When the idea behind The Darkening formed and I visualised the story’s details, I thought it would be best to spend as much time on world building as possible. The basic rules of my post-apocalyptic world took shape at that stage, as well as the time frame for the main event. But a lot of the world and the problems it would create took shape as I started writing the story.
My main character lives away from the city, in an abandoned farm house, in its basement. If one could walk in broad daylight (not that it can happen, given the peculiarity of the world) and stood at the top of the house, a nearby city’s skyscrapers are the first thing that would catch the eye. I knew that from the start. I had a clear picture in my head about its appearance. All that remained in my head and none of it appears in the story. I had stories for a few of the residents as well. All these remain in my head and notes. Background story about the world.
Another thing I knew from the very start was that John would have only one prolonged memory, a tormenting one, and it would be of his family in another place. There was no reason to have him in a different place than the one he lives during the events of the novel, other than it just made sense, so I went along with my gut feeling, and I haven’t regretted it since.
However, John’s (my main character’s name) proximity to the city was a last minute addition as I wrote the first draft. I hadn’t thought about it at first, but then a question popped into my mind: what drove him there? If he survived, why leave his house, which had a basement, therefore shelter, to risk going somewhere else? Keep in mind that John has no memory of his past, aside from that one memory. He doesn’t know how he ended up there.
But I somehow had to come up with an answer, so I wouldn’t have readers going: “Hang on! If he had a basement in his home in the city, why is he now in another place?!” I’m doing my best to avoid questions like these, and that’s one of the things my brave beta readers will assist me with. Anyway, this led me to come up with a problem, in order the current state of my main character to appear as the solution to it. Kind of like reverse engineering. And the problem was, lack of food. Deprive a living being of either one of sustenance, water or safety and the environment becomes hostile for that organism. At least that’s what he has surmised so far. Ask yourselves this: should a catastrophic event was to take place, and pockets of survivors endured in the big cities, where would they get food from? Raiding half-demolished supermarkets is one thing, but how long would that last them? What would they do afterwards?
Based on that, I now have an even clearer picture of what the world looks after The Darkening. It no longer revolved around my main character and what happened to him, but at the back of my mind I have the idea of what is happening at the same time in that nearby city, and the rest of the world.
What do you think? What is the mental picture you get when someone tells you “post-apocalyptic world?” Do you think of a nuclear wasteland stretching for miles in every direction? Do you see a lash jungle with no humans because of a lethal toxin or a virus? Or perhaps a pockmarked planet from a meteor shower? What do you think the problems each event would create to the survivors, if any? WIll it be sustenance related or not? Let your imagination run wild and comment below of how you imagine something like that. Don’t be afraid to try a different approach. You might be surprised by the outcome and end up with killer shadows 😉