Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction

A very epic looking character in shining science-fiction style armor, wielding swords.

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian science fiction is a popular and enduring subgenre that explores themes of societal collapse, oppressive regimes, and humanity's resilience in the face of adversity. In this article, we will explore the origins, key elements, and techniques for effective post-apocalyptic and dystopian storytelling. Additionally, we will discuss when this genre might be a good choice for writers.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre is a type of fiction that explores the nature of the world in which the story takes place. This can range from highly realistic settings, such as contemporary or historical fiction, to fantastical worlds that defy the laws of physics. Reality genres provide the framework for the story's environment, shaping the narrative and characters. Examples of reality genres include realism, magical fantasy, and various types of science fiction, including post-apocalyptic/dystopian.

When to choose post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction as your reality genre

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Science Fiction is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Are interested in exploring societal collapse and reconstruction: This subgenre provides an opportunity to delve into the aftermath of a catastrophic event or oppressive regime, examining how societies rebuild and adapt.
  • Seek to examine human resilience and adaptation: These stories often focus on characters who face extreme challenges, showcasing their determination, resourcefulness, and survival instincts.
  • Are fascinated with future technology and its implications: Post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction allows writers to explore the potential consequences of advanced technology on individuals and societies.

Origins of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction

The origins of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction can be traced back to early 20th-century literature, with influential works such as H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." The genre evolved as global tensions and technological advancements progressed, reflecting societal fears and anxieties.

Examples of early Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Science Fiction works:

  • "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells
  • "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

Key elements of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian science fiction stories often take place in a world that has experienced a significant catastrophe or is governed by a totalitarian regime. The characters in these stories must navigate harsh environments, scarce resources, and hostile forces in order to survive and thrive. Advanced technology may play a significant role in these narratives, with potential consequences ranging from beneficial to disastrous. Writers can use these stories to explore real-world concerns and their potential ramifications.

Key elements of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction

  • Depictions of societal collapse or oppressive regimes
  • Themes of survival, resilience, and adaptation
  • Role of technology and its impact on society
  • Exploration of political, social, and environmental issues

Techniques for effective post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction storytelling

To create a compelling post-apocalyptic/dystopian narrative, consider the following techniques:

  • Developing a believable and immersive world: The setting should be well-researched and detailed, clearly understanding society's functions and the factors that led to its collapse or oppression.
  • Creating compelling and relatable characters: Characters should be multidimensional, with distinct motivations, strengths, and weaknesses that drive their actions.
  • Balancing dark themes with elements of hope and humanity: While these stories often deal with bleak subject matter, incorporating moments of hope and human connection can make them more engaging and impactful.
  • Incorporating relevant social and political commentary: Thoughtful exploration of real-world issues can add depth and resonance to the narrative.

Examples of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction in storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • George Orwell's "1984" - A chilling portrayal of a totalitarian regime where individuality and freedom are suppressed, and the state exerts complete control over every aspect of life.
  • Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" - A dystopian society where books are banned, and "firemen" are tasked with burning them to suppress knowledge and free thought.
  • Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" - A cautionary tale of a theocratic society where women are subjugated and forced into reproductive servitude.
  • Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" - A bleak and haunting portrayal of a father and son's struggle for survival in a desolate, post-apocalyptic world.

Popular films and television series:

  • "The Hunger Games" franchise adaptation - A film series set in a dystopian future where young people are forced to participate in a brutal televised fight to the death.
  • "Mad Max: Fury Road" - A high-octane post-apocalyptic film where survivors battle for resources and freedom in a harsh, desolate wasteland.
  • "Blade Runner" and its sequel "Blade Runner 2049" - A dystopian film series exploring themes of artificial intelligence, humanity, and identity in a grim, futuristic cityscape.
  • "The Walking Dead" television series - A long-running series depicting the struggles of survivors in a world overrun by zombies and the breakdown of society.

Challenges and criticisms of post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction

When writing post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction, it's essential to be aware of potential challenges and criticisms:

  • Avoiding clichés and predictable plotlines: Strive for originality in world-building and character development, steering clear of overused tropes.
  • Addressing potential controversy or sensitivity around the portrayal of societal collapse and oppression: Approach these themes with care and nuance, avoiding sensationalism or exploitation.
  • Ensuring that world-building does not overshadow character development and plot: While the setting is crucial in post-apocalyptic/dystopian narratives, it's important to maintain the characters and story arc.

The enduring appeal of post-apocalyptic and dystopian science fiction lies in its ability to explore complex themes and challenge readers' perceptions of the world. By utilizing the elements and techniques discussed in this guide, writers can create thought-provoking and engaging narratives that resonate with readers and contribute to the rich tradition of this genre of fiction.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.