you develop a world that feels real, complex, layered, and rich with storytelling potential.
Remember – having too much depth and intricacy for a world is never a bad thing. Just remember that you don’t need to show it all or shout to the roof tops about it in your story.
Other Types Of Apocalypse
But we can’t forget about other famous apocalypse types like the zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, or something more supernatural like demons, the rapture, and ancient evils. But most of these types of apocalypse will have conventions that are paramount for the genre and it can be easy to stick to these conventions because they work.
There is nothing wrong with that and it is a great place to start. However, just because there are conventions doesn’t mean you need to follow them all of the time. With that said, here are some more miscellaneous prompts to feed your creative mind:
- The cosmic horror apocalypse. Lovecraftian horror, as it is sometimes called, is a great place to dabble for ideas of your own. Begin to study the ‘Old Ones’ and start to imagine what it would be like if they finally arose (like it is often eluded to in cosmic horror). What would happen if these ‘Old Ones’ finally got their way? What would happen to the death cults that succeed in bringing them back? What would happen to everyone else?
- The Alien Apocalypse. This one is often a fan favourite of the post apocalyptic genre but it can often be easy to make it too dire. How could humanity win against such a superior force? Why even invade if they stand a chance of losing? These are tough questions to tackle as a writer but if you go for this story type they are a must. Think about what brought the aliens here in the first place? Why can’t they co-exist with humanity? Why even invade in the first place?
- The Mutant Apocalypse. The often forgotten cousin of the zombie apocalypse, this type of apocalypse holds so much room for the development of ideas. Are the mutants feral? Or maybe the mutants cause a caste or class system? How do ordinary people react? Will they be outlawed or clench power over their less evolved peers?
- The Religious Apocalypse. This one is a very touchy subject for many people for obvious reasons. But what would happen if the rapture began? Will it be true to certain holy scripts? Or diverge entirely? What moral system will you choose?
Try taking a look at some of these apocalypse types and take short notes of aspects that of are particular interest to you. It is very possible to combine ideas from different sub-genres to help build up your own ideas. For example, what if a mutants are seen as the coming of angels? Or, what if aliens are ancestors of cosmic horror’s ‘Old Ones’?
A Final Note
There are so many concepts out there to help you build your ideal post apocalyptic world and it can be very easy to get lost in world building. Use these ideas as a spring board into building your world but keep it simple.
Worlds that are too complex from a philosophical or societal angle will be hard to write about – and hard to use to tell compelling stories. Now get researching and have fun!
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