Almost every story idea I have ever had was born from a different one. For the story that I am focusing on in my 60-day manuscript, I created a character who is a writer—a novelist, in particular. While coming up with the story (and writing one of the other two manuscripts I’ve started for it), I created titles for some of the novels he has written. With the titles came the basic plots for these fictitious books, just in case I wanted to use them in the story.
Now, it seems, they aren’t so fictitious.
One of the stories, Something Darker, has already been mentioned in this blog. It started as just a title; it ended up becoming a short story. As chance would have it, it is one of the few short stories I’ve written that I could probably expand into a novel if I had the time, though I do like it very much the way it is.
Another of the not-so-fictitious fictitious novels is one called The Boy Who Cried Apocalypse. It began simply as a catchy title. Now it is yet another of the many short stories I have in development.
I love apocalyptic fiction—ironically, because there are so many possibilities with it. You can explore what caused the apocalypse, or you can explore its aftermath. You can even ignore it entirely, focusing solely on the characters. You can make it a small-focused, character-driven story, or you can make it an epic, world-encompassing story. The Boy Who Cried Apocalypse is definitely an example of the former.
As its title would indicate, it centers around a boy who has survived an unnamed global catastrophe, chronicling his journey to the largest city within reach where he believes he has a better chance of finding other survivors.
I already know that this story is set to be my most visually-oriented so far. Whereas so many of my stories are driven by dialogue or narration, this one is driven by the images that unfold in my head as I write it. The most striking image came a few months ago when the city I live in was covered in several inches of snow. The roads were sanded and somewhat drivable the next morning, so I ventured out to run an errand I had planned as well as to get some food for the family. While I was driving, I saw empty cars on the side of the road—abandoned by their owners, some in the middle of the road—with snow piling up around them. It sparked something in my mind.
The title of the story had existed for over a year by that point. I originally had a different plot in mind that focused more on dreams and prophecies, painting the protagonist as a Cassandra-figure. However, that image of the abandoned cars buried on the side of the road changed everything.
I imagined a world that had been decimated, and a single, solitary boy wandering through it doing what he could to survive. The only thing that would keep him going is the thought that he isn’t as alone as he feels—that he will find someone else out there. While I was working through the initial idea, I ran across a Norse myth that shared similarities with the story in my head. The myth is of Lif and Lifprasir, a boy and girl who survive the events of Ragnarok by hiding in the forest of Hoddmimis Holt (or possibly the world-tree itself, Yggdrasil), thus becoming the only two humans left in the world. For me, researching this myth just confirmed that I was going in the right direction with the story now. It also told me who the lonely boy was going to find on his way to the large city.
With apocalyptic fiction, there is often a phoenix complex—a hope that a new world will be built (or rebuilt) from the ashes of another. This story was built from the remnants of another. By the time I am finished with it, however, I believe they will be two entirely different worlds.
Here is an excerpt, complete with the abandoned car imagery:
The boy walked across the barren landscape, his path what was once an interstate highway. To his left and right, cars sat parked in the same places they had occupied for the past twenty-one months. Many were completely covered with ash, forming burial mounds on the sides of the freeway; here and there, a few red or black roofs poked through to the surface—grave markers for the dead. As he walked by, he noted with curiosity that while many of the cars were completely buried, others remained only partially covered—as if the wind were trying to protect them from the reality faced by the rest of the world. With these cars, some doors were left wide open; others remained locked on all sides. The boy checked every single one. The only constant among them was the lack of any human touch. There were no bodies, no tracks, nothing to indicate that anyone had ever been there. As far as he knew, it was that way all over the world.
In The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot wrote that the world ends “not with a bang but a whimper.” In this story, the world certainly ended with a bang. However, I fully intend for it to begin anew with a whimper. Thank you, Norse myth, for that inspiration.