Let’s face it, zombies can be boring sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the zombie genre, but it’s certainly riddled with it’s fair share of clichés and tropes that can make even the coolest zombie story slightly predictable. After all, there are only so many variations on “survivors fighting zombies” that people can write.
So, I thought that I’d offer you a few tips about how to make your zombie story interesting enough to stand out from the crowd:
1) Historical settings: If mainstream cinema and most videogames are to be believed, zombies are an extremely modern thing that only ever appear in present-day settings.
Of course, this also means that the settings of these stories aren’t that interesting – because they’re based on the boring, ordinary current modern world. Since it costs a lot to make a zombie game or a movie, the people who make them often tend to “play it safe” and use instantly-recognisable modern settings.
Writers, of course, have none of these limitations. So, one of the best ways to make your zombie story interesting is to set it in the past. There are quite a few novelistic examples of this and they’re all innovative and interesting – for the simple reason that they show zombies appearing in periods of history where you wouldn’t usually expect to see zombies.
To give you one of many examples, check out a book called “The Viking Dead” by Toby Venables. As the title suggests, this is a novel about a zombie apocalypse in viking-era Scandinavia and, yes, it is amazing.
2) Don’t write horror: Yes, zombies can be gross, disgusting or gruesome – but they usually aren’t really that scary. Even modern fast-moving zombies are no scarier than any other type of monster. And, as any fan of the horror genre will tell you – monsters aren’t inherently scary.
Still, zombies are zombies. They’re one of the coolest types of monster available to writers, even if they aren’t that scary. So, why not try using them in stories that aren’t horror stories?
The classic example of this is, obviously, a certain film called “Shaun Of The Dead“. But, in addition to comedy stories, zombies also have a lot of potential for mystery stories, for thrilling stories, for tragic stories, for sci-fi stories, for fantasy stories etc…..
So, remember, you don’t have to write a horror story if you’re writing a zombie story.
3) Shock your audience (but not with gore): In most of the Western world at least, literature has thankfully escaped the kind of heavy-handed censorship that films sometimes fall victim to. For example, an extremely gory scene that might get censored or toned down in a film won’t get censored or toned down in a novel.
But, as a consequence of this, fans of zombie fiction are one of the most cynical and jaded groups of people you can imagine. We’re very difficult to shock with gruesome scenes alone, because we’ve read it all before.
Yes, some writers can write about gruesome stuff in a way that can still make even the most hardened horror fan grimace slightly (a good example of this would be “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig), but this takes talent and a lot of imagination.
So, if you can’t easily shock your audience with blood and guts, what can you shock them with? Simple, you shock them with the story itself, with the characters in your story and other things like that.
To give you an example of what I mean, a story about hordes of zombies overrunning a large city isn’t very shocking (regardless of how gory it is) – after all, we’ve all read, watched and/or played things like this many times before.
But, a completely bloodless story about zombies who only become zombies at night (and are perfectly normal human beings during the day) would be a lot more shocking – because it hasn’t really been done that often before.
4) Change your zombies: When fast-moving zombies first gained popular recognition in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later“, they were a real breath of fresh air for the zombie genre. Zombies had gone from creatures who were fairly harmless if you kept your distance and avoided large groups of them to being a real and immediate threat.
But, of course, many zombie movies, TV shows and computer games later – fast-moving zombies are fairly “ordinary” these days. What was once a really interesting innovation is now just another part of the genre.
So, and you can probably guess where this is going here, try to think of a new “quirk” that your zombies have that hasn’t really been seen before. Try to think of a new characteristic for your zombies (eg: X-ray vision, bat-like echolocation etc…) that means that your characters can’t just survive by remembering things that they’ve learnt from watching zombie movies.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂