Writing Zombies, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about zombies recently.Something about working on a zombie outbreak novella and attending a zombie convention will do that. And as a result, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about zombie parameters. Like, do they already exist in the story universe? Or how do you kill one? Stuff I took for granted when watching TV or playing video games.

Pretty soon I had a whole list of things that I needed to figure out for my own zombies. And I started writing a post about them when I realized just how many things I wanted to talk about. So I decided to turn it into a series on Writing Zombies instead. This is Part 1. Look for Parts 2 & 3 in the coming weeks.

Do zombies already exist?

In select zombie fiction, like Rot & Ruin and White Zombie, zombies already exist. So some
characters already know how to deal with them and how to avoid becoming one. The threat of becoming one is always present in the character’s mind. But on the flip side, people can become so comfortable with zombies that they make mistakes.

The learning curve in fiction where zombies don’t exist yet is what leads to a lot of bloodshed. People who don’t know the walking corpse headed towards them aren’t going to be avoiding bites or scratches like someone who knows what those injuries can do.

Another thing to consider is whether or not zombies exist in the culture. I never thought about this one until  Walker Stalker Con. A panelists mentioned that he found it odd characters never recognize zombies for what they are.

Think about The Walking Dead, which starts chronolgically in 2010. Not once do the characters say the word zombie, and they don’t make the connection between the creatures in front of them and movies like Night of the Living Dead. It’s not necessary for there to be zombies in culture; it’s just something to think about.

What makes a zombie

Zombies come in a variety of forms. There’s the now-famous living dead form that decays incrementally if it doesn’t feed on human flesh. Then there’s the “infection” zombie which isn’t dead but goes after human flesh, and there’s the mind-controlled human zombie that’s more of a living servant. One video game even has them as mushroom-type creatures.

So the definition of zombie is pretty darn flexible. But the author or creator needs to establish those perimeters pretty early on in order to let the audience know what constitutes a zombie. Is it the decaying, reanimated corpse? Or is it the living person put under a voodoo spell?

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