THE VILLAINS OF POST-APOCALYPTIC DYSTOPIA

If you’re like me, you love villains. A brilliant villain makes the movie or book more interesting. He or she also elevates the stakes and brings the conflict to life. But what lifts a villain to the coveted, blood-spattered A-list?

A few character traits:

  • appears unbeatable, is stronger than the hero/heroine
  • isn’t interested in rebuilding after the apocalypse but loves power
  • maybe had a part in the world’s demise in the first place
  • has some understandable motivations or a tragic backstory,
  • attracts a like-minded following:
  • rules with fear and/or violence
  • mirrors the hero or heroine
  • is devoid of human compassion
  • wears a mask (an actual mask or masks his true intentions)

Some Memorable Dystopian Villains

  • The Terminator: this flesh-coated assassin with an unbreakable exoskeleton terrified the shit out of audiences in the 1984 movie. But during the sequels, the cyborg developed human-like traits and even protected the main characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger portrays this iconic role which made the Terminator an item of our pop-culture subconsciousness. With the developments in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, could a T-1000 enter our future?
  • Agent Smith: What would the Matrix movie trilogy be without this anti-viral antagonist who can clone himself? He even has a sense of humor and delivers some of the most memorable sci-fi punchlines. Hugo Weaving is a character actor who excels in his portrayal of undying AI-Smith. The Chosen One (wonderful Keanu Reeves as Neo) sure has a handful battling this bad guy. Agent Smith is the right hand of a bigger, more sinister system, and he personifies the evils of trusting machines with strategic decision making for humankind.
  • The Governor of TWD: The Walking Dead cast bulges with exceptionally well-crafted characters. It’s a stroke of genius by the scriptwriters to make “normal” humans more lethal than the undead walkers. Listing all the marvelous baddies in TWD would take forever. My personal favorite will always be the Governor who is possibly the most despicable in Walking Dead history. He takes people who ask for help and forces them into gladiatorial battles with zombies. But he has a soft spot (a zombie daughter), besides a backstory offers some understandability to his motivations. A great post-apocalyptic storyline changes a character: what used to be a decent human being turns into a monster or vice versa.

Sources for More Villainous Inspiration

The top 5 post-apocalyptic movie villains: https://www.tor.com/2013/10/17/the-top-five-post-apocalyptic-movie-villains/

Apocalyptic antagonists that nearly ended the world: https://www.cbr.com/villains-tried-end-world-ranked/

All The Villains So Far In The Walking Dead: https://screenrant.com/the-walking-dead-villains-ranked/

Header image credit: The Terminator, 1984, copyright: Hemdale Film.

So, You Love Post-apocalyptic Books and Wanna Write One?

Let’s talk about tropes

Maybe you’ve already published a post-apocalyptic or dystopian book, and you’re selling like hotcakes? Then you must have dealt with some major tropes of the genre, congrats! You’ve probably hit the exact tropes of your reader niche. Yet, you did it with an original touch to offer a unique reading experience.

Let’s face it, readers expect to find familiar elements but they don’t fancy a rip-off. The latter leads to acidic one-star reviews and public shaming.

Who is Your Comp Author?

Tropes? That sounds like we authors just imitate the big names of the industry. No, the fans who pick up our books, crave zombies, nuclear war, oppressive government, and a handful of friends surviving against the impossible odds (or fighting each other to the death). But they also enjoy different plot styles, writer’s voice, and a novel approach to a trustworthy concept,

Check out the bestsellers in your genre; pick a sub-genre you love.

Then start wading through the reviews from five to one star to find what you have in common with that particular bestseller. Remember to choose an indie author who didn’t publish yesterday but manages to sell hundreds of copies a day after the feeding frenzy of a book launch has turned into grease calm.

Don’t know the sales amount of your comp author? Use: https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-kdp-sales-rank-calculator/

What do their reviews say?

  • “Loved the action…”
  • “Great characters…”
  • “Meticulous research, realistic…”
  • “Nothing new but entertaining…”
  • “I hated the violence…”

What do your reviews have in common with the big indie names? If you haven’t written your story yet, it doesn’t matter. You have a reading history: what do you admire & love? Do you want to write like those authors? Then research why readers buy their books. It’s all spelled out in the reviews.

Genre Expectations

The Walking Dead Season 1 Poster, AMC, 2010

Science Fiction is a broad category. It encompasses Star Trek (Space Opera) and The Walking Dead (Zombie Apocalypse), and Military Science Fiction, not to mention aliens and colonization. In some areas, the books and movies close in on Fantasy or Romance. Some authors mix genres deliberately and manage to sell but I wouldn’t recommend that if this is your first book.

Not all post-apocalyptic fans look for zombies (who doesn’t love zombies?) Well, fans of The Hunger Games, for example. YA fighting arena is a separate field.

The level of fact-checking also varies from one sub-genre to another. If you write Military Science Fiction (or anything about the military) be sure to check your ammo, tactical terms, and ranks! Or you’ll be heading for those one-star reviews. Hard Science Fiction is another tough category. If your post-apocalyptic novel wants to attract the hard science nerds, double-check your A-bomb’s radiation particles and their half-life.

Common Post-apocalyptic Tropes

  • What caused the apocalypse? This question offers a thousand origin stories: nuclear war, deadly virus epidemic, drought, flood…
  • What happened before, during, and after the cataclysmic event. You can form ideologies, alternative history paths and legends told to those who weren’t around to see the event.
  • Characters: if you’re a fan, you’ve seen it all. Take TWD: what a diverse group of survivors! The main character must have an origin story and the end of the world offers beautiful ways to change a character (character arc, remember?). The people around you: your family/friends, colleagues: how would they change after a nuclear war? How would your granny react to zombies?
  • Rebuilding: who controls it? Shall the survivors get a society they dreamt of or is it another nightmare? Do your people just carry on, as usual, weathering the storm?

Trope Resources

Here’s a list of great tropes & cliches to recycle:

Nothing stops you from starting a string in Quora, Facebook, or Reddit. Ask which cliches people love or hate. Goodreads has plenty of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi-related book groups. Everyone seems to hate a cliche but you might ask: “which dystopian tropes you like,” or “which author recycled the chosen one- cliche best?”

Happy writing!

Related posts:

Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Worlds

Will Smith roams New York in I Am Legend (2007, Village Roadshow Pictures)

Worldbuilding

Sometimes finding inspiration to write yet another future world is difficult. Science fiction gives you creative freedom but the readers expect certain tropes. So many movies and books have enticed audiences, many of them with breathtaking views of famous cities which lie in ruin. Some writers trust what’s been written before. Why invent the wheel again? In addition to the setting, a writer must invent fashion, food, customs and decide how women and androids are treated in front of the law (among a thousand other details which make the world in question believable and rich).

Some common visions rule our imagination about the not-so-distant future: the dusty wastelands of Mad Max and the uni-clothed people walking along the clean streets of cities (The Giver, 2014 and Equals, 2015). Popular culture might seem pulp, but sometimes a book or motion picture makes a lasting impression on our joint subconsciousness. Blade Runner’s (1982) dark & wet Asian metropolis is iconic. No one can dispute a setting like that. Ghost in the Shell (original 1995, and a beautiful remake with Scarlett Johansen playing the main role, 2017) recycled the technocratic nightmare city with heavenly imagery. The Matrix movies have warped our perception of reality since 1999 and inspired countless directors and writers.

Many creators believe that the future is a scrappy version of today’s world: take George Orwell’s 1984, or Snowpiercer (movie, 2014). There’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, reusing familiar items offers an author countless ways for novelty. What is precious in the future? Something the people of today discarded as worthless? Which vehicles create future mechanics because they are super easy to maintain?

Oblivion (Universal Pictures, 2013) starring Tom Cruise

How to dress for dystopia

If you write post-apocalyptic books like me, you’d empty the last hairspray bottle in the world to mold a gravity-defying punk hair-do and wrap your body into the leather (with plenty of spiked accessories). Every sensible nomadic scavenger wears sturdy boots and carries guns. On the other hand, every one of us recognizes the red hood from The Handmaid’s Tale. Wearing that is a feminist statement. Some future people value clean lines. Moviemakers love to dress evil into designer power suits.

ELYSIUM (Sony Pictures, 2013) Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster)

Need more? Check Pinterest for character inspiration. Making mood boards there is beyond easy. Or watch what artists create on Deviant Art but mind copyright.

More Inspiration

The Bad-ass Women of The Apocalypse

Unforgettable Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road (Warner Bros. 2015)

Are you old enough to remember how much the role of females in post-apocalyptic entertainment has changed since the ’80s? The scantily clad women clinging to a male for rescue transformed into triumphant heroines from the late ’70s to the early ’90s.

A few breakthrough roles in blockbuster movies opened our eyes to female protagonists who are at home among blood-spill and action. To name a few: Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991) and Ripley (starring Sigourney Weaver in Alien 1979). After these ladies kicked some serious robot/monster butts, nothing was the same.

The powerful & gorgeous Tina Turner as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Warner Bros, 1985)

You don’t need to wield a samurai sword like Michonne in The Walking Dead, or bust nuts like the enhanced Alice of Resident Evil. Women have various charms & capabilities of their own. Modern writers have put them to good use. In recent years, fans of the post-apocalyptic genre have met Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale (TV-series after Margaret Atwood’s classic book from 1985) and other characters who ooze internal strength. In The Book of Eli (2010), Solara (played by Mila Kunis), rises to the occasion in the end of the film.

The allure of the post-apocalyptic genre is to see how characters manage to survive according to their capabilities. The road to salvation can wind a thousand detours. Those who collect food, take care of others and fight for their loved ones, rise to the occasion when the world ends. I would love to see what brave children can do, or pets! Where are the elderly?

More Post-apocalyptic Books and Movies

The image below: What a mother lioness! Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Tri-Star Pictures, 1991)

Five books with apocalyptic women:
https://www.tor.com/2015/11/18/five-books-that-give-women-their-apocalyptic-due/

Badass Girls of the Apocalypse:
https://www.postapocalypticmedia.com/badass-girls-women-of-the-apocalypse/

How to be a woman through the fictional apocalypse:
https://www.kqed.org/pop/104874/how-to-be-a-woman-in-the-fictional-apocalypse

The 50 best post-apocalyptic movies:
https://ashtales.com/post-apocalyptic-movies

The 30 best post-apocalyptic movies of all time:
https://www.gamesradar.com/best-post-apocalyptic-movies/

If you love strong females in post-apocalyptic stories check out Unholy Warrior by Rebecka Jäger:

Nuclear war plunged them into perpetual winter. The survivors must rely on their wits and courage. Beware—you never know who wants to stab you in the back. If you’re a fan of Snowpiercer or the Mad Max movies, you’ll love this post-apocalyptic survival story with fierce females taking the lead. Plenty of action!

Supernatural Suspense and Tips for Writing a True Story

The woman laughed, and Rayne shivered as another wave of cold engulfed her. Lucinda’s expression once again became stoic. “They burned to death in a blast of fire — a trademark of Marchosias, the great, almighty Marquis of Hell, Commander of Thirty Legions, a demon so powerful he demands respect. Even the foolish fear him.” Lucinda was so fervent Rayne knew she believed every word and demanded the same from her.

She would be disappointed.

The Marquis of Hell, Marchosias, is a fierce demon who can fool the unexpecting when he takes the shape of a handsome lady killer. In his true form, he’s a mighty wolf, with wings of a griffin, a serpent for a tail, and breathes fire hotter than anything known to man.

Young Elli Becker crosses path with Marchosias, and soon the demon amuses himself by tormenting her. She knows the only way to stop Marchosias is to destroy him. But how can the untrained Elli become a hunter powerful enough to defeat him?

Rayne Parker doesn’t believe in the supernatural. She has made a life for herself as a Private Investigator and plans a future with the charming Liam Clayton. Then the ghoulish Lucinda Deveraux pays her a visit. Her outlandish claim that only Rayne can slay the demon is met with hostility. But the madwoman makes a prediction that could change Rayne’s life forever. The fate of the world is at stake. Will she be able to stop Marchosias? And will she survive?

Buy The Book

Writing tips:

Have You Though About Writing a True Story?

Tips for author of biographies and memoirs:

Trapped in hell . . .

Author Stephanie Colbert recounts the true story of the horror she endured after waking up from a coma. The vivid nightmares, delusions, paranoia, and other psychotic episodes left her trapped in a world that threatened her sanity.

He fought desperately to save her . . .

Even though Stephanie didn’t know her husband, Quinton, and accused him of being an imposter, he stayed by her bedside every waking moment as he struggled to help her find her way back to reality. It was the toughest battle he’d ever fought, as he feared he’d lost his beloved wife forever.

Don’t miss out on this gripping story. . .

Buy The Book