So, you’re elbow deep in a post-apocalyptic novel and it’s suddenly hit you; how is your character surviving? How would anyone survive? What is it you should be showing the reader to maintain a level of plausibility?
Well, it depends on the world you’ve built, of course, but there are 10 thing you, or you character, should be thinking about whilst they move around the wilds and wastes of your imagination;
- Shelter; where is your character staying? Are they nomadic? If so how do they build shelters on the go? Remember, if a shelter lets in wind or rain your characters health will suffer, and if they sleep on damp ground they could get infections, sores, or even find their skin begins to rot. Shelters should be as close to water-proof as possible, they should keep out the wind, and keep in heat if possible. Lean-to’s, tents, and abandoned buildings are all viable options.
- Fire; if it safe to have a fire? Will it attract unwanted attention? Fire can be used to purify water, cook food, dry clothes, and provide warmth, but it can also be dangerous depending upon the situation. Are there alternatives? Any generators or torches which can be used to give the heat or light that fire does?
- Water; do they have a set source of safe drinking water? If they’re nomadic do they know how to find a purify it? If they cannot boil water to purify it are they able to purify it with one or two drops of bleach per liter (quart) of clear water? How do they transport it?
- Food; are they scavenging for old world foods, or do they hunt? Do they know which plants and roots etc are safe to eat? Is it a mixture of all three? In a wasteland situation where there are cities around it may be possible t live entirely from scavenged remains for a while, but in rural areas, and of course eventually in all cases, hunting the wildlife and returning to agriculture will be necessary. How far along this scale are they?
- Curing and Preservation; an extension, perhaps, but deserving of its own category. When your character travels or prepares for the winter how do they keep their food stocks fresh and edible? Certain methods of curing will be more viable depending upon where they reside. In a world with no electricity freezing will only be possible in the coldest climates, but curing, brining, pickling, and smoking are all viable options.
- Terrain; what is the landscape around them like? What special tools and skills might they need in order to get around the way they need to? Snow, mountainous regions, swampy lands, and urban centres all require a different approach.
- Travel; do vehicles still work, or have they gone back to horses and animal drawn carriages? Do most people travel on foot? What about the rails laid down for trains, are they utilised? Travel will be one of the most dangerous endeavours for any apocalypse survivor, so you need to think about how they manage the dangers.
- Weapons and apparel; is weaponry an absolute must? If they don’t live in post-apocalypse American ( I Know right? Who would have thought it was possible) they’re probably not going to have access to military grade weapons and body armour; how do they improvise? If they do have guns, how are the maintaining them and finding ammunition?
- Medicine; are there any medical stores left? And what about people with medical knowledge, are they still around, do they still have the right tools, and are they passing knowledge along? When this runs dry do they revert to old folk medicines, and if so how are they finding the information? Think about how libraries may have fared in the fall.
- Radiation; nuclear fallout is a common theme in post-apocalyptic literature, and if its a theme in yours you need to think about how it effects your world and your characters. Do they have a way to avoid or mitigate it, or is it making them ill? Is it causing mutations? Alternatively, is there a way the world can end without nuclear detonation? Be creative.