The World that Could Be, in 50,000 Words or More!

In November, I’m participating in a writing project called National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to start writing on November 1st and to just let the words flow. And flow and flow, hopefully reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month. There are almost no rules, but the important guidelines are that you don’t edit yourself- no revisions- and that you start fresh on November 1st. Plot outlining and research, however, are happily encouraged. Which is where you, my wonderful and intelligent readers, come into the picture.

What You Need to Know

I’m writing a post-apocalyptic story. An outbreak (viral or bacterial) wipes out most of the country/world’s population in a matter of days. Infrastructure is basically destroyed almost immediately. A small group of survivors set up a community on a large farm. They face numerous challenges and must protect themselves against marauders and what’s left of the government.

•Woman: mid-late 20s. The farm was her family’s property. She had been living in a city on the other side of the country with her boyfriend but had returned for a visit, and to tell her parents she was pregnant, when the outbreak hit. Her parents were infected and died, leaving her as the only surviving family member. Her boyfriend was sick when she last spoke to him but she has no idea what happened to him after the phones stopped working.
•Man: mid-late 20s. He lived on a nearby farm and grew up with the girl. They were very close but never romantically involved. They are the only survivors from their town. His family property was sold years before and he had been working in a factory a few towns away.
•Boyfriend: late 20s.

Government Assigned Refugees:
•Student: A young woman, late teens- early 20s. She had been a college student studying political science.
•Girl and Boy: A girl, 16 or 17, and her young brother. Orphaned by the outbreak.
•Soldier: A man, late 30s-40s. Former career military, dishonorably discharged for being gay. Very tough exterior but a gentle man inside.
•Nurse: A woman, early-mid 30s.
•Teacher: A man, 30s-early 40s. A high school history teacher.

Other Refugees:
•Professor: A woman, early 60s. She had been a distinguished Anthropology professor. Found living in a library in the city, she decides to come back to live at the farm.

•Acting Head of the Government. Formerly the Secretary of Agriculture, he is the highest ranking government official who survived the outbreak. Very conservative, pro big ag. Widely disliked during his term. Now working to make all remaining agriculture government-owned and controlled.
•Representative: Woman, 40s. Very bureaucratic and difficult.

So, what I need are some scenarios. They are going to have cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, the whole shebang. The farm they will be running will be around 400-600 acres, plus access to the surrounding smaller farms that are now abandoned.

I don’t want the story to be all doom and gloom. I want to look at the resilience of people to overcome these kinds of emotional upheavals and hardships and to find the joy in life after disaster. I want to explore what it really means to create a family. I want there to be moments of hilarity and joy mixed in with the soul-searching and societal rebuilding.

I’ve already got about 10 pages of plot notes and character sketches, but I’m really just hitting the high points so far. I’m looking for more small moments that connect the big moments and highlight what everyday life would actually be like.

And….. go! 😉


5 thoughts on “The World that Could Be, in 50,000 Words or More!

  1. This sounds really exciting for you, Leah. I can see a whole lot of you in various places in your post, but two parts that I don’t see: books and internet/technology.

    You probably don’t need another character, but maybe one of the ones you already have could also be a geeky bibliophile.

    A lot of post-apoc fiction is about looking to the future beyond the immediate catastrophe. I find that when at least one of the characters is concerned with saving parts of the past, it gets my interest just a little bit more. I’m not just talking of salvage expeditions to gather tinned food or ammunition here, of course.

    You probably don’t have a lot of time left for research, but have you read A Gift upon the Shore by MK Wren? The whole ‘saving of the books’ idea is one that I, obviously, love.

    An interesting character that you may consider is one like the ultra-green John Fox in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall.

    I think a scenario that I would like to see would be recognise that in the situation you envision, all cookery is going to be ‘from scratch’ in the full meaning of the concept. These days, too many times I see recipes on websites (sadly, mostly from American ‘cooks’) that call for ‘a pack of cake mix’, ‘a jar of X sauce’ or ‘a tin of Y juice’. I’m sure you’ll cover the grinding of the flour and the preservation of, almost holy in their value, the yeast and the yoghurt culture. But what is in baking powder? How do you make bi-carb soda? What actually is gelatin? How can you live without Vegemite? They say bad wine “turns to vinegar”, but how do you actually deliberately make vinegar?

    I’m sure that you will enjoy this exercise, and I look forward to seeing the result. If you want someone to cast a proofreading eye over anything, I would be honoured.


    • Ahh, Jim, it’s like you’ve been inside my head! 😉

      I haven’t decided what my lead character’s job is before the collapse, but I feel like it’s probably book related in some way. Or maybe just writing related. Maybe she was a journalist with a deep passion for literature. But a love of books is going to be a bit of a common thread for several characters. Really, how could I write anything else?

      I actually already have a very particular scene plotted where they go on a scavenging mission to a large city and hole up for a night in the library. They believe, and fairly correctly, that most people would completely ignore a building full of books. That’s where they meet the Professor and they’re going to have a long group discussion about whether the books are worth saving and taking back with them. You can probably guess what the outcome will be, knowing me. Especially since there are children in the group that need an education, even if the world has changed.

      The conversations I have with my friends who are into self sufficiency (over on have definitely contributed to this idea. We’re always talking about ways to wash clothes without electricity or how you really make mayonnaise at home and the benefits of fermented and sprouted grains. I want to explore all those types of things in this project. I mean, they do say “Write what you know,” so I figure “Write what you want to know” is just the next step!

      Apparently, in the world of NaNoWriMo, December is known as National Revise Your Novel Month, so don’t be surprised if you start getting half insane messages containing cryptic passages for your well trained eye!

      PS: The quote in the description of A Gift Upon the Shore on LT is from one of my favorite authors, Jean Auel! If she likes it and you recommend it, I guess I really do have to read it!

    • How could I say no if someone wants to read my work?!?!

      If you complete the challenge of 50,000 words, they give you a professional bound copy of your novel (once you are really done with it). So, if I can get through 50,000 in the 30 days, and get the thing edited so it makes some sense, I can get the author’s copy and we’ll just mail it around the world from one reader to another!

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