1. Dan Kirkalnd
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    Dan Kirkalnd Member

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    Setting Background for Post SHTF

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Dan Kirkalnd, Apr 14, 2012.

    I'm hard at work on my first real story and I've been curious to get some advice on this topic.

    The setting for my story is the eastern US, I never state that outright as I prefer to let the reader develop what they want to with the locale, but I do describe it in detail.

    My question is, for a Post Apocalyptic setting how much backstory is needed to allow the reader to reader develop a vision for the world? I don't want to be overly descriptive but I also don't want to just say "It's a desert" either. how do I balance the two?
     
  2. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    The world is seen through the eyes and thoughts of the characters as the reader needs to know it. It doesn't matter what world, it's a matter of story line.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No back story. Stay in the world that is.

    If how the world got that way is truly part of the story, it will come out in the telling. Otherwise, leave it be. Maybe it will come out in another story. The reader doesn't need to know, but he or she may be hungry for more. That is a good thing.

    Write story, not back story.
     
  4. Late Starter
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    I'd take something well known and change it sufficently to get your point across.

    For example (a bad, cliched and geographically dubious example): you have your characters find some large metal letters poking out of the rubble. Thinking they may be important they dig them out to find they spell "HOL_WO_D" Now they may immediately know these are the Holywood letters which suggests a recent event, they might have some idea of the letters but not be too sure, ie the name of a film studio etc or they may have no clue and think HOLWOD is a god worshipped in the old times...

    If the Holywood letters are covered in rubble and your MC has no clue what they mean then the reader should know that things have been tits up for quite some time.
     
  5. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    This is the way to do it. You want to make the reader curious as to what happened in the past. They aren't really going to care right away, and if you just spoonfeed them backstory, then they won't want it. But if you starve them a little, you'll make them hungry for the backstory. Also, make them care about the characters, and then they will care about what has happened to them (i.e. apocalyptic backstory).
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's amazing, but you learn that you really don't need backstory at all, or at least, hardly any. Sure, as the writer, you create a ton of backstory, but you'll find the reader needs very little. It's a huge temptation to feed them everything you created, but they don't need it and they don't really want it.

    Look at Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's post-apocalyptic, but McCarthy doesn't spend any time informing his readers about what the apocalypse was. It's not part of the story. All we need to know is that something terrible happened and now we're stuck with the world he presents. I read an interview with Elie Wiesel, who is a Nobel Prize winner, who said he wrote a 900-page manuscript for his novel Night and cut it down to 160 pages for publication. My guess is that he chopped out a ton of backstory. It's fine to create backstory, and it's even fine to write it (no matter what Cogito says), but you don't have to put it in front of your readers, because they don't need it.
     
  7. Dan Kirkalnd
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    Dan Kirkalnd Member

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    Thanks for the advice guys! definitely something to consider
     
  8. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Has anyone ever written a book where all the guys like me die out, and the planet is left with nothing but college professors, cordon bleu chefs and interior decorators?

    I mean, you'd still have the Apocalypse, but all the survivors would have decent food and matching throw pillows. Perhaps there would be a raucous battle over cuts for sushi or how "Upstairs Downstairs" should have been written.

    The population eventualy dies out because everyone is afraid to talk to girls...

    (BTW, I don't intend to write this book. Go ahead, have at it.)
     
  9. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    No, but there was a book that included a chapter about a planet being repopulated with telephone sanitizers, management consultants, and marketing executives. I think the end result might have been very similar.
     
  10. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I was also thinking of Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone episode called "Time Enough At Last." He plays a guy who just likes to read books, and gets trapped in a vault under piles of paper during a nuclear exchange. The last man alive was a bookworm.

    Why are SHTF stories always told from the prospective of "Mad Max"? I mean killing a professor for his bag of Oreo cookies might be easy, but it doesn't tell much about the full spectrum of the survivors.
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Yeah, I don't much care how the end of the world came about - unless it was destroyed by an asteroid that carried an alien species of VNFs (very nasty fuckers) that now hunt the surviving humans in packs... that might be an important plot point to know!
     
  12. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    While what the above people say about being appropriate with your background is is very true, if you're really obsessed with the backstory that much, you need to write it out. I was reading this manga, Hollow Fields, and while it's very good, it was pretty clear that the author had more inspiration for the backstory than the actual story. Watch and make sure you're not doing this.

    Ah, so the eastern US, eh? Do you live there? I do. Here, I have a suggestion for what your setting could look like. Over here in North and South Carolina we have a lot of clay, as much of the area was all swampland (and much of it still is). I went into this field where the trees were recently harvested, and it was weird. It had all these ridges and long ditches in it, and any rain that fell would just sit there because the water had nowhere to go. There was no drainage, and the clay wouldn't soak up the water. It was both murky and and bone-dry, right next to each other, interspersed with dry stumps, weeds, and ants. Before the new pine started to come up, it was pretty creepy looking, and all nasty.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What is SHTF?
     
  14. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    Sushi Hits The Fan

    (but it's not sushi)
     
  15. Dubya
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    Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy ? :)
     
  16. Just Jon
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    I think I said that. ;)
     
  17. The Tourist
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    My real opinion of SHTF stories is that it's been done to death. Granted, for my generation it's always post-nuclear. I did give style points to "The Time Machine." At least that was a new slant of the era.

    One comment I heard that applies was made over the change in how stories about the future were told. The gentleman stated, "The future ain't what it used to be." And I agree.

    I feel the "not a bang but a whimper" ideology is our actual fate. Look at our leaders today. Do you really think any of these clowns have the cojones to actually push the big red button? Yikes, they're shills for monied guys, they draw their spines from polling data, even our women (like Thatcher or Hillary Clinton) look more like men than our actual men.

    We have new TV shows now based on 'preppers,' the people building bomb shelters for the end. I have zero respect for these guys. It's now fashionable to crawl under a rock? This is fighting for your country? Yikes, my DNA won't be passed down from men who threw a leg over a big bike, but by a guy who survives by crawling into a fetal position.

    Why doesn't someone write about that?
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's no such thing as an overused idea, only an uninspired execution. Good writing always wins out.
     
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  19. The Tourist
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    The problem is not only the nuclear idea, but the technology of delivery. I mean, China has nuclear capability, but what are they going to use, an ox cart.

    The only viable participants are the USA and The Soviet Union, which fell. The only danger there is the theft of fissionable material, i.e., a "dirty bomb." Of course, now we're back to the ox cart.

    To give the story even a snowball's chance, it would have to be a period piece--better than 'Fail Safe,' and better than most James Bond movies. In other words, a real good rip-off.

    I'd rather try to sell a plot starring Katniss and The Green Arrow. I'd call it "The Brideshead of the Broadhead."
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Again, the story concept neither makes nor breaks the story. The writing makes or breaks the story.
     
  21. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, we're dealing with classics here. Like 'Fail Safe' or 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' and every other episode of 'The Twilight Zone.' Even films like 'Nightbreaker.' These are big shoes.

    And when they are bad, they are really bad, campy actually. Godzilla, anyone?

    There are some classics that just cannot be improved upon.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Quitter!
     
  23. The Tourist
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    LOL. Okay, I'll take the challenge. What would you suggest to beat things like 'On The Beach,' or even 'Mad Max'?

    I think the problem here is that the MAD version of self incineration has given way to terrorism. There are no more 'big dogs' that can throw world ending nuclear weight.

    To do that you'll need fantasy countries, aliens, 'lost doomsday warheads,' or some game like "Metal Gear Solid." In other words, you'd have to reach for it or use vampires.

    To buy the punchline you have to buy the bit. The Cold War is over, and best SHTF stories have been written.

    But then, according to Henry Mencken, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
     

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