Survival Part 3: 5 Survival Story Recs

It’s time for some book recommendations.

Hey there, word nerds! I know I missed last week, but I’m back now with those promised book recommendations.

Last month, I shared reasons why I love a good survival story as well as what makes for good survival story writing. We discussed the perseverance of the human spirit, ingenuity, and hope as successful elements of the story, as well as the need for tension and layers of conflict. All the stories I’m sharing with you today have bits and pieces of those things, and they range across genres…including a nonfiction selection that’s light on the tension but high on the page-turning!

Let’s dig in. 🙂

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

I just recently read this, as it only just came out this year. It was a bit shorter than I expected, but that just meant I could consume it in a sitting…and honestly, I wasn’t able to put it down once I started. It’s got the self-discovery, the high stakes, and the ingenuity. Seriously, I couldn’t believe some of the things this girl thought to do in order to survive! And it ended on such an interesting note, including some crushed dreams while rerouting to new ones. It was a story with real consequences and had me questioning the whole time if she’d make it or not.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

This is by far one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read (and if you’ve been around a while, you’ve definitely heard me talking about it!). Set just after the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, it follows the journey of a kid named Alex, separated from his family just before the eruption and trying to survive and find them again in a world devastated by volcanic winter. There are intense highs and lows in this trilogy, following the best and the worst that humanity has to offer, and it has one of the best, most hopeful and inspiring endings I’ve ever read in a trilogy.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book, if you haven’t heard about it or seen the movie yet, is a near-future sci fi adventure following astronaut Mark Watney after an unfortunate series of events leaves him stranded on Mars, alone. Much like Be Not Far From Me, it showcases both ingenuity and the perseverance of the human spirit, but in a new setting on another planet. The voice is entertaining and full of gallows humor, and ultimately, this book left me with such a warm fuzzy at the end that makes me fall in love with it every time I think about it.

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle

This one is probably a lesser-known book, but it is a young adult novel following Sophie and Finn, a couple of teens reconnecting after years in different schools and thrust together after Sophie is separated from her family and stranded during an evacuation. Together, they must survive a hurricane in the Outer Banks and get Sophie back to her mom.

If there’s one thing that can make me love a survival story even more, it’s throwing in a nice, big storm. 🙂

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

And for the nonfiction pick, though I could pick a few (see the lightning round!), nothing quite compares to Bill Bryson’s tale of his attempt at the Appalachian Trail. It’s got his own experiences on the trail, good and bad, as well as a bunch of the history and science of the trail and everything along the way. I also enjoyed that one of his stops was Palmerton, PA…just a stone’s throw away from my own hometown! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I also appreciated the thoughtful ending with unexpected events.

Lightning Round!

Finally, I’ll give you a few more bonus picks that I personally enjoyed, but with less info (I will give you the genre, though).

Antarctic Tears by Aaron Linsdau (nonfiction)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (nonfiction)

Stormsurge by Shawna Lynn Brooks (Romance novella)

No Safe Haven by Kyla Stone (Post-apocalyptic)

Labyrinth of Shadows by Kyla Stone (fantasy Minotaur retelling)

Final Thoughts

Thanks so much for coming with me on my survival story kick! If you love or hate these kinds of stories, I’d love to know why. And if you have any more recommendations for me, please let me know! I’m hungry for them.

Let’s chat in the comments or over on Twitter!

PS: I have a new reader group just for you guys! Head on over to Facebook if you’re interested in talking about all things fantasy or my books specifically. Also, this is where I’ll be sharing links to eARCs, so if you’d like a chance to read one of my books for free, you’ll need to be part of this community!

Let’s chat in Readers of the Realms!

Survival part 2: How to Write Survival Stories

Last week, we discussed why I personally love survival stories. We talked about how they can showcase the ingenuity of humanity, the way they can make us as readers think and problem solve, and how they reveal the strength of the human spirit.

Today, I’m going to speak a bit closer to the writers in the room. What is it about a survival story that makes it strong, that pulls on a reader’s heartstrings? How do we create a powerful survival story? Let’s look at four key points of a good survival story.

There needs to be high stakes conflict

Survival is high stakes, so the circumstances in which the character finds themselves needs to be high stakes as well. There have to be heart-pounding moments of terror, moments when it’s really uncertain if the character will survive. Mild circumstances or when there is any doubt in the reader’s mind about the possibility of the character not surviving will kill the tension of the story before it even begins. So no long, slow, tedious walks in the forest – at least not without encountering something more immediate. But we’ll get to that in point 3. 😉

Don’t be afraid to cut your character off and make them suffer. I know that sounds horrible, but without it, the story falls flat.

Conflict needs to be both internal and external

It’s really easy in a survival story to focus on the conflict of person vs. nature, since that’s the main focus of most survival stories. But that is a superficial story structure, and without something more, the reader won’t connect or care about the outcome of the story.

Just like in any story, we need something to make us care, and often that’s the internal conflict. We learn about the bits and pieces of the main character’s life, the things they’re struggling with, and how it relates to the life-or-death circumstances in which they find themselves.

We get to know the character, and then we can care about what happens to them.

There needs to be urgency

It’s so easy to write a slow survival story. I know. I’ve done it.

But that’s boring.

I know, it might be plausible to see a person slowly starving or something similar, but it doesn’t exactly drive the story forward. (refer back to point #1)

But, if you give the character a deadline of some sort – a life-threatening injury, danger to someone they love that is imminent – it adds a layer of tension to the story that will keep the reader of the edge of their seat, begging to know what happens next, begging to know if they’ll make it or fail/die.

It needs to be plausible

Finally, your survival story needs to be plausible. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve seen that are grounded on faulty premises…one that comes to mind is a post-apocalyptic EMP story in which the EMP killed most of the life on Earth. Right there, that is not realistic, as EMPs only affect electronic devices. Not the health of a creature.

So whatever circumstances your character finds themselves in, it needs to be something truthful, believable, and scientifically plausible, or you’ll lose your reader.

Final Thoughts

So now that you’ve heard what I consider to be the key elements to a good survival story, I’m interested to see what you think makes it. Are there other components you can think of? Other conflicts you like to see in these stories? Let me know in the comments or send me a tweet!

Happy writing, and see you next week for some of my favorite survival story recommendations!

Survival Part 1: Why I Love Survival Stories

Let’s talk books!

This week I’m going to start a 3-part series on survival stories. Why? Well, I’ll get into that this week. But the background is three-fold: I am a longtime lover of the survival story, the novel I’m querying right now is a fantasy survival story, and I just finished reading a new one (which I loved!).

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but right now is not the time I’d necessarily expect I’d want to read survival stories. We’re in the middle of weird times (yes, I am also getting tired of people calling it “unprecedented times”) that feel a little too post-apocalyptic. Personally, I’ve noticed a split between those who want to read ALL the post-apoc and those who want nothing but fluffy. At first, I did want those post-apoc books. Then I wanted fluffy. And now, as things are starting to stabilize again, I’m good with reading slightly more survivally stories.

There are several things that really appeal to me about this kind of story.

First, these stories showcase ingenuity in a way nothing else does. There’s something to be said for dropping a person in a seemingly impossible situation only to see them come up with solutions like MacGyver with nothing more than a shoelace or their own hair. Yes, that really did happen in the book I just finished. As someone who’s never had to fight for my life in a life-or-death struggle, I never would have come up with that. Amazing to see the things a person can come up with when the situation arises.

Next, these stories make us think, but in good ways. They remind us that we really don’t have it that bad, but beyond that, they make us think what we would do if thrown into a situation like that. They are books for critical thinking wrapped up in a pretty package of drama and edge-of-your-seat excitement. They show the raw sides of humanity and let us consider both the good and the bad.

Finally, there is nothing like a triumphant survival story to showcase the human spirit. It can show us the lengths we can go to in order to make it through a difficult situation. And they show us the pure determination and grit, the hope. They show us how people come together in impossible situations to take care of each other, like in The Martian (we’ll go through some specific recommendations in a couple weeks). They show us how people can rise above the terrible things that could happen.

And honestly, that’s the biggest draw of the survival story: the triumph of the human spirit.

Next week we’ll discuss five important elements to writing a survival story, and the week after that I have some good recommendations, but for now, tell me what you think. Do you enjoy this kind of story? Why or why not? What is it about them that make you feel that way? Let’s chat in the comments, or tweet me @selinajeckert!