The first ingredient to any end of the world scenario is the affected population. This could range from a single individual all the way up to the human race. Whose world is ending? In this approach, nearly every story has a TEotWaWKI element to it. Not only that, but every individual proceeds through the course of events at their own pace.
The other main ingredient is an event that changes the rules by which the affected population lives. It could be the diagnosis of cancer in a spouse or the start of a nuclear war. The key is that the phenomenon is one that requires those impacted to rediscover how to survive in this world. As an added complication, multiple events may be in play at once either through the first event triggering others or just plain bad luck.
So, to assess the state of the TEotWaWKI, you must ask the following questions on a continual basis:
- Is there an event?
The event could cease to be an issue for no apparent reason whatsoever. However, that may just uncover a new event that's about to wreak havoc.
- Is the affected population aware of the event?
While, effectively, for the world at large, this is no different than no event at all, it makes for a great story and after-the-fact second guessing. "If only..."
- Do those impacted know what the problem is?
The level of fear is several orders of magnitude greater if you have no idea what you're facing or how to deal with it.
- Do they know how to solve it?
Just because you know what to do doesn't mean you know how to d o it or that you even have the capacity to act.
- Do they succeed?
When you have multiple such events, the one in the most critical state is what monopolizes people's attention. This is indicated by the state with the highest number.
For example, human society understands the problem of the dead rising to eat the living and are working toward a resolution. However, all of those responsible for maintaining the world's nuclear power plants have been zombified, so the world is annihilated when those plants melt down.
While the specifics vary greatly within the context of the event in question, in general, the transition events fall into these categories:
The event is born.
The event has busted loose.
The problem is understood and possible solutions may be implemented.
The world returns to normality.
The world ends in a big bang.
The world ends in a whimper.
Wheels within Wheels
This can get quite complex if you think of every single person cycling through this state machine. Individual's awareness of the problem and how to solve it varies. Indeed, the problems themselves vary for each person. The deft story-teller will weave multiple threads form an astounding, yet believable tale.