The End of the World as You Made It
You’ve been imagining your world the way it is “now,” whether “now” is the particular time span for a novel or even a larger time span that you’ve fleshed out around that. You likely also know how your world was made (and what your characters believe about the creation of the world, whether those two are the same or not). But have you ever considered how (or if) your world will end? Well, that’s what we’re about to look at in this post.
Does Your World End?
The first, most obvious question is whether your world has an end at all. Was your world designed to end, or will it go on forever? Was it originally designed to go on forever, before some catastrophe ruined that plan?
If your world does end, does it end permanently or will it be remade somehow? Will the new world be even greater than the first? Will it be designed with the same rules, or will the rules be adjusted for the new world?
As you ask yourself these questions, keep in mind the original parameters of your world and the character of its god(s) (if it has them).
When Will Your World End?
Was your world established to last a particular number of years? If so, by what reckoning? Or maybe it was designed to last until a particular event took place, and that event could occur anytime. Or the event could have a particular date. Or perhaps there was no particular design at all, and the world can be destroyed carelessly through neglect or misuse.
The god(s) of your world (or lack thereof) should play a large part in your decision here. A god who carefully orchestrates time isn’t likely to create a world that can be destroyed willy-nilly. A world without a god, though, will be more fragile, and a world with gods who are not in agreement might be more volatile as well.
How Will Your World End?
Now you know the “if” and the “when.” What about the how?
Will the end of your world be provoked by an uncovering of something evil that was meant to remain hidden? Too many rifts torn between the world and its underworld? The cutting down of too many trees? People foolishly drilling to the world’s center and exposing its core? The sending of destructive messengers? Plant life overgrowing civilization and choking humans out? Meteors pummeling the world’s surface?
As long as your decision is in keeping with the foundational truths of your world, you can get creative here. It’s your world, after all, and you have the power both to build up and to tear down.
This is also where the most story potential is found. Is anyone else curious what a fantasy apocalypse novel would be like?
What Does the Apocalypse Mean for Your Characters?
The apocalypse should have an impact on your characters. A big one, if they’re living through it or believe it to be imminent. But your character’s perspective will be shaped by what they believe about the apocalypse—even if what they believe is that there isn’t one and it simply means they live as though the world will last forever.
So what is the impact of the apocalypse? Does the end of your world completely obliterate all life? Do your characters have an afterlife to look forward to? Or one to dread? Is your world’s apocalypse quick, or drawn out? If it’s drawn out, how do people seek to extend their own lives while the world is dying?
Can the people in your world look forward to a rebuilding of the world as they know it—or better than they know it—or do they see the end as permanent? Do they know what to expect, or is it a mystery until it happens?
What Do People Believe About the End?
I already hinted toward this question in my last point, but what do your characters believe about the end of the world? Do they think the world will end at all, or do they expect it to go on forever? Do they have any knowledge of the true end, and if so, where did this knowledge come from?
What myths have been concocted about the end (by those who believe in an end)? Do these myths hold any hints of truth, or are they simply reflective of the culture’s values and the physical surroundings that they’re familiar with?
Maybe your plant-valuing culture believes that the end of the world will be heralded by an unprecedented blight; or, on the flip side, maybe they believe that plants will begin to overgrow civilization and retake the world that was first theirs, so they believe in less of an end and more of a rebirth.
A culture that’s familiar with ice and snow might believe that the end of the world comes with fire, scorching everything in its path, because that’s the opposite of what is comfortable to them; or they might believe that the cold will one day turn on them and mankind will be frozen out.
For your characters who believe in an eventual apocalypse, how does their belief shape their thinking and the way they live? Do they seek to prepare for it? Or to prepare for the world after it? Do they seek to protect and inform as many people as they can? Do they, instead, live for the now since the world will end soon anyway? Or are they pessimistic, creating nothing to last because it will all just be destroyed?
Which view of the end is most pervasive in your culture as a whole? Maybe the idea that it’s useless to create things that last not only impacts how individuals live, but also how your culture approaches architecture, fashion, family structure, work, etc. The perishable nature of things might even be so culture-shaping as to become a core value.
Or the opposite might be true. Maybe your culture is filled with people who believe that the world will be remade, and seek to create things that last as a means of imaging and looking towards the new world. That would obviously create a very different type of culture! (And the inherent conflicts between the two are rife with story potential if you were to place such cultures in proximity.)
Fantasy apocalypses aren’t a topic discussed very often (I have a theory or two as to why that might be), but they’re full of potential for your world, your characters, and your plots. (And, for real, I’m curious to read a fantasy apocalypse novel.)
So I want to know, have you ever considered the end of your world before? What most caught your interest in this post? Would you read a fantasy apocalypse novel? I’d love to chat with you in the comments!
2 thoughts on “The End of the World as You Made It”
That’s a fascinating idea! It’s true there aren’t many fictional end-of-the-worlds (Narnia is one exception). I’d love to ponder more over the subject. Great, thought-provoking post!
Ooh, Narnia is a good point, and it actually brings to mind a couple others, as well. I think you see more apocalyptic fantasy when you get into the allegorical sub-genre.
Thanks for commenting!