Tag Archives: Writing About Zombies

Would Knowing The Zombies Are Coming Make A Zombie Apocalypse More Terrifying?

21 Mar

When it comes to zombie fiction, there’s two basic themes. The first is best illustrated by the start of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead, where you have a character who has no idea what’s going on. Here, all the tension is developed by the unknown. The character (and indeed the viewer or reader) knows something has changed, but they don’t know what. Suspense is built as they (and, by proxy, you) move through a world filled with some unknown threat which is eventually revealed. The second theme is where the characters know exactly what’s coming, through past experience, or through news broadcasts and the media, yet they’re powerless to do anything about it, but fight or flee. Here the suspense comes not from wondering what’s out there, but how to escape its clutches.

The question is, if it were really to happen, which would be scarier? Would it be the unknown and the unexpected? Or would it be knowing exactly what’s coming, yet being powerless to prevent it? Personally, while I like the first in my zombie fiction, the second would be much, much worse to have to endure for real. If you don’t know what’s out there, you can at least persuade yourself that it might not be as bad as you imagine. If you do know, then you’ll know exactly what you’re up against, and when it comes to zombie hordes that would be truly terrifying.

Indeed, if a zombie apocalypse were to happen, the chances are most people wouldn’t be faced with the unknown, especially in the modern, highly-connected world. The moment the first dead started to rise, or the disease starts to spread, the 24 hour news channels would spring into action, doing their best to capture the story as it develops in full technicolour and high-definition, while Facebook and Twitter would be inundated with out-of-focus pictures and shaky video as people posted what was going on outside their front doors.

In short, pretty much everyone would know exactly what was coming to get them as they barricade the doors or take to the streets to run for their lives. They’d see it on their screens from every possible angle and they would be frightened beyond measure. Yet, this is rarely portrayed in zombie fiction. Instead, we seem to prefer the single, somehow ignorant, character point of view as they face the unknown. I’m not quite too sure why this is, but I think it might be to do with that childhood fear, when going to sleep at night, of whether the world will still be there, unaltered, when you wake the next morning or whether it might all change as you slumber.

From a writer’s perspective, there’s possibly also something more appealing about writing about someone dealing with the unknown. It’s easier to build suspense and create tension when the reader doesn’t know what’s waiting for them out of sight, but just around the corner. The reader also gets that vicarious thrill when they follow the characters as they do something they clearly shouldn’t, given the situation (you know, those moments when you want to scream out advice, like ‘Don’t open that door!’ or ‘Don’t go into that basement!’).

Yet, there are also many interesting possibilities to explore when people know what they’re up against. The tension can come not from what’s coming to get the characters, but from when it will arrive, and whether they will survive. The plot devices which you can employ have also been used less often, so it’s easier to be original rather than ending up with something which reminds the reader of something else. For example, there’s only so many times you can have someone waking up in a bed in an abandoned hospital before it starts becoming a cliché. Similarly, the emotions which you can explore aren’t the usual confusion and disbelief, but rather the fears and horror of knowing exactly what’s happening just outside the door while being powerless to stop it. This means if you’re going to write a zombie story, it’s worth considering whether ignorance really is bliss, or whether a little knowledge would be a much more dangerous, and terrifying, thing.

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 print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

How To Kill A Zombie

3 Jan

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.