I’ve long been a reader of post apocalyptic speculative fiction and have for a decade or so been working on a post apocalyptic novel. I really like my story, have an outline, a first and last chapter, extensive notes …
But actually finishing it seems anticlimactic. I mean, let’s be really depressing here, no one’s going to read it except me and a copy editor. Maybe, if I pay them to read it. Okay, okay, I do have a couple of friends who might read it and possible even a blog follower or two that might. Heather might read it if I begged enough …
Still, having studied the genre my whole life, I feel qualified to give you a detailed outline of how to write a post apocalyptic novel.
Well, I really picked this as a blog subject because I just like using the words “post apocalyptic.” My only wish is that it was easier to spell. So let’s just get to it:
How to write a post apocalyptic novel:
- Read the news of the day.
- Pick a current fear.
- Make a social, political or interpersonal statement. Heck, make three or four.
- Write it all down.
- Done, send it to 200 literary agents for rejection.
That’s about it. Thank you for reading.
What? Yeah, I know it sounds like I don’t like post apocalyptic stories, but it’s more complicated than that. The first “grownup” book I bought for myself and read was George R. Stewart’s classic book, Earth Abides. I was 14 and just decided one day that I wanted to read a science fiction book so I went to the local drug store, browsed the SciFi section and found Stewart’s novel. I’d seen plenty of post apocalyptic movies, but something in me wanted more than the big screen showed.
Earth Abides and the story of Isherwood Williams and his life after a plague kills most humans on the planet. Written in 1949, it is an archetype of the genre and considered a classic story along with others like, On the Beach or Alas Babylon. Like many stories that followed, this book asks the question, “What would life be like if our civilization was suddenly stripped away?”
It’s that question that I’ve always found interesting, not necessarily the many stories written on the subject.
When I was younger, say teens, 20s to my 30s, I loved watching and reading Science Fiction. I had even tried writing a few stories and longed to be able to actually write it. I did attend a few SciFi conventions and writing conferences. Then in my mid 30s I got the idea that if I had a degree in English, I could write better.
It took ten years, but I got that BA and yes, I think I am a better writer for it. However, I remember a warning I received before my studies that a degree in English would ruin my love of science fiction. Now I won’t say literary studies ruin my tastes in science fiction, but it did broaden my view of the written word and gave me a larger list of things I like to read.
It also taught me what I had suspected for a long time: Most science fiction isn’t well written. The stories tend to focus on one twist, the characters are often only two dimensional and only exist to explain the author’s speculation. There are space ships, wizards, and elves, but with rare exception I find most science fiction to be predicable story telling.
But it is the underlying ideas and speculation that I find fascinating. In the past I would have not referred to it as science fiction but rather speculative fiction. It isn’t always about science, but rather about the question, “what if?”
What if elves were real?
What if we could travel faster than light?
What if time travel were possible?
Great literature surprises me with both the depth and reach of the story. It doesn’t just tell me about a person, but it makes me understand that person, event or place. It transforms me.
But then, I am person of ideas. I find the speculation, the “what ifs” interesting and worth the time to explore. Sometimes it transforms me, but it also entertains me.
So why do I continue to occasionally pick up post apocalyptic novels?
I still recall the impact Earth Abides had on me as a teen and sometimes hope the next book I read might have a similar effect. I still like to ask the question, “What if” and want to read other writer’s answer to that question. I still live in hope that there is another Tolken out there.
Will I ever finish my book? Will I ever offer my answer to the question “What if”?
Who knows, but I do know that it’s time for tea and to consider what pizza I’ll be making for dinner.