Infrastructure makes everyday life — as we know it — possible. Much of it is buried and can go unthought of when it’s working; however, throw in a major storm that overwhelms our wastewater systems, and bam! we’re wading through poop water.
The average person really pays no mind to infrastructure — minus during times of failure or when news headlines note the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure. Writers need to step outside that blissful complacency though. The benefits are too good to pass up.
While reading a story that had a series of natural disasters happening, I bemoaned the fact that the author did not really show the breakdown of infrastructure caused by these disasters. Why? Besides rooting the story in some level of realism, it was a missed opportunity to add hardships that the characters would have to overcome as well as heighten the level of suspense in the story.
Faced with the breakdown of things we take for granted — streets, electricity, plumbing, Internet, etc. — characters have no choice but to adapt and grow or cave to their circumstances. There are so many avenues to explore when it comes to this type of scenario: These are the times to find out what really makes a character tick. Show the reader their struggles as they face dire circumstances. Certain personalities will adapt better than others. Some characters might have skills that can be showcased while others might just be quick on their feet. Don’t be afraid to show and embrace weakness because not every character will be able to adapt.
Do not shy away from these hardships. Don’t have your characters above the action that is occurring as infrastructure and society collapse. Your characters need to be impacted, whether their flight is grounded because of a blackout caused by a hurricane or they can’t shower for days because their plumbing is backed up. The possibilities are endless.
With how interconnected our infrastructure is, there can be a domino effect when one goes done. This, however, ups the ante in a story. It gives your characters more hurdles to clear. Research is your friend. Learn how a particular disaster (natural or manmade) would impact infrastructure and what that cascade effect would be. Consider everything from a minor impact to a worst-case scenario as this open-mindedness could be a boon for your story in the long term, taking it places you might not have considered.
And the perk is that no matter what genre you are writing, your characters are likely dependent on some type of infrastructure, even if it is more basic or primitive.