“Why End the World?” A Writer’s Perspective on the Post-Apocalypse Genre

Post-apocalyptic fiction is kind of hot right now. My first novel, The Hole, fits the genre and my publisher, Permuted Press, puts out pretty much nothing but post-apocalyptic stories. Recently, someone asked me why the genre is so popular.

While I have thoughts on an answer from a reader’s perspective — the end of the world is scary stuff, we like the thought of beginning anew, etc. — what I want to offer here is a writer’s answer. Why is The Hole a post-apocalyptic novel?

There’s certainly no reason the story I tell in The Hole couldn’t play out just as well in a non-apocalyptic setting. Nothing in the plot demands that the characters begin their journey in a world wiped out by plague. Nothing in it dictates that the crazies wander through a barren landscape instead of a densely-populated, modern-day America.

I could argue that the post-apocalyptic setting adds to the loneliness of my two main characters. I could tell you that placing the events of The Hole after the end of the world focuses attention on what really matters: the plight of Elliot Bishop and Evajean Rhodes and the mystery they set out to solve. All of which is probably true. But it’s not what ultimately decided the issues for me. It’s not why I went post-apocalypse.

No, I chose to write about the end of the world because it’s easier.

Writing a novel is a ton of work. Telling a long story involves keeping track of hundreds of details of plot and character and setting, while not bogging down in those details to such an extent that the story suffers. Telling a long, complex story is terrifically difficult — and I am in awe of writers who can pull it off. (This is why it’s so lamentable that the typical university English literature education spends so much time studying imagery and symbolism and ideology and characterization — and spends practically no classroom hours on pacing and story.)

Ending the world gives the writer freedom to ignore a great deal of those details. If your main characters are the only people left, then they’re the only people you have to worry about. In a fully populated world, the events of The Hole would’ve caused all sorts of ongoing reactions by governments, organizations, and individuals. I’d have had to keep track of all that and work it in to the specific story of Elliot and Evajean. Far simpler, then, to just kill off all the governments, organizations, and individuals.

As an author approaching my first novel, the post-apocalyptic genre was a sandbox that gave me room to play while allowing me the luxury of not having to keep track of too much at once. (Though the editing process revealed just how much there still was to keep track of — and how poorly I managed to do so in the first draft.)

I’m sure other authors have better, less self-servings reasons for ending the world than “it makes the writing easier.” But, if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that it was mine.