I’ll say from the start that this isn’t a self-help guide so if you’ve got a zombie horde battering at your door and you’re looking for some practical advice, you might need to look else where (and fast!). Instead, it’s a consideration of the difficulties of coming up with new and interesting ways for taking out the undead.
Here’s the problem: You sit down to write a zombie story. You’ve probably got a number of set pieces in mind where people will take on zombies, and in each one you’re probably going to have your characters kill anything between a few and a few hundred walking dead. Yet, if all are dispatched in the same way, your story’s going to get dull and repetitive very quickly. After all, there’s only so many times you can read about a zombie getting smacked across the back of the skull with a baseball bat or being killed by yet another head shot before you start rooting for the undead rather than the protagonist just because it would be something a bit different.
And the problem isn’t just what happens in your own story, there’s also the methods that those who have come before you have already used. Fed up of baseball bats? You might consider using a cricket one only to realise that it makes it seem like you’re ripping off Shaun Of The Dead. So what’s the solution?
I think it’s quite easy, and all it takes is a little (possibly rather sick!) imagination. The key thing here is to remember that you are trying to destroy the brain in some manner and, if used correctly, almost anything can do that. If you’re smacking a zombie in the face, don’t reach for the baseball bat, instead reach for a golf club (I’d recommend a three wood over a putter) or a football helmet. Away from the sporting world, there’s steel bars, juggling clubs, fender guitars or – if you want to be particularly gruesome – a severed human arm would probably do at a pinch.
Then there’s the guns. Don’t just always reach for the trusty double-barrelled shot-gun like everyone else. How about using a sniper rifle, snub-nosed revolver or 18th century flint-lock? What about something bigger? Rocket launcher anyone? Howitzer? Or quieter: Crossbow? A bit too common that one. How about an English long bow or a Roman ballista bolt through the eye?
Then there’s the bladed weapons but don’t just stick to calling them swords or machetes it’s too generic, too over-used. Instead, be more specific. Try grabbing a katana or a claymore or that cavalry sabre your great, great grandpa used in the American Civil War. Each has its own style and is wielded in a slightly different way providing variety to your kills.
If you’ve got to tackle more than one and you’re fed of up resorting to a machine gun, reach instead for a flame-thrower or the home-made napalm from your mental arsenal. A bit too old school for you? How about running them down? Too over-used? What if it’s with a combine harvester rather than a car? That would cut them down pretty damn quick and I don’t think I’ve come across that one before (although I’m sure someone must have used it some where – if not I’ll call dibs!).
Then there’s the type of things you’d never usually think of as a weapon but the juxtaposition of familiar objects used in unfamiliar ways when people are forced to fight for their lives can really bring home the feeling of a world gone badly wrong. To go back to Shaun Of The Dead, there’s a great scene early on where they’re throwing 12 inch records like Frisbees to try to kill a zombie. I’m not too sure how effective it would be but it’s certainly different. So when the undead come knocking, how about using that stuffed owl from the cabinet in the corner of the living room? Or using the granny’s funeral urn to obliterate the head of an attacking zombie because it’s the first thing that comes to hand? There’s a certain symmetry there of using the dead to send the undead to hell.
The bottom line here is that when you’re writing about killing zombies, it’s too easy to get caught is the same old and over-familiar clichés. Instead, put some imagination in there and see if you can come up with something a bit different. Of course, it’s possible to go too far the other way. Not every walking dead needs to be incapacitated in some new and interesting way but it’s always good to have a few distinctive deaths sprinkled in amongst the usual smashed in skulls. It keep the reader interested and rooting for the heroes rather than the zombies.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.