Everyone loves a good apocalyptic story, but it can sometimes feel like all the good ideas have already been used. Nothing’s worse than trying to write without inspiration, so I’ve put together a list with a ton of different apocalyptic writing prompts for you to use for whatever you want! Whether you’re just warming up, looking to start a whole novel or comic, or you just want some ideas for a roleplay, you’ll find lots of good inspiration here!
Post-Apocalypse Backstory Ideas
There are many different ways the world could meet its doom. I know when I hear “apocalypse,” zombies are the first thing that comes to mind. But there are tons of options out there if you want a different atmosphere for your apocalyptic story.
An apocalypse can be brought on by:
- Global Warming
- Natural Disasters
- Ice Age
- Nuclear Fallout
- Magic / A Curse
- Alien Invasion
- Ancient Gods
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of how diverse you can make apocalypse stories. Each one would affect the world in different ways, and they all provide interesting and unique scenarios to explore.
If you want some prompts that are more specific to zombies, however, I have another prompt list dedicated to just zombies: Zombie Writing Prompts and Story Ideas. Check it out!
Apocalyptic Writing Prompts
If you’re just looking to warm up with some fun apocalypse scenes, then take a look at some of the quick prompts below. Although they are designed for you to only write one scene, try to think about the backstory leading up to the scene, and the history between the characters. Who knows? You might end up liking the scene well enough to make it into a full story!
- Your protagonists are hunting for food in the woods with no hunting experience. What do they do to try to catch a meal?
- Your protagonists are trying to turn random cans of food into something remotely tasty. When most canned “food” is either pet food or well past its expiration date (or both), they’ve got their work cut out for them.
- Explore the different perspectives of two characters: one who lived through the apocalypse, and one who was born in the post-apocalyptic world.
- Looking good is almost as important as feeling good. So when the apocalypse began, you weren’t really surprised that your hairstyling expertise was still needed. Walk through a normal day for you, cutting survivor’s hair and listening to their stories.
- A group of strangers are camping together. They are gathered around a campfire exchanging stories about times gone by, before the apocalypse. What kind of people were they all before? What do they admit, knowing they’ll all go their separate ways in the morning?
- Ever since the cataclysm, members of a new religion have been popping up all over the place. What are the tenets of their faith? What is it about their ideology that sets them apart from other religions?
- An assassination is what tips the domino and plunges the world into chaos and war. Who was assassinated, and why? Describe the series of events that followed to allow for the situation to spiral out of control.
- Sure, the mutants are bad, but you know It’s humans you really need to be afraid of in the post-apocalypse. Why?
- One character takes advantage of the situation to create a new identity for themself. Who were they before, how do they change, and what was their reason for doing so? Are they more true to themself now, or are they hiding who they really are?
Apocalypse Story Ideas
If you want to write a longer, more complete story, then here are some prompts to get you started. Unlike the writing prompts above, these are designed to make you think about the entire story, including the setting, backstory, and plot. Feel free to use any of these in your stories!
- Your character has started the apocalypse somehow. Whether it was on purpose, or the result of an experiment gone wrong, take the time to explore the character’s guilt, mindset, and coping mechanisms. If it was on purpose, why? Do they have a savior complex? If it wasn’t on purpose, then how do they feel navigating the world that they destroyed? This story could progress with either someone else coming to stop them, or the character playing an integral part in reversing the catastrophe they helped create.
- The story starts before the rapture, and everyone is excited about their chance to rise to heaven. Two characters, deeply in love, eagerly await salvation together. When the rapture comes One character is saved by the rapture, but the person they love isn’t. In a panic, they refute their fate, curse the angels, and cast themself down back onto the earth to be with the one they love. Now they must deal with being outcasts from a religion they followed all their lives, and must adapt to the world they now live in.
- A toxic spill has secretly contaminated the water. People are getting sick and dying and no one knows why. Your protagonists discover the toxins in the water, but they end up getting in over their heads with a government plot to wipe out poor civilizations. They must now accept the responsibility of protecting their town, and bringing down the government that wants them dead.
- Your neighbors have always been sweet people, but recently, they’ve started behaving differently. They used to let you borrow anything you wanted, so you never expected to get stabbed when you knocked on their door to ask for a cup of sugar. On your way to the hospital, however, you realize that they aren’t the only people that are acting strangely. The streets are in a panic, as people have started attacking each other without a reason. Soon, the truth gets out: demons have started claiming the earth, and they’re possessing any weak-willed person they can get their claws on. You, and a ragtag group of people, have become the world’s last defense against Hell’s armies.
- Your character is the leader of a powerful post-apocalyptic gang, but unbeknownst to them, insurrection is brewing among their disgruntled henchmen.
- Your character has never gotten along with their family, but now that the world is going to hell, they find themself locked up with them in an underground bunker. Use that to explore dramatic relations between characters and allow them to resolve (or escalate) disagreements.
- Scientists have been experimenting on you for as long as you can remember. They’ve also been teaching and shaping you into a very particular type of person—a perfect human. You were always quite proud, and you loved the scientists like family. You always believed they were doing this to help humanity. That’s why you were surprised when they unleashed a virus that only you and the other experiments were immune to, wiping out all human life but you. Can you, the supposed perfect specimens of humanity, rebuild a functional society?
- Your protagonist has a cure for a disease that’s been wiping people out for decades. The only problem? They’re a drug addict, and the cure is a dangerous street drug. The only reason they’re alive is because they’ve unknowingly been abusing the cure this whole time. The issue now is how they’re going to convince the rest of the world that they aren’t completely out of their mind.
- You are kicked out of your encampment after you lost your arm in a fight, since you weren’t helpful anymore and they assumed you would die anyway. To your surprise, you stumble upon another camp filled with people like you—those who have been injured, or were born with disabilities, and were abandoned for being “useless.” They work together to overcome their individual shortcomings, and not only do they survive, they thrive. You are welcomed in with open arms, and for the first time since the accident, you truly feel happy again.
- Nature is fighting back, plants evolve to invade human bodies, taking them over and reclaiming them from the inside out. It’s a terribly painful process, and humans are powerless to stop it. Their solution? Burn the planet, and all the plants on it, to the ground. Your protagonist is working against the odds to try to save the planet, but with each acre burned, they can feel it getting harder to breathe. The skies are perpetually blackened, and ash blankets everything in sight.
- Since the apocalypse broke out, your character has been living in a secluded oasis in the densely forested mountains. They’ve lived there for years, and although it’s lonely, it’s safe and comfortable. Only now, a group of bandits is invading their space, and they have technology your character has never even seen before.
- A character has had a prophetic dream about the end of the world, but they are dismissed by anyone they try to warn. When the apocalypse happens, exactly as you predicted, everyone suddenly praises them and apologize, and expect the character to provide them guidance with their prophetic dreams—except… the character only ever had the one dream. They played along in the beginning because it felt nice to be appreciated, but now they’re in over your head, and they’re forced to lie to these people to give them hope. But… the truth can’t be concealed forever.
- The world is breaking apart and now “continents” are each of the different large chunks orbiting around a gravitational center. Each continent develops its own unique and bizarre culture over time, because of their limited contact with the other continents. Your character is one of the few traders that goes between the different continents to facilitate global trade. This is a great opportunity to practice creating your own diverse fictional cultures.
- Most of the futuristic world is automated, and no longer requires humans to function. Everything seems to be operating as normal, with power in every building, damages repaired daily, and supply chains continuing to stock grocery stores with food. Storefronts continue to open and close like clockwork, with their robot cashiers recording every single day with no customers. There are no humans in sight, yet the world continues like they never left. Even homes with robot companions and maids are kept in tip-top shape, awaiting for their household to return from what they must assume is just a very long shift, a long school day.
- It was impossible to tell if scavenged food had been contaminated by the disease, since there is no test for it. Humans, however, show symptoms almost immediately. Write a story from the perspective of a cannibal who’s too paranoid to eat anything except humans, since that’s the only way to be completely sure your meat isn’t contaminated. Be sure to justify their reasoning and have them try to defend their actions.
Apocalypse Roleplay Plots
Apocalypse scenarios are a popular choice for roleplaying, but it can be difficult to come up with an interesting plot to get started. Although you could use any of the prompts above for roleplay inspiration, some stories just don’t work as well when told by two (or more) people. So I’ve put together a separate list of apocalypse prompts that are specifically designed for cooperative storytelling. As a bonus, some of them come with several different ideas for how your characters can meet, to make it easier for you to write the dreaded starter.
- The characters are young teens. They have been going through intense training since they were little, locked up behind the walls of a safe stronghold to be able to survive in the post-apocalyptic world. They have never known what life was like before the apocalypse took place. However, something terrible happens, and they are forced to flee their safe zone and enter the post-apocalyptic wilderness before their training is complete.
- Your characters could have been training together in the same programs, and therefore would at least be familiar with each other before the tragedy takes place.
- One character with professional training meets up with another character (or characters) who has been living successfully in the wilderness without professional training or education. Think of their dynamic like book smart vs. street smart.
- One character is the last person alive. Or… so they thought. After living for years without meeting another human being, they finally stumble upon the unexpected—a person.
- Both characters believed themselves to be the last human alive, and they encounter each other while they are both searching for food in the same place.
- One character is doing something embarrassing (like singing loudly or acting out a movie scene) when the other character is drawn to the noise.
- The two characters meet up at night, and are so startled by the other person that they instinctively attack.
- The characters have been in hiding for years, safe in a bunker. However, food supplies have been dwindling, and if they want to survive, someone has to venture out into the world to bring back food for everyone.
- Two characters could emerge from the bunker together. Depending on how large the bunker is, they could be either vaguely familiar with each other, or they could have grown up side by side.
- Only two people in the bunker are able-bodied and young, so they are elected to go out on behalf of everyone else. The only problem? These two have a nasty history together, and now they must put aside years of feuding to work together.
- One person could emerge from the bunker alone, and discover a new society has been built while they were hiding away. The other character(s) introduced are from this new society.
- After the war broke out, it wasn’t long before the world began to crumble. A high-ranking general felt deep remorse for the part they played in the war, but they saw no way out of their position. So they hire an assassin to kill them, so their death wouldn’t be viewed as shameful. Rather than kill them, the assassin listens to the General’s story, and helps them fake their own death. The two then run off to reinvent themselves together.
- The characters were in prison when the apocalypse began. Now, this ragtag team of dysfunctional criminals must work together to survive.
- Your characters were cellmates together, so it isn’t surprising that they stuck together after they escaped.
- Your characters meet up in the midst of the catastrophe, and use the chaos to escape together.
- The prisoners scatter, but they end up meeting again later in the woods around the prison.
- To try to keep order in a world crawling with mutants, the government has removed people’s freedoms. Life goes on in a tense imitation of what it was before, but with military checkpoints, strict curfews, zones of safety, and intense policing. Some people have abandoned their homes, preferring to deal with mutants than the militant government agents controlling their towns.
- Your characters grew up together in this town, and they are sick of living under oppressive rule. Once they are old enough to survive on their own (or so they assume), they scale the wall at night and escape together.
- One character decides to leave town on a mission to deliver food to another nearby town. Along the way, they are attacked by a character who wants their food. This is the first time the character has even heard of people living on the outside, and they begin to consider the possibilities of surviving in the wild. They later meet up with their attacker, and they run away together.
- Many young people were put in stasis pods when the nuclear apocalypse began, in the hopes that they would emerge once the world was safe again and rebuild society. Not many of the pods survived the thousands of years, but eventually, the monitors measure a safe level of radiation, and the survivors are allowed to wake up. However, the world is nothing like how it used to be. The characters that survived decide to go out together to find a good place to establish the first town, but the new “nature” isn’t keen on making it easy for them.
- It’s been years since the unforgiving Eternal Winter began. One character can barely remember what the summer heat used to feel like as a child, on the beach… They would kill to feel a sunburn again. But now, it snows year-round across the globe. There’s no escaping the cold.
- A large group of people set off on an expedition to find food, but they are separated by a sudden snowstorm. Two characters manage to find each other, and now must face off against the cold together until they can get back home.
- One character goes out alone, and discovers a person from the old world frozen in ice. Morbidly curious, the character decides to thaw the person out with a fire, hoping to take some of their old tools and clothing. However, once the person is out of the ice, the character realizes that they still have a heartbeat. Once they have been brought back for medical attention, they awake, and the character learns that they’ve spent the past 20 years frozen in ice, with no memory of what happened to the world.
- The mutants aren’t all bad, really. Most people are afraid of them, but one character knows better. Sure, some of them have too many eyes or weird appendages, but some of them are really nice!
- One character meets a timid young mutant, who is afraid of humans. After showing them the character means no harm, the two become friends and continue to meet in secret to learn about their different societies.
- One character gets a new sibling when their parents adopt one. However, that character later discovers that their new sibling is secretly a mutant who just ended up being lucky and looking rather human. They both know that if their parents found out, it could be very, very bad…
- Two mutant characters accidentally stray too close to human territory, and now must escape from a life of captivity and experimentation.
Writing About the End of the World
Writing about the end of the world (as we know it) is a blast, but there’s more to writing that than just having fun. Like dystopia, the apocalypse genre can be a way for writers to express dissatisfaction with the world and vent some of their frustrations out through their characters. These stories can be therapeutic, horrific, exciting, frightening, heartbreaking, and incredibly moving for both the writer and readers alike.
These stories are important, because they are some of the most memorable stories that exist, and they provide opportunities to explore many different ideas of working together, overcoming difficult challenges, and emerging from bad situations as better, more capable people. So yes, writing about characters living through an apocalypse or struggling in a post-apocalyptic world is fun, but it can end up accomplishing a lot more than that for your readers.
These stories are hopeful, and as I’ve said before, humans are suckers for hope.