Setting the Stage

Sometimes the world around you just feels like it’s falling apart. It doesn’t matter what you do or say — nothing seems to make it better. It can be something as simple as a breakup after dating for a couple of months, or as devastating as being laid off with no other prospects. (Or, as I learned this week, as uncontrollable as the weather…)

Wall cloud in South Dakota.

Is that what draws us to stories about apocalyptic scenarios? Rogue planets and Mayan prophecies? Zombie virus outbreaks? Financial collapse? Climate-change-induced superstorms? Terrorist massacres? That they seem to echo our own personal traumas and tragedies?

Maybe. Maybe not. One thing is for certain: since the beginning of human history, we’ve clung to these stories. Every mythology out there has its own version of how things are going to end. There’s just one problem. The end of our own lives, the collapse of our own worlds around us, is very rarely what we expect to happen.

What people have to say about the end…

What’s going to happen is, very soon, we’re going to run out of petroleum, and everything depends on petroleum. And there go the school buses. There go the fire engines. The food trucks will come to a halt. This is the end of the world.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What happens when the zombies run out of brains?

What happens when the zombies run out of brains?

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

My mother was always in those films where it’s the end of the world and a meteor’s about to hit London; there’s only six people left, and one of them’s in purple underwear. That was always my mother, running from this meteor in purple underwear and spraining her ankle.
— Paula Yates

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.
— Mark Twain

Things are starting to heat up...what's the plan?

Things are starting to heat up…what’s the plan?

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.
— Richard Bach

If you are writing any book about the end of the world, what you are really writing about is what’s worth saving about it.
— Justin Cronin

How to Use This Prompt

If you’re a nonfiction writer or poet, think about your own worst-case scenario. Have you ever been in a situation where it really felt the world was ending (even if it wasn’t)? What are you worst fears? What would you do if they came to pass? Are your anxieties based in reality, or does your imagination tend to run away with you?

What personal tragedies lie in your past?

What personal tragedies lie in your past?

If you’re a fiction writer, think about your characters. Is your character going through a crisis? Does it feel like the end of the world (even though it really isn’t)? Or maybe your character is actually going through an apocalyptic scenario… How do they keep going with daily life despite the world fall apart around them? If it IS the end of times… Which prophecy ended up actually coming to pass? Which mythology won out?

This actually happened. I'm just saying.

This actually happened. I’m just saying.

Write a short story, an essay, a poem, or even just a paragraph or two based on this prompt. Then feel free to share what you’ve written in comments, post a link to your piece on your own blog, or submit it for our site!

And if you’d like more prompts and can’t wait until next week, check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”