Author Matthew W Harrill

Apocalypse – how do you write it?

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Apocalypse – what do you need?

As the increasingly paint-faced Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame once sang, ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…’

I am sure you do. As a writer, an apocalypse is a big deal. It is a climax, an ending, perhaps it is a new beginning. What it needs to be is unique, visceral, and an event that is going to draw your readers in and flood their imagination with visions.

Look at all the big apocalyptic movies we have had over recent years, or as I like to call them, ‘The Roland Emmerich back catalogue’. There are several ways to relate the sense of doom that comes with the imminent end of the world. Be it alien invasion, over the top natural disasters, nuclear destruction or in fact zombies, the apocalypse, the end of life as we know it, will always be a draw.

So what factors are important when considering your own personal apocalypse? How are you going to end it all?

Space (physical space)

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The thing about space is there’s so much of it. In this circumstance however, I am referring to setting. Your means of ending the world does not need to be massive, but the chances are that your apocalypse demands physical space as a mark of respect toward what it is aiming to achieve.

In Independence day, the example here is taken literally. The alien mothership has a mass ¼ the size of earth’s moon, and is in essence a floating civilisation, a planet in its’ own right. Much as probably the most iconic apocalypse bringing planet, the death star also is.

One might have been very interested to see just what occurred the few moments before, and during that instant when it destroys Alderaan [spoiler alert…. Because yeah nobody reading this will NOT have seen Star Wars at some point in their lives…]

In my own series, I use the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Arid, empty, lifeless, wide open. And strangely very bright and sunny. The apocalypse does not always have to happen under black cloud or a solar eclipse (but it does help…).

Mass numbers

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This goes hand in hand with the allocation of large amounts of physical space. If you are constructing an apocalypse on a grand scale, what better to do than fill it with boundless hordes of chomping minions, all desperate to rend and ravage, tear and destroy? Or in the case of Tron Legacy, a whacking great ship full of generic robot programs who want to eliminate the human race. Not bad for a nation that fits on a USB stick.

But if you look at any good vision of impending doom, apocalypse or not, throwaway numbers, cannon fodder, are what make the bad guys deadly. They are going to apocalypse your ass because they can afford to lose numbers. The Chitari in The Avengers, the robot ‘squiddies’ in The Matrix, the drone fighters in Enders Game, the orcs in Lord of the Rings. The list goes on and on.

You want to end the world? Fill your apocalypse with numerous hordes that clearly have no idea what’s going to happen should they actually win. Look at any good zombie flick for example. Victory is ultimately self-defeating.

In The ARC Chronicles, the apocalypse is a means to an end.

Big things

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Enormous monsters. Kaiju, giant space alien infestations. I chose the Cloverfield monster as an example here. Pacific Rim is a great example of big alien nasties who just don’t see us as anything more than an interference.

The same with the flying space bat moth creatures in the recent Godzilla film. And to a point the dragons in ‘Reign of Fire’, which is actually a good crossover between the large monster antagonists, and the mass numbers causing self-defeat (watch the film, you will see what I mean. Christian Bale wasn’t bad, and apparently Matthew Mahogany was stoned most of the time they filmed…).

We do our best to destroy them, but ultimately we are just there to be squashed. We are incidental. If you are going to write giant space nasties into your story, make sure the unique selling point is sound. And if there is a way to survive the oncoming monster apocalypse, make sure it hasn’t been used before. You want to write something new for your readers.

Huge natural events

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The Emmerich speciality. Earthquakes, tidal waves, tectonic plates realigning, giant icy snowstorms freezing everything. Nothing says instant doom like a Global climate shift. Your bad guy is Mother Nature, and she takes NO prisoners.

Even the monsters can be directed down a certain avenue, the countless minions (Bottom) rebuffed, but you can’t stop molten lava with K-rails, and you CERTAINLY can’t stand there looking at it. It’s called ‘Molten’ lava for a reason people…(= Degree in Geology – Volcano is a silly film. So is Pompeii – At least Dante’s peak had some semblance of accuracy. None are Emmerich).

So here’s the thing. Do your research if your apocalypse is natural in origin. Monsters can be created in whatever way you see fit. A biblical apocalypse can be filled with beings of your own creation. Nature is fact.

Load up the doom!

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So there you have it. As always in my blog there is plenty to think about. I don’t profess to offer all of the answers, but to give you food for thought. I have my own view on the apocalypse, as will be revealed when Hellbeast is released. If you have read Hellbounce and Hellborne you may have some idea what to expect. But maybe you want the apocalypse to happen. Maybe that is your story. You might want to end it all…

One other thing…

How do you cancel an apocalypse? Well to paraphrase my favourite movie reviewer Dr Mark Kermode….’you just cancel it’. Giant robots and a nuke help too…

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