Environmental Hazards: Five Challenges of Writing Climate Fiction (Part 4)

This post is part four of a seven-part series discussing my experience writing climate fiction in my novel, Blue Karma.

Challenge #3: Choose-Your-Own-Apocalypse

An antique book entitled

Be selective when choosing climate disasters for your story: this book doesn’t need a sequel.

Our present environmental situation offers a smorgasbord of cataclysms for writers to employ: air pollution; mass extinctions; ultraviolet rays roasting us through holes in the ozone layer; a rise in mosquito-borne disease as regions grow wetter and warmer. Tempting as it is to combine crises, too many disasters can make your story jumbled and overwrought. The tale of characters in a sinking city who try to combat air pollution while under siege from solar radiation zombies isn’t very…hey, I just found the plot for my next book! Just kidding. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, but stories that overblown risk compromising their plausibility. And as we discussed in part three of this series, cli-fi is most effective when it is believable.

Juggling multiple calamities also diminishes your opportunity to explore their respective effects. In the book Oryx and Crake, for example, Margaret Atwood postulates the dire consequences of genetic engineering.  If she had tried to examine simultaneously the issue of global hunger or sea-level rise, it would probably have muddled the story’s theme and impact. Other problems can be implied–such as in Blue Karma, when I include smog in my description of a city to suggest air pollution–but emphasizing too many of them in the narrative makes the story feel like a bad disaster movie rather than a thoughtful cli-fi novel.

Focusing on one main issue allows the writer to plumb ideas more deeply and cultivate more nuanced layers of causality. With all the climate-related crises in our world today, why cram them all into one story? Each merits thorough examination its own right. Sadly, there’s no shortage of material to choose from; just read the news. But read with caution…I’ll tell you why in the next installment.

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