Because of ICoS I now read more apocalypse-related books than ever before. I buy them with my own money AND get them sent free for review, and then I tell you about them, whether they’re good or bad. Hell, some of the books I write are apocalypse-related. So, after more than a year of reading about the apocalypse, I have a list of things I want to see more of in future apocalyptic literature.
It’s not that the writing in these books is bad. It’s usually perfectly competent. But it could be more powerful, more evocative – just more – with harsher editing. If you’re writing apocalyptic literature (especially if you’re going the self-publishing route) I’d recommend two books which will help you get it as good as possible. The Elements of Style and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. You should pick up Chuck Wendig’s books as well, but they’re less about editing and more about kicking your arse to get writing your crap, already, so that one is up to you. But the other two? Please, just do it. I’ve read loads of books with really interesting stories let down by poor editing.
Better female characters:
Most of the apocalyptic literature I’ve read was by men. The problem was, a great many of their female characters were cliches – irritating, insulting cliches at that. Remember that women are human beings rather than a collection of stereotypes. I don’t mind if one woman in your story is useless, but I start getting suspicious if she’s the only character that is, and then I’m outright judging you if ALL your women are useless. When I say ‘Better’ I mean I believe in her as a human being. Having her display some personality traits other than ‘screaming chick who needs to be rescued’ would be great. I sincerely doubt that post-apocalypse we would have time or room for ‘traditional gender roles’ anyway. While we’re at it, can we stop writing it so that even the good guys are enacting forced breeding? It’s rape, it’s skeevy and the good guys shouldn’t be forcing HUMAN BEINGS into a position where they are being abused and brutalised.
Better characters IN GENERAL.
While I find believable, relatable female characters are few and far between in apocalyptic literature, I also find that in nearly every book I’ve read the same character archetypes pop up. The grizzled, damaged war veteran. The girl who’s only a bitch cause she was raped. The creeper who betrays the group. Look, character archetypes exist for a reason, but if I can predict what your characters will do within the first 10 pages, it’s BAD. Do something new with them, something unexpected. Make the war veteran a perky, cheerful man with no dark past. Make the creeper loyal and caring, just socially awkward. Make the woman a bitch because she’s figured out that being bitchy gets stuff done. Stop relying on old, well-worn paths. Make your own.
More imagination and ingenuity:
By which I mean – write something different! There are no new stories under the sun, but there is a trick to this – write it in such a way that seems new. Add something, take something away, I don’t care what it is, but just write something different. The books are starting to blend in together now, because they’re all so similar. The main reason I’m getting bored of zombies is that not only are they everywhere, but they’re the same bloody thing in each book. CHANGE SOMETHING. Write as though you’re setting a new standard and starting a new trend. Please? For example, check this out: Dinocalypse Now. It’s apocalyptic literature, but it avoids the tired old tropes and boring setting, and it looks loads more fun.
How would the area you’re writing in respond to an apocalyptic event? Desert, jungle, overgrown woods? Research it. How many bullets can that gun fire without jamming? If it’s been uncared for for 18 months? Research it. What does a nuclear bomb do? RE-FUCKING-SEARCH IT. If you get it wrong, people who KNOW that you got it wrong will be pulled out of your story immediately. Sure, it’s fiction. But fiction needs to seem as if it’s real to the readers, and if you get it wrong… For my current novel (which is terrible and will never get published because MY GOD) I am researching radios. My girl is a ham radio enthusiast, so I need to know at least the basics of the different types, how they work, how you’d fix one. If you’re writing a novel – even one based in a world where everything has changed – and there’s a siege, you need to research seige warfare. RESEARCH.
Bottom line: This is writing. It’s not a thing you should do because you think it’s easy money or fame (it’s really not). It’s not something you can just churn out and have it be OK. It’s something you do because the love of it means it’s the only thing you CAN do. Which means you need to do the best you can, write the best, most amazing thing you’re capable of. Don’t be scared, or small, or dull with it. Get down right into the filthy guts of it all, and be incredible.
Please, I’m begging you.
What do our readers want to see from post apocalyptic literature in future? Talk about it in the comments.
If you have something tasty and apocalyptic that you’d like reviewed, we’re always happy to do it. If your book fits these guidelines, you’ll get a much more positive review than if it doesn’t. Just email anninyn at incaseofsurvival dot com and I’ll get back to you.
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