A good place to start is to show the apocalypse beginning–what’s causing it? Is it disease? Robots? Zombies? All of the above?
An apocalypse is a massive negative change in the world. So what causes it? Where are the problems being derived from? Is it that the shampoo is being poisoned? Is it that the apes wonder why they’re in the zoo? Is it that the chess-playing computer got bored of chess?
Write yourself a few scenes of how the apocalypse starts and where your character fits into it.
Then, write yourself a brief list of plot points that could lead your character to making an important decision. Since you don’t have to write the other parts, all you have to do is make a list of everything important that would happen up to the climax of the story.
Think about the Hunger Games series. There are several points in the trilogy where Katniss has to make choices that change everything.
Look at the first book/movie (spoilers?) and remember how Katniss and Peeta survived at the end. The entire book built up to where they stood with the deadly berries in their hands. So here’s a rough outline of how we got there:
- The Hunger Games have been happening for over 70 years.
- Katniss lives in a poor district with no dad and an unhelpful mother.
- She is the main provider for her family and is very protective of them.
- The government is scary and crappy.
- Katniss’s sister gets picked.
- Katniss volunteers.
- She gets groomed to enter the arena
- The more she ends up getting idolized and the more the Games are talked about, the angrier she gets.
- By the time she’s in the arena, she is a very angry Katniss.
- She makes friends with a little girl.
- The little girl is killed, and Katniss gets angry because of how unfair the Games are.
- She begins to like Peeta and uses his love for her to get more food and supplies.
- Things get worse and worse until she is one of the last children alive in the arena.
- They announce that there can be two winners if they’re both from the same district, which is an obvious ploy because Katniss and Peeta are both still alive.
- They find each other.
- She realizes she genuinely cares about him.
- She keeps him from dying by risking her own life.
- Everyone else dies.
- They are informed that they have to kill each other.
- Katniss realizes how to manipulate the system since the people watching the Games want to see drama.
The next choice is what changes everything. She has to choose: should she kill Peeta or should she let him kill her?
She doesn’t want to leave her family behind, but she cares about Peeta too much to kill him herself.
And that’s when she figures out the invisible third option: they both go down together in a dramatic spectacle.
That is the moment that things change. Everything that happens after that is more or less a direct result of that choice.
Katniss chose to gamble her life in order to show the Capital that they are not wild animals, that they understand love and compassion, that things don’t have to be the way that they are now.
Happenstance is Rue getting killed. A decision is singing to her and putting flowers on her dead body before she is taken away.
Katniss makes a lot of important decisions that affect the fate of her world:
- Being the first one in her district to ever volunteer
- Befriending Rue rather than using her
- Not killing unless she was angry or absolutely had to
- Going to the trap in order to get medicine for Peeta
- Kissing Peeta to get food and supplies
- Putting flowers on Rue to show respect for the dead
- Shooting at the judges when she was getting scored
And so on! See how these are actions, not words or things happening TO her.
She chose to volunteer. By doing that, she begins the end of her world.
Create yourself a specific type of apocalypse and figure out where and who your character will be. Is it a rich person? Is it a person who lives in the woods and has no idea what’s going on?
Think about your character’s likely actions and then go from there with what you think they would do next. ONLY write down actions. It can’t happen to them–they have do it themselves.
It depends on what your assignment requires, of course, but I would start with general circumstances and see what choices your character would make as she travels through the end of the world. What is her first major action? What results from that?
Does she befriend the cute grocery guy? Does he get all creepy and she realizes she needs to ditch him even though she’s had a crush on him for years?
- Felicia goes outside when she hears a car crash. She realizes that everyone is running around and panicking.
- Just like everyone else, she goes to the grocery store.
- She grabs some cans of food.
- She gets into a fight with another lady who wanted the same stuff.
- She gives up because she feels self-sufficient.
- Cute grocery guy offers to help her out. They go to his garage and start packing to leave.
- He starts creeping on her, so she ditches him on a “bathroom run.”
- She has a run-in with a zombie. She must choose: kill or be killed.
- She plants a roundhouse kick on the zombie’s chest and runs away.
- When she runs away, she runs right into grocery guy.
- He throws a punch. She must choose: fight back or run some more?
Certain decisions, like most of the ones above, will have smaller pools of effect, but your story idea should be building up to a big decision of some kind. Does she become a sorceress and cast spells on the zombies? Does she start doing research on the biological makeup of the zombies?
Where is she going as a character? What does she need to do in order to get there?
Just take some time to think about action words. Don’t say “she was afraid”–tell me that she’s trembling in fear as she puts her finger onto the trigger of a gun for the first time.
I hope this helps!
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