Friday, March 25, 2016

Survivors in post-apocalypse stories

Becky and I were talking about her story yesterday, specifically how many people should be in a group of apocalypse survivors. It made my brain start buzzing, and as I could find no excessively helpful resources online, I thought I’d write about it here.

First, the established quasi-rules of the apocalypse.

  1. The monsters aren’t the problem—other people are.
  2. The size of the group should be reduced by 50% before coming to rest.
  3. If around at least ¼ of the characters to whom the audience has become emotionally attached don’t die in the course of the story, it won’t feel particularly apocalyptic.

Rule number one really works across all apocalypse stories, even ones that aren’t monster apocalypses. You can just replace “monster” with whatever the main antagonistic force is. You (the survivor protagonists) wind up dealing with idiots, megalomaniacs, and people who actively want to destroy you. If it weren’t for the people you are trying so hard to save and protect, you’d be just fine. That’s a pretty little dependency loop error, because after the end of the world, the only thing that makes life worth living is the hope that there are still other people out there, to bring back the human race.

Rule two: You start out with a big old group of people, but you’ve got vulnerable people in that group. Old people, sick people, injured people, children, pregnant women, people who can’t handle the pressure… the list goes on. These people get culled down fairly quickly and with minimal heartbreak to the audience. You are still left with people who aren’t hard-core survivors, here, but neither are they liabilities. They have what they need to survive and fade more or less into the background.

Then you have the core group of survivors, but a few of them have fatal flaws—usually, they will risk themselves to save someone who isn’t worth saving (by the metrics of the apocalypse), and they both die in the process. Aw, that’s sad. We feel the punch more logically than emotionally, though. He or she was the only doctor! S/He was the only one who knew how to run the power plant! S/He was practically a ninja and could gather resources like a motherplucker! We shall miss them. These will come and go over the course of the story, depending on how long the story is.

After they’re all accounted for, you’ve got your core group. The people that you really care if they live or die. And sadly, for both author and audience, rule three: a whole bunch of them have to die. None of them are sacrosanct.

Having addressed these core tenets, there are things that help structure your survival group.

  1. Are they nomadic, or have they found a home base?
  2. What are the risks of the world?
  3. What are your group’s advantages?
  4. What is the end goal?

Nomadic survivors are going to have to be smaller groups, essentially by necessity. Not so small as to appear weak, but not so big that you end up with a power struggle or a difficulty caring for and protecting the more vulnerable of the group. Groups with a home base can grow larger, but that comes with its own problems: how will leadership work? How will they fortify their position? How will they provide for everyone?

Which brings me to issue two: what are the risks? For example, in a zombie apocalypse, sound draws zombies. The risks with them is they might just wander on into your camp and start bogarting your snack food. You’d probably want to build a fortified wall, to defend against both the zombies and the human monsters.

If you have a more intelligent antagonistic force, you may be being actively hunted. Building a wall might draw unwanted attention to yourself. Are you more at risk at night, or during the day, and why? Who’s searching, and how? And how diligently? What must be done to provide for the community, and what’s threatening that?

Issue three: how does your group counter the threats? What special knowledge does your group have that can protect them from the monsters? In The Walking Dead, they figure out that covering themselves with gore will make them invisible to the zombies, as long as they don’t otherwise draw attention to themselves. So, is the Adversary organized enough that they recognize 100% of their allies, or could a member your group plausibly infiltrate their institution?

Issue four: is the goal “to survive,” as in zombie apocalypse scenarios, or is there an enemy your group will ultimately have to vanquish in order to start restructuring human society? If a war is the end goal, you’re going to want to be training warriors, seeing if you can gain access to languishing military resources, etc. If the goal is survival, training farmers and having babies might be more the focus.

For a moment, I will focus on larger groups that have found a home base. How big should this group be? It seems obvious that the bigger the group, the bigger the government. Lawyers were invented the moment two people disagreed; bureaucracies were invented when the lawyer and the two conflicting parties couldn’t come to an arrangement. Depending on the size of the settlement and how important subterfuge is to the group, they may have strict population limits, branching off groups to colonize nearby areas when the population grows too large. This might also be a favorable strategy if you have two or more alpha personalities who can’t agree on how the settlement should be structured and governed. But any splinter groups may become your enemies if you don’t maintain positive relations with them, so that’s something to be considered. What commandments would your settlement have? What is the extent of the technology? How are you keeping the lights on and the water running, if in fact you are doing so? Who’s doctoring, who’s janitoring, who’s patching and repairing? How are you getting gasoline? So many things to think about.

It’s becoming obvious to me why there is no how-to guide on the internet regarding apocalypse survival groups.

Any thoughts, fellow preppers?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Backwards progress

This one’s gonna be short, faithful readers.

I have come to the realization that I need to get the gym back into my routine. There are things I can do to mitigate the paralysis that seems to come over me after the gym—but there’s no way to mitigate the stiffness, muscle loss, and declining energy levels except to start the body movin’.

In other news, I have been playing around with Blender. Although my current rendering of Jane Lane from Daria looks like a horrifying monkey-slash-nightmare demon, just doing it really strips away the terror related to trying something new. I’ve also finished all of the Christmas stockings for the spouses. Now I just need to do the chibis; but first I gotta decide on a design for them. Also I need to take a break from knitting for a while.

Gnar turned one whole year old yesterday. Little miracle kitty! So glad he picked me.

I’m actually making slow progress with my Cassidy outline again! The story keeps changing on me. How’s it ever going to hold still long enough for me to write it all down?!

Gonna hop on writing now. Else I’m wasting my time at Cafe 44 with my fellow writista Bridget. Buon viaggio!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Diversity in the hardboiled genre

So, in working on Cassidy, I’ve been struggling with diversity. I originally conceptualized a diverse cast, including people of different sexualities, differently abled people, and people of color. Predictably, I fell into some tropes, primarily because I didn’t know they existed (but that's no excuse!). So I revised. And revised. And am revising again.

I’m discovering an unsettling stumbling block.

In the hardboiled genre, most notably in the literature of the 30s–50s, pretty much everyone is despicable. There are very few characters who haven’t done something awful that they’re trying to conceal from Johnny Law (or Jane Society). The only “innocents” are idealized as such, put on pedestals, and not given the opportunity to have any real contribution to the story, presumably because doing so would get their white shoes all dirty. Ironically, people of color and homosexuals are present, but their despicableness is their color or their sexuality—they are not innocents, in the mind of the authors of the day.

More recent works have done better, though still not always great. Perhaps that’s because the genre is about the filthy underbelly, where innocence has no place. I'm okay with that, really. I’d rather see innocents not represented than represented as powerless icons, but eh, I’m not an authority. There’s room for argument on both sides. Anyway, this is all beside the point.

I don’t want to cast any group of people in a negative light with my writing, and I’m doing my best not to. But when your cast is dirty cops, prostitutes, murderers, and rapists, I feel like you have to dance a merry jig to make sure that you're not slapping labels on people. Because I'm not going to stuff my cast of characters with extras just to make it clear that “not all «insert demographic here» are «insert negative role here»s.” I know much of that can be done by populating what extras are there with members of the demographics that are being negatively portrayed elsewhere. No reason the barista can't be of Chinese descent, right?

But it’s been very strange, and a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been having an urge to make all my villains and victims white, because I don’t want to negatively represent demographics to which I don't belong. But in the hardboiled genre, there are few other roles, so… to represent or not to represent?

Let me know what you think. Until next time, word nerds!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Inhibitor

I believe I have a piece of hardware installed in my brain. It’s called the Inhibitor. It plugs in between my want-tos and my can-dos, and effectively shorts the circuit with overwhelming gibber signal, mostly consisting of “but that would require you to…” and yawns. I’m not unique in this way. It seems that every writer (or otherwise creative person) is asking for advice on how to bypass their inhibitor. I’ve gotten sick of whining about it. But sometimes, it feels like a very physical thing.

And then, of course, there are the have-tos. From time to time, the have-tos are chores or errands, but the largest number of have-tos are literal necessities. Going to the bathroom, eating food, sleeping, that sort of thing. When my Inhibitor starts to fail, the have-tos are the redundant fail-safe. And the have-tos are hard to argue with. They seem to eat up my days.

Right now I have a conundrum. I’m finished with my have-tos. It’s barely 9am. I’ve bathed, eaten breakfast, checked the whole internet, and essentially run out of reasonable distractions. There are so many creative endeavors I’ve been dying to do, and inspired to do, and motivated to do… when I’m unable to do them, of course. Now that I have no have-tos between me and my goals, the Inhibitor is working overtime. “But you have three unfinished Christmas stockings to do! Those count as creative!” … true, but I’ve watched so much Netflix in the last couple of months that I’m about to run out of shows. Like, all shows. It’s getting boring. “You’re really sleepy! You know you are. Go lie down.” I’m never not sleepy. If I let that affect my activities, I’d never do anything. “You know you’re not supposed to force it…” Force it, sure, but I should really at least give myself a chance to do these creative things I’m so excited about.

I’ve had writing dates with my writer friends the last few weeks. On each of these, I’ve had some excuse not to write. The first one, I spent the time moving Cassidy into Scrivener, so at least it was tangentially related. The next time, I was writing emails to people. It was actually important, don’t get me wrong, but I sometimes feel so defeated. I’d really like to write with my girls, because it seems like the only time I actually get into it.

Well, at any rate, it seems like maybe my Inhibitor has leashed my blog into its dark service. I’ma cut that bitch out, for today anyway.

TTFN dear readers!