P is for Postapocalyptic

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Jennie Goloboy

I’m going to tell you something that may surprise you: I’m not a robot.

I’ll sit here for a moment while you get over your shock.


As a non-robotic slush reader, I have my own preferences and dislikes in literature. I prefer not to read books in which children die. (Which is why I’ve never finished The Prestige.) In general, I prefer to represent optimistic booksbooks in which even when the characters live in terrible times, their lives are demonstrably improved by the end of the book, preferably because of their own choices and resiliency. I’m not looking for Jean Teasdale-quality escapism—I’m looking for books about How It Gets Better.

I see a lot of books with postapocalyptic settings. And in general, I’m not interested in loving delineations of the zombie apocalypse that end with everyone getting eaten.

Why not do the unexpected? Find a rational, reasonable, non deus-ex-machina way to give your story a happy ending. I am convinced that there is a way to find one in nearly every novel.

A little story from my own experience—I once entered a writing contest in which the contestants had to add five hundred words every day to a story, and the readers would rate it day by day. My story was doing really well, until the readers came to the tragic ending. I was shocked—my readers were angry with me! They didn’t find the death of my hero emotionally engaging at all! They thought it was a cheap bid for attention!

So while the story, I made it so that the hero had a happy ending.

Not all of his problems were fixed (they were frankly unfixable), but he was content with his life and positive about his future.

So far, I’ve sold that story twice.

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