I’m a fan of stories about the apocalypse, especially zombies and from time to time I check out fanfiction about it. Sometimes it’s to see how the characters from a particular fandom deal with it and other times it’s to see what a fanfiction author does with a story already about the zombie apocalypse. It always nice to read in another perspective and be surprise at the creative ways or spins they put on it.
But just as there are some interesting stories, there are also some that are lacking. It’s not the author’s fault because most of the issues seem to be the lack of research and common sense. By pointing out those problems I hope that they improve the quality of fanfictions about the apocalypse.
1. In natural disasters and apocalyptic events, many things will stop working (or eventually will after a few days). Running water (this includes toilets); anything that relies on electricity (this includes gas pumps); anything that relies on natural gas lines (this includes gas stoves/central heat); basically, anything that relies on running machines maintain and oversee by people. This includes the internet and cellphones.
The people working on those factories and companies have families too. They’re not going to continue doing their jobs when something big as an apocalypse is happening. So there’s no reason for why your character can still use their phones and other devices that run on such things.
2. Don’t assume that you’re the only one going to a big super store (like a mall, Walmart, Costco, etc.) or a gun store. It seems like everyone’s survival plan includes a stop at a big store to pick up supplies. It is a smart idea to stock up on supplies, but you’re not going to be the only one with the same idea. It’ll be like Black Friday, where everyone is trying to get something and fighting over it. People get trampled to death over material things on sales, it’ll be worst when it comes to an apocalypse.
Your best bet is to look into places that people will overlook (little corner stores, restaurants, candy store, etc.). If a place has already been looted, don’t give up just yet, still check everything, especially underneath and behind objects. With the chaos it won’t be surprising to see stuff be knocked over or kicked underneath other objects. If your characters are smart they will figured that out already.
3. Learn how to start a fire without a lighter or matches. It seems too convenient when a character already has a lighter or matches on them. Just what exactly were they doing with it in the first place? It would make sense to have a lighter if they were a smoker. Besides, matches and lighters do run out and the characters will have to learn how to start a fire without them, especially if they’ve been surviving for a long while now. Don’t forget the possibility of them falling in a river or getting wet from the rain, it’s unlikely that matches and lighters are waterproof. To survive you need fire to stay warm, to cook, to boil water and so on.
It wouldn’t make sense for survivors not to figure that out. There are many creative methods to start a fire, a magnifying glass, friction hand drill, fire plough, flint and steel, and so on.
4. Water is precious, but more importantly always boil it. You can survive 3 weeks without food, but after 3 days you’ll need water or you will perish. The annoying thing I’ve seen in most stories is that the characters immediately find a stream and filled their bottle water and then drink it without boiling it. You can’t trust any water source, because you don’t know if it’s the cause of the apocalypse or if it has been contaminated.
Always boil the water before drinking or using it because it kills the bacteria within it. It’s better to be safe by boiling whatever water you use. So be sure to carry two separate bottles, one marked boiled water and the other not; as a way to keep the safe boiled water bottle from being contaminated.
5. Short hair is the way to go. It’s makes survival easier to deal with and prevents unnecessary deaths. Having short hair will lessen the amount of time spent on washing it (and you won’t waste as much water and soap on it). It also makes it easier to take care of it, less tangles, and less likely to fall onto your face to obstruct your view. Better yet, you don’t have to worry about anyone grabbing your hair, especially zombies. If you’re having trouble with lice, try shaving it off, it’s exactly what the Ancient Egyptians did when they had lice problems.
So definitely keep that in mind about your characters’ hair length and style. It’s quite ridiculous to read about a girl’s long hair being all over her face and somehow hasn’t manage to block her vision or get grabbed at.
6. Never assume anyone is dead, unless you witness their death (or seen their corpse). In many zombie apocalypse stories, characters seem to assume that a zombie is dead if they’re laying on the ground and not moving. So when the character walks pass or over the zombie, it suddenly grabs the characters and takes a bite out of them (or they manage to kill it before it could). That close call could have been completely avoided if the character didn’t assume it was already taken care of. Treat everything as a threat until you have proven otherwise.
As for assuming if another character in the group (or an enemy) is dead, that really depends. If all the evidence points to the character not surviving, than assuming that they’re dead is understandable (even if they’ve somehow manage to still survive). However, if there’s no proof, just keep it in mind that there’s always a possibility that they’re alive. Don’t discard it as impossible, sometimes impossible things do happen
7. Keep your hands cleans and keep fingernails short. It’s important to keep your hands clean, especially your nails because they'll harbor dirt and germs which can contribute to the spread of some infections, such as pinworms. In an apocalypse, your hands will be often dirty and the last thing you need is zombie blood underneath your nails. Many people don’t realize how often they touch their face, eyes, mouth, and so on. That’s why it’s so important to keep them clean.
Longer fingernails can harbor more dirt and bacteria than short nails, thus potentially contributing to the spread of infection. If you have the habit of biting your nails, loose it quickly! I don’t have to explain why that’s a bad idea. And don’t forget to sterilize equipment, such as nail clipper so that you prevent contaminating your nails again.
I wanted to mention this because I’ve seen some stories with characters eating food without any mention of them ever washing their hands. Or they touch their mouths and bite their nails in surprise or worry (what’s worst is when they were in a zombie battle earlier). If your character doesn't have the time to worry about the condition of their nails, than have them wear gloves. It is the perfect solution to avoid dirt and blood from getting on their hands and fingernails.
They should also consider getting a mask and goggles to keep their mouth, nose and eyes protected too. Zombie killing will be messy, and blood will be difficult to avoid, especially when you're up close with a melee weapon.
8. Practice safe sex, better yet don’t have sex at all. If you’re a glutton for punishment, then go ahead and have unprotected sex – risk sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. Then try dealing with that while facing zombies, hostile survivors and trying to survive in a cruel, lawless world. It’ll be extremely difficult for people to find a doctor, medicine or be able to bring a baby into such a world. Also, a pregnant woman would be at a serious disadvantage. She won’t be able to outrun zombies, won’t have the proper nutritious diet which will affect the growing baby, and there could be complications. She’ll have to rely on other survivors to help her out and many would be more concern of their own survival than someone else.
When it comes to kissing I doubt it very much that your character’s mouth will smell and taste like mint, honey, or anything fruity (unless of course, there’s a reasonable explanation like them looting a building and finding a bottle of honey or breath mints). It’s going to be difficult for your characters to keep up their personal hygiene. It’s not attractive to smell body odor, to have yellow teeth, oily hair and all that, but that IS the reality of an apocalypse.
It’s important to keep up your hygiene (because dentist aren’t going to be there to fix your teeth), but it’s not as essential – at least certain things aren’t. Female characters, however, will certainly be concern about their periods. They’ll definitely need to keep up their personal hygiene when it comes to that. Also, being in an apocalypse will be stressful and it can lengthen or shorten a woman’s menstrual cycle, stop it altogether, or make her periods more painful.
Just make sure that each of your characters reflect their struggles of being in an apocalypse. It is understandable that most of the time, hygiene will have to take a back seat.
Overall, if the characters want to have sex make sure they’re being smart about it and know that the consequence will be high (because no method is fool proof). And remember, everything has an expiration date even condoms and birth control pills.
9. Don’t fight zombies with fire. If your characters is dealing with zombies that can’t be stop by gunshots, missing limbs and starvation – why would they think a Molotov cocktail (or flamethrower) would work? Last thing they need is zombies on fire, running at them and setting them on fire as they try to fight the zombies off. There’s a time and place to set zombies on fire; find an isolated place (without worrying that the environment will catch on fire too) and you’re at a distance away, safe from them ever reaching you. But it’ll probably be better not to play with fire, because you are going to get burn at some point.
10. Have a back up plan. It’s best to think ahead by establishing a back up plan for the worst case scenario. Life in a apocalypse is unpredictable and each day is a battle for survival – to find food, water and shelter. The characters should think of a plan of where they should go if they are ever separated. They should also think about creating a safe code or phrase, in case they’re capture by bad people and they’ll want to warn their fellow survivors without alerting their captors. It just makes sense to at least plan something for ‘just in case’, even if you are in a safe haven.
11. Take turns being the night-watch or lookout. You are most vulnerable at night, because it's difficult to see anything coming at you (plus using a light source will alert everything to your existent – so hide the light or keep it dark). And you will need to sleep, so the last thing you want is zombies sneaking up on you while you are sleeping. Even other survivors are a threat because they could sneak into your camp and steal your stuff, possible even kill or do horrible things to you.
It a lot more safer to set up a night watch, no matter if the group you’re in is small or large. And if you’re alone, find a secure and hidden spot where no one or anything can find you. It’ll be even better if you could set up some traps that alert you (and if possible use traps that can alert you without alerting the intruder – such as the glow stick trip wires, which makes it easier to spot in the dark and know which direction the intruder came from) to any threats.
This is something that I’ve notice that is lacking in a lot of stories. Characters for some reason tend to forget about how vulnerable they are at night, especially when they go to sleep. It's ridiculous for them to not set up a night watch or have lookouts when they find a place to rest. It doesn’t matter if the place is perfectly secure, it’s still a good idea to have someone on night watch. The characters don’t know if someone will die from a natural cause, then turn into a zombie and because no one is on night watch, everyone sleeping would get bitten (or eaten), causing a chain reaction. That is why it’s better to be prepare and ready for the worst by having someone on guard. Make sure your characters consider doing this, especially if it’s in their characterization.
12. Don’t trust so easily. Just because it’s a apocalypse, it doesn’t mean that it’ll bring humans closer together. Actually, it’ll be the opposite, bringing out the worst of them. It’s going to be chaos with no one enforcing the law and no fear of the consequences. So don’t lower your guard around other survivors just because they’re dealing with the same struggle to stay alive like you are.
When you think about it, humans are much more dangerous because they’re unpredictable compare to zombies. You know what you’re getting with zombies, you know what they want and what they’ll do to get it, even how to deal with them, but humans…not so much. It's difficult to tell where they stand. They can lie and steal and murder so that there are fewer mouths to feed. One of the most important tips for a zombie apocalypse is to be careful who you trust.
Every character should always be caution about other survivors. If possible it’s best to avoid them, or observe them from a distance to make sure if they’re of the decent sort. It just not very realistic when the characters trust every survivor they meet.
13. Don’t dress to impress. An apocalypse is no time to shoplift designer clothes from stores that you have never been able to afford. We’re talking about your survival here and if you find materials things more important than finding food, water and shelter – there’s something horribly wrong with your priorities. Don’t worry about looking cool or hot for a potential love interest. You need to focus on your ability to run. It’ll be hard to do so in high heels and a miniskirt. You need sneakers, pants, and shirts that will keep you warm and won’t restrict your movement. Staying alive is the only thing that matters, and your characters should reflect that.
They’re going to be smelly with oily hair, their clothes faded, torn and dirty (maybe even patched up a one too many times). Your male characters are going to look like grizzly bears, because in reality they aren’t going to have a clean shaven face forever. Just like hair, facial hair grows too and it’s difficult to believe that they wouldn’t have a beard after a while of not shaving (or not having the time to do so). Your female characters are also going to be hairy, they won’t have smooth legs or bare armpits because they’ll be more concern about their survival. Their hair will be very dull, dry and oily (maybe even be a tangled mess if it’s not put into a braid, ponytail or bun). Unlike what films and television shows portray, the female characters won’t be wearing makeup or have perfectly style hair either. Characters, no matter what their gender is, they’ll be focusing more on survival and not on their appearance.
14. Sometimes smaller groups are better than bigger groups. You’ll want to find a medium sized group full of trustworthy people that can pull their own weight or can contribute to the group in their own way. Too many people can cause issues in the food and shelter department and make it harder to protect, such as keeping track of them all. However, the fewer the people there are could mean that they’ll make easy targets for hostile survivors, but they can also be easier to remain undetected and have less power struggles problems. So your best bet is to try keep your group in the middle and if the group is too big it’ll be best to split people into smaller groups in case there’s ever a need to break off.
I often don’t see the number of survivors be much of a factor in fanfiction, but it would be nice to see the struggle each size group might face. It makes it interesting to read about. Even more so when there might be characters in the group that don’t pull their weight and rely on the only person in the group that’s strong enough to take charge. It’s a lot of pressure and depending on the character that the weaker members are relying on, it could result in some interesting reactions.
15. Keep a positive attitude. If you’re not careful, your own mind can be your worst enemy, because there is a psychological factor to an apocalypse. Many characters in fanfiction for some reason take to being in an apocalypse really well and act like they’re pros at it. Realistically, they shouldn’t all be able to accept that it’s the apocalypse so easily. Their minds should struggle with that concept. They should struggle to accept the fact that they lost their love ones, struggle that they had to kill zombies and struggle with the things they now have to do in order to survive.
It’s normal to be in shock, to be in denial and scared, especially in the beginning of the outbreak. But afterwards, they need to adjust to the changes in the world. Some characters will be better at adjusting to those changes, others’ not so much, but it depends on your characters. Everyone reacts to stressful situations differently, some people need to to strive for something, such as a goal or something to hope for. Others will distract themselves with the here and now than what will happen tomorrow, because the unknown scares them. They know that their mind will wonder into dark places – wondering if they’ll die tomorrow, if they have enough food, if they’ll get shot or injured. So they distract themselves with things that will help them to keep focus and sane, like constantly keeping count of (or organizing) their supplies and figuring out which route they’ll take, taking apart of their gun and keeping it clean, keeping their knives sharp, doing some push-ups, writing in a journal, etc. Basically, doing tasks that will keep their mind focus and benefits their survival in one way or another.
It will be even worst when your character is surviving the apocalypse on their own, especially if it’s been a while since they had contact with another living person. They’ll be very paranoid and lonely. They’ll have trouble trusting and adjusting to other survivors again.
Also, take into consideration when the characters loses someone that they’ve gotten close to. That’s not going to be easily to get over, and afterwards most will keep people at distance as to not experience that pain. Some might become reckless, feeling like they lost their reason to keep going (which is why it’s never a good idea to depend on someone so much). Or they numb themselves and force the pain down, instead of grieving properly. It’s understandable that they would need to keep it together, but when they have a chance, they need to talk to someone or cry it out. Otherwise, they’ll be a ticking time bomb, and the last thing a group of survivors need is for someone to lose it, more so when they’re in a dire situation.