Use Fiction To Become Better Prepared, by Alex

The “prepper” community is largely (and some might say intentionally) misrepresented by the mass media. Many stereotypes about the survivalist originate in mainstream media non-fiction “documentary” and “reality television” programming: the lone wolf survivor, the person or group who actually want to see the end of the world come about, the people preparing so they can prey on the weak, gun lovers who welcome the opportunity to go on a rampage, etc, etc, etc. People within the community already know about these falsehoods. What I want to discuss is the role that fiction can play in the life of a prepper or survivalist.

People consume fiction in a variety of ways (books, television shows, movies) – almost always just for entertainment. Not many lessons can be learned from a ‘slasher’ horror movie except don’t run upstairs to escape the killer. I would contend that fiction from the survival/prepper/TEOTWAWKI genre can be much more than mindless entertainment. Survival fiction can be used as a means to learn, open up lines of communication, and get inspired. Even the critiques of the genre and individual works tell you how much you can learn (or have already learned) about preparedness.

“The main character was just too perfect.”

“No one in their right mind would do that.”

Have you ever said those? Both statements were probably true…but that means you were analyzing the characters and the story and applying your survival knowledge to the situation – and putting yourself in their shoes. You were becoming a better prepper without even knowing it! That in itself shows that fiction has a role in preparedness. But there are a few other ways that we can become better prepared using fiction.

For survivalists and preppers, fiction encompasses the world we prepare for, and it plays a very important role. Generally speaking, the worst of what we prepare for hasn’t happened, at least directly to us. I’m not talking about hurricanes, power outages, financial instability, job loss, and other local disasters. Yes, we need to prepare for those events, and yes they can be life ending or certainly life changing. But we also need to prepare for what is variously called TEOTWAWKI, SHTF, or The Big One.

The Big One

Everyone has one. Something came to mind when you read that last line: The Big One.This could be EMP, Nuclear War, a Super Bug, or Bio-Terrorism. The good thing about preparing for the Big One? Preparing for the Big One covers almost any smaller disaster. Power outage? I have backup generators, batteries, candles, stored water, and stored food to cover it. Hurricane? I have the tools and supplies to bug out or stick it out at home. ATM not working? I have some cash set aside, or I can live on what I already have in my pantry.

The problem with the Big One is that we can’t talk about it. Why? Because then we get put in the ‘crazy’ category. Which means we have to keep it to ourselves, or slowly let it leak out to friends as they become more trusted. And holding all of that in can be burdensome.

Enter, survival fiction.

Fiction and Preparedness

Fiction brings emotions and the human element into areas that are normally reserved for packing lists and how-tos. Aristotle said that when we watch a tragedy two emotions predominate: pity (for the character) and fear (for yourself). We imagine ourselves in the same situations that the characters are in, and try to relate it to our own experiences. If we don’t have anything to relate it to, then we imagine that scenario. Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist says that fiction is “the mind’s flight simulator” . This applies to not only the emotions and the connection you have with the characters, but also the situations that they find themselves in.

This prepares us mentally for a situation that we have never experienced. When we experience fear, a signal is sent to the amygdala in our brain. This triggers the flight or flight response, but only after your body freezes. If you have read, written, or simulated a situation, your brain has a starting point so you don’t get stuck just looking at an oncoming tsunami (or active shooter).

How Fiction Aids in Preparedness

Here are some other ways that fiction can aid us in preparedness:

  • We hone our own skills by seeing what other did right and more importantly, wrong.
  • We don’t want to be like the characters that do things incorrectly and it costs them and their lives or family.
  • We get motivated by the suffering and need to prevent it.
  • We get inspired by the courageousness of the characters (or lack thereof).
  • We get scared into action (sometimes).
  • We stretch our imaginations. What would I do in that situation? What if this happened, what would I do then?
  • We see other people’s thoughts that we didn’t think of, or couldn’t imagine. The author gives us a view into the mind of one or multiple characters, giving us new perspectives to consider.
  • We are entertained. Hey, this is important too. It’s clearly a hobby, no one ever said you can’t enjoy it.
  • We feel excitement. We get engaged with the story and characters. We feel what they feel.
  • We can be refocused. It’s easy to get complacent and forget about why you are doing this.
  • We gain a sense of comradery – (That you’re not the only one that thinks like this).

Fiction gives the average person, who has never lived in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, a window into that world. But more than just a window, they can emotionally experience and do a “dry run” in all different kinds of scenarios. Every military does war-gaming and puts soldiers through endless situations, and they do it for a reason: Because it works. During my time in the U.S. military, we were subjected to countless training scenarios to prepare us for something we had not experienced in real life. The training ranged from thought experiments and discussion (what-if…?) to computer simulations for decision making practice to as life-like as possible training. SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) for special operations personnel and aircrew comes to mind specifically.

How to use fiction to become more prepared

All of the aforementioned items are gained simply by reading or watching survival fiction. Your mind automatically catalogs what you see and hear. Your brain automatically empathizes with the characters. You automatically ask yourself “what would I do?”. But I believe that there is more you can get out of a fictional SHTF scenario.

Read it or Watch it and then:

Critique — Both the book/movie/game and yourself. How do you compare? What did they do right? What did they do wrong? How do your stores/preparations compare? If you were put in a different character’s shoes, what would you do? If you were forced from your location, what would you bring? The list goes on. The important action is critiquing both yourself and the characters, and learning from their (and your) deficiencies and mistakes.

Learn — Learn from others mistakes and problems. Learn from the information provided. Write down a list of skills the characters have but you don’t. Vow to learn those skills. Write down supplies that came in handy.

Use it to recruit or open a line of communication — with those in your family or close friends who aren’t sure about prepping, or you don’t know how they would react if they knew you prepped. My father in law recently read the novel One Second After because his friend and I had talked about it on the golf course. It gave me a way to talk with him about being prepared. And it gave us a path forward to bringing another person into the group of “ants”. Hopefully he is now one less grasshopper to feed.

Expand your mind — Don’t just read stuff about your “favorite” or most likely disaster scenario. Read about meteor strikes, EMPs, hackers, and WW3. Because the one thing about preparedness is that it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to disasters. Food stored for a hurricane is just as good as food stored for a hostile government takeover.

Get motivated — I know that motivation can be short lived. Which is why continuous learning is so important. Preparedness web sites are great for continuous learning, but nothing motivates you like visualizing a man’s daughter dying of diabetes because they ran out of insulin. Especially when you remember that your mother relies on XYZ prescription…

Act — Put into practice what you have learned. Acquire new skills, tools, supplies. Utilize all of the information you have gained.

Reading and consuming television shows or movies is one thing. It’s a whole ‘nother ball game to write it down. But writing fiction can have just as many or more benefits.

Write it and then:

See your plan on paper — Write what you think would work. Write down what you think would happen, what you would do. Plan for what you think the ‘bad guys’ will do. Explore holes in your planning. Take yourself on a journey, and see the whole scenario play out.

Ease your mind — Take the burden off of your shoulders for a second. Putting what is in our head down on paper allows our brain to move forward. Ever woke up from a dream and stayed awake for hours just thinking about it? Next time write it down and you will fall right to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Sometimes things get stuck in our head and it drives us crazy, just thinking about it over and over. So write it down and ease your mind.

Research — I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write and I come upon topic after topic that I don’t know as well as I thought, or can’t remember specifics. Writing forces you to research your topic. The more you write, the more you are forced to learn. Learning is never a bad thing.

Experience Catharsis — Writing our thoughts down can be one of the most cathartic things we can do. Maybe you are struggling with the death of a loved one. You might find closure writing them a heroic/peaceful/loving end in your fictional story. My best friend cried and cried when he killed off his main character that he had only made up a few months ago when he started writing that story. That character represented parts of himself that he loved and hated, and that he knew needed to be let go. Writing can unleash great feelings, most of which we strong/independent/loner preppers tend to keep to ourselves. Do you have trouble expressing love to your significant other? Maybe your feelings will come out honestly when you write them into a character. You never know!

Get critiqued — what better way to get tens, hundreds or even thousands of feedback sessions for free? Feedback will need to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but it beats only being able to talk with a few close friends about your ideas. It’s much easier for a small group to miss a key supply or threat the few of you don’t see. Preppers love critiquing others and themselves. We pack and repack bug out bags. Continually update what we store. Wouldn’t another hundred eyes be helpful?

Have fun — While prepping for disasters is serious business, and what you do or don’t do could mean life or death, who wants to live their whole life on edge with no fun or happiness. Clearly if you have made it this far, disaster preparedness is a hobby. Why not have some fun and enjoy a new side of your hobby. Who knows, what you write could save someone’s life in the future!

Be anonymous — You don’t have to use your real name, and you don’t have to use exactly your setup/preps/stores/situation. Instead of talking about preps with your physical neighbors (okay, I realize that no one does that) who will no doubt show up at your door when SHTF, your virtual neighbors will never know your name, let alone your location.

Imagine — Maybe you are behind in your preps, or wish you could move. Visualizing it here could be the first step in achieving those goals.

Summing Up

Survival fiction gives a disaster prepper another tool in his or her preparedness toolbox. It is a way to learn, game plan, and seed your mind with different possibilities. Gaining perspective, knowledge, empathy, motivation, community and entertainment make Survival fiction a worthwhile time investment. So go ahead, enjoy reading Warday or Lucifer’s Hammer. It’s basically like exercise.

About the Author: This article was written by Alex, the editor of the SaveYourAce.com blog.




18 Comments

  1. I totally agree. I’d read some of the older “apocalyptic” novels such as “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “The Stand”, “The Postman” etc., more current ones such as the “Die’s the Fire” series, “One Second After” etc, and then I discovered the mother-lode on Twitter Unlimited! I was living overseas with minimal access to books written in English when I signed up for a free trial of Twitter Unlimited. Much to my surprise, a lot of the writing on offer there had improved immensely since the last time I’d tried out this service. And to my great delight, there were now tons of “prepper”, “survivalist” “apocalyptic” themed books on offer.

    I started downloading as many as allowed and read my way through series after series. The quality varied, with some stand-out authors that wrote engaging books with well developed characters filled with info on preparedness. Some authors admitted that this was indeed a primary reason for writing these books, to impart useful info that could be life saving to their readers.

    Other authors were not as much fun(or useful) to read. I usually characterized those books as fitting in this category when in the opening first couple of paragraphs the power went out, dad(or mom) was far from home and the locals started savaging each other on the highway and looting the stores in the first hour!

    Reading them though gave me the chance to think about what seemed most likely to happen. Did I really believe that other than in certain neighborhoods where power failures always lead to looting, would everyone go nuts like this immediately?

    Thinking about the characters preps was also useful. Issues with the neighbors. FEMA and other government “assistance”. What did they do right or wrong?

    It can be daunting as I know that I’ll never have the level of preps that some of the best prepared characters had but still, on a continuum between the totally unprepared and those set to last for 10 years in their bunker, I have an idea where I’d like to and on that spectrum, given the realities of personal finances, etc. Sadly though, few are written from a woman’s perspective.

    So yeah, I concur that reading these books is a useful endeavor. And that there has been a proliferation of these books in the past few years tells me that others are finding them useful as well.

  2. I was in the US Army Special Forces decades ago. We would have our deployment kits set out for different areas of the world (Jungle, Dessert, Winter, Urban, etc) but we would rehearse different possible situations. We’d speculate “what if” situations and then plan, practice, modify, practice, etc. until we were comfortable our responses were appropriate for success. It was effective. Thanks for posting.

  3. Concur, I use disaster themed books and movies to expand my range of responses.

    On a related note. After travelling across most of America and back this summer, it struck me as to how many round bales of hay are lying in fields on farms and whether they would provide a method to improve the fallout radiation dose absorbed in the tornado shelter in a frame farmhouse.

    For example, if Farmer A stacked two rows of round bales against the frame house, stacked from ground level to roof level, as soon as hearing that fallout was coming, would the eight feet of hay absorb sufficient gamma radiation coming into the house horizontally to make a difference?

    Clearly most frame houses couldn’t handle the weight of round bales placed on the roof, or inside on the second floor, but they might handle square bales.

    Any EEs out there want to model the question and provide a calculated P factor?

    1. Oldparatrooper ,,,,,,,,not a good idea to use round bales that way ,,,.or hay in general ,,too high a fire risk ,gamma would be over before you would have a chance to move things ,the risk would be Alfa and beta from fallout in the long term ,a wash down system on the house would be of more value ,most A@B has a short reach ,a few feet to inches ,get it off the roof and stay in the center of the house would be your best chance ,
      If gamma is a concern move out of the target zone,if you can see the blast and flash you will get gamma no way around it

      1. Fallout particles do indeed emit gamma radiation, otherwise fallout shelters wouldn’t need any significant mass.

        If you are vulnerable to the blast and flash, you are too close to build a field expedient shelter after the blast. But for those in the fallout shadow, especially from a counterforce strike against the Minuteman III missile fields, you may have 24 to 48 hours before the fallout arrives. These are the farmers in the Upper Midwest that would benefit from using round bales to add additional mass to their houses.

        As for fire risk, sure, hay burns. But the majority of fires caused by a ground burst will be in the immediate vicinity of the blast itself. The Minuteman III fields were purposely built in low density population areas and the silo areas themselves provide little in the way of burnables, mostly a few outbuildings and grass. So minimal embers to drift, especially when compared to a city.

  4. re:
    creating fictions

    In goofball-central Eugene Oregon, we have the authors’ group WordCrafters. Several times a month, we exchange manuscripts so fresh eyes can destroy our ‘cherished beliefs’ (brought to life in the form of our fictional characters and their situations).

    Also, I’m using Self Authorship, the program developed by Jordan Peterson and crew. This encourages me to ‘re-write’ my history, a new script giving me power over those situations I thought I performed the role of victim.

    The up-side?
    These two tools give me the idea I am incredibly capable based on my incredible imagination… and maybe I am!
    .
    .
    PS:
    For any single gentlemen with a writing interest near Eugene Oregon, WoodCrafters is 95% single wimmen folk. Just sayin’…

  5. All good points.

    On the flip side however are the terrible ideas that have been propagated via survival fiction. Such as: Handwarmers instead of actual oxygen absorbers, using ridiculous stuff like 2 liter bottles for long term storage of grains as well as the big one: the ludicrous idea that you can be the one prepared person in your subdivision and the whole group of unprepared citizens will rally to you as the vaunted “savior of the subdivision”. Get out of town with that cr*p! It’s male fantasy nonsense by people that don’t want to make the true LIFESTYLE CHANGES necessary for serious survival- getting away from the cities, getting in shape, training regularly, etc.

    Unfortunately the preparedness movement has changed a lot in the last 3+ decades I’ve been involved in it. Now people make “lists” of cr*p they are never going to do, never going to buy and think preparedness is just an extended shopping trip to fulfill their OCD demons… It’s not everybody but it tends to fit a LOT of “preppers” nowadays.

    1. That is a great comment, Robert!
      Some authors propose not only terrible ideas but dangerous ones as well. One of the most prolific survival fiction authors succeeded in convincing scores of unfit preppers that it was plausible to carry a 60-80lb bug out bag packed with everything but the kitchen sink for 200+ miles. Ironically, that same author was unable to last more than 48 hours on the survival reality show “Alone” using gear that, for the most part, he chose.
      After 10+ years of prepping and reading survival fiction, JWR’s novels have no equal in the fiction/instruction manual department. If I were to recommend something for pure entertainment value, James Howard Kunstler’s “A World Made by Hand” series is probably one of the best ever written.

      1. Just a suggestion for useful information.

        On a BOB, go to the hiking community. I only get a few hikes a year in but some of these guys are out every weekend. They know the best containers and bags, just add your firearm and bush-crafting kits to the bag.

        On a BOV, the overlanding community is great. Also your local off-road clubs know the best places to go. I found a sought after trail close to home thanks to some locals. It was more than anything ill need to conquer. Also remember an easy trail to them might be epic in your Humble grocery getting suburban. (so fun).

        My only caveat is all hobbies, prepping, bushcraft, camping, hiking and overlanding are way over commercialized. I used to use youtube allot but its getting unbearable. Your better off finding a local group because it will help get you out there. Nope they dont have to know your planning on bugging out but they can help you get to that 15 mile a day hike. You get to use your gear and make some friends. Also got deeper in a trail then i wanted and a nice couple helped guide me out.

  6. Depending on circumstances and how I’ve “read” individuals after speaking with them a few times I have on a number of occasions suggested JWR’s book Patriots as something they may want to purchase and read. This serves several purposes, including an opportunity for some insight in to the type of individuals and families to determine who would either already be prepping, those that would step up to start prepping or to those that would do nothing and plan to have someone else take care of them. Some time ago I gave copies of Patriots to those I though may be potential preppers, but many of those books were never read, so after a while I learned that if someone actually orders the book, that action identifies them as likely someone willing to take responsibility and someone I want to know better. It also allows me do distance myself from those that don’t want to accept responsibility before they decide the best course of action is to “come to our place”.. Another purpose is the incredible amount of tactical information that is presented in the book and the opportunity to discuss it to further get to know each other better. During our prep group meetings we typically discuss a chapter of interest to member(s) or a chapter that is pertinent to what the group is currently focusing on. There are just so many ways that the books mentioned in other posts/responses can be utilized beyond just reading.

  7. I read pretty much all the fiction on Kindle Unlimited since it’s free. There are many good authors out there that write in practical tips for many facets of survival that can be helpful. From how to make a smokeless fire to designing defensive positions and early warning systems.

    Rarely do I read one of the many books out there and not learn something. Their is quite a plethora of books on Amazon that deal with everything from Solar disasters to man made ones covering pretty much anything you can imagine.

  8. I sometimes enjoy PAW fiction. But many times, the ‘hero’ has unlimited money to spend on preps, the inverse of my situation. I recently read a story by Jerry D. Young, which I thought was a more effective strategy. The hero did EVERYTHING wrong. He spent his last money on booze, not food, he drove a gas-guzzling sports car, he was the poster boy for unpreparedness. But it effectively showed what to do- the opposite of what he did.

  9. I’ve recently read, and re-read, The Killswitch Chronicles, by (?) Carter, which I found through PamsPrideRecommendations. It’s an ebook, and touches on a cooling climate, a nefarious plan to isolate the rural folks, and a society totally dependent (and controlled) by a networked worldwide computer system. It goes over the ‘reset’, the consequences, but then goes beyond to long term issues of different methods of government, religion, and rebuilding technology. Not so much a detailed how-to for surviving an immediate collapse, but food for thought for the long term.

  10. I wrote 2 dystopian fiction books a few years ago. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me after reading them and asked questions about preparedness. The most common comment was, “I never thought about that!”

    Just thankful it helped some people think a little outside the box about ‘what if’. Even had some teachers using the books to talk to students about what they thought would happen if our government, as we see it today, were to ever experience an economic collapse.

    If anyone is interested, the titles are FINDING HOME, A PLACE OF SAFETY and FLEEING HOME, FOR SAFETY’S SAKE.

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