Violent woman attacking a child.

“Oh, must it all end in violence?”

When I finished the draft of my screenplay, I posted the following on my social media:

I have no problem using profanity in my novels, but I didn’t use any in my screenplay. It’s not because I’m shooting for a PG-13 rating. I didn’t need those words to tell the story.

I find the same goes for violence. As I revise the script, I’m cutting down on gun battles and focusing on less lethal encounters among the characters.

Part of it is for practical reasons. Scriptwriting is the art of the possible. Action scenes require stunt people and trained armorers (who can avoid tragedies like what happened on the Rust set). The amount and type of stunts and special effects determine the budget of the film and who I can pitch to.

But most of it is for thematic and ethical reasons.

Post-apocalyptic fiction is mostly about violence. You must kill the zombies, the super-intelligent apes, the venom-spitting bug-like aliens, or the evil villains who somehow find unlimited sources of gasoline and ammunition to unleash chaos with their cool-looking vehicles through a barren landscape. The only thing that matters in these post-apocalyptic worlds is survival, and that means killing the bad guys so they don’t kill you.

But that’s not what my story is about. In my post-apocalyptic world (and real-life apocalypses), cooperation is the means to survival. My heroes must find non-violent solutions to the challenges they face. They search for ways to de-escalate situations and earn the trust of the people they meet. Although my lead character has a multitool with a blade, she doesn’t use it as a weapon throughout the story. She only resorts to physical force when she has no other choice.

This is part of a broader message I want to make with this story. We’re often told that we can solve problems by shooting at them. I’m not talking about violence in entertainment. I don’t buy the whole “violent movies/TV shows/music/video games makes violent people” bit. I’m talking about what we’re seeing on partisan news channels, podcasts, and social media. They depict politics and social issues as wars between good and evil, and you must be fully on their side or considered evil. And when people believe they are in an Armageddon against a degenerate, inhumane foe, then violence becomes justified. I’m afraid January 6 may have just been the opening act for worse things to come.

That’s why we as writers have to show a better way. We can depict the humanity of people who disagree with us. We can uphold values we consider good and show the consequences of hatred and greed. More importantly, we can show there are better ways to solve problems than violence. But when characters must defend themselves, we need to show the repercussions of those actions. No one wounds another without being wounded themselves.

Sometimes, you must fight. I know this from my experience. But fighting is a last resort, not a preferred option. There are better ways to go, especially when you see the humanity to the person who opposes you. This is what I want to get across in my writing, even when depicting a post-apocalyptic world.