You’ve just been selected to be one of the secondary characters in an upcoming post-apocalyptic novel.
If you wish to die nobly in order to spur the main character on at a critical moment in the plot, please disregard the rest of this message. There is always a need for volunteers for this position, and so your sacrifice in this manner will be greatly appreciated by everyone who expects this kind of tearjerking moment in a world without any modern conveniences.
If you want to live, memorize these rules and be sure to follow them religiously once the first scene has begun. They won’t guarantee your survival, but they will greatly increase the odds of it.
- Ignore the news and the government. There has never been one single instance of a government body or a news organization having any clue what is really going on in an apocalypse. Do not listen to any advice they give, and avoid traveling to any safe area they recommend in the first few scenes. It will be a trap.
- If the protagonist travels east, head west. While this isn’t always something that’s possible to accomplish, staying out of the way as much as possible is the safest thing you can do until or unless you are promoted to a main character role. Every big battle will take place wherever the main character roams, so you will reduce your chances of getting caught up in one if you travel anywhere other than those locations. This rule can be broken during the climax if other secondary characters have already been killed off and if you are willing to take the risk that the author still has some tricks up his or her sleeve.
- Do not endear yourself to the audience. You will feel tempted at times to play up the best parts of your personality in order to lure some of the audience’s attention from the main characters, but encouraging them to love you will only increase the odds of you succumbing to whoever or whatever it is in the storyline that has killed off so many other people before you. This is especially true if you are young, vulnerable, or happen to remind the protagonist of a loved one that he or she left behind in the beginning of the story.
- Avoid playing the hero. If you know your safe house is surrounded by monsters, avoid any foolhardy attempts to sneak past them regardless of who in your party might be in dire need of medicine, food, or water in that scene. There is only one hero in this story, and any attempts to steal that spotlight will be interpreted by the writer as foreshadowing for your eventual death. Stay in the shadows and away from the dangers of sudden plot twists as much as possible while the keyboard is still clicking away.
- Remain slightly hopeful. Characters who lose all of their hope for the future are in just as much danger as characters who are still obnoxiously cheerful and upbeat after days of hiking through the mud and shivering the night away without a single blanket to keep them warm. Stay neutral when the dialogue is not focused on you and slightly hopeful but still realistic about the odds if you happen to get accidentally caught in the same scene with the main character after the opening act.
- Memorize the most common kinds of creatures found in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Elves and faeries are almost always trustworthy. Unicorns are harmless to non-virgin humans. Ghosts may be frightening, but they are rarely a genuine threat to anyone. Orcs, zombies, vampires, and goblins are always dangerous unless you happen to wind up in a rare post-apocalyptic romance novel where a member of their species happens to be the main character’s love interest. Once you know who or what you’re dealing with, you’ll know whether to stick with, tolerate, or avoid any non-human characters that may be lurking in the book.
- Listen to your elders. While not every post-apocalyptic story will include an older, wiser character who knows exactly what is going on, be sure to listen to them if they appear at any point in the storyline. The chances of that individual guiding you safely to the final scene are much higher than you might think. People like this usually appear in the plot for a good reason and should be trusted unless you have an even stronger reason to ignore their sensible advice. In some cases, this can even shorten a full-length novel into a tidy short story with only a small reduction in the overall suspense and excitement of the tale.
With any luck, following all of these rules will help you survive until the final battle. Every character is more or less on their own at that point, so be sure to continue practicing your swordsmanship, long distance running, emergency medical drills, and spell casting until you know exactly what kind of book you will be assigned to and therefore what skills you will need to survive whatever disease, monster, battle, natural disaster, or other source of conflict may be coming your way.