Well, I thought that I’d talk about the zombie genre again. This is, in part, because of the zombie novel (“Anno Mortis” by Rebecca Levine) that I was reading at the time of writing and partially because I may or may not have been writing something in this genre at the time of writing this article.
So, here are some random tips for making your zombie story stand out from the crowd. Apologies if I’ve mentioned any of these before, but they are probably worth repeating.
1) Historical settings: One of the best ways to make a zombie novel a bit more interesting is to use historical settings.
After all, the majority of stories in the zombie genre are set in the present day. Whilst this lends stories a certain amount of “it could happen!” realism, it also means that these stories use the same bland, realistic modern settings that everyone has seen a hundred times before. So, don’t be afraid to use historical settings.
For example, Toby Venables “Viking Dead” is, as the title suggests, a novel about vikings fighting zombies. Likewise, Rebecca Levine’s “Anno Mortis” is mostly set in Ancient Rome. These zombie novels instantly feel a bit more dramatic due to their unusual historical settings. However, one slight downside of this is that historical zombie stories can lack the scientific edge of more modern stories, giving them slightly more of a fantasy novel-like tone.
Even so, this can be turned to your advantage- albeit with a bit of creative licence. For example, although people in the distant past did have ranged weapons (eg: bows, spears, slings etc..), you only see these occasionally in historical zombie novels. Why? Because close-quarters sword fights with zombies are not only more suspenseful, but they also allow for more dynamic – and generally epic- combat sequences too.
Likewise, the presence of zombies also means that you can make your historical setting a little bit more stylised too. Although you should aim for as much historical accuracy as possible, the presence of something as obviously unrealistic as zombies gives you a lot more leeway for stylised, fantastical and/or anachronistic elements that add to the atmosphere, fun, awesomeness, drama, dark comedy etc… of the story. So, take advantage of this! For a good cinematic example, just watch the movie “Army Of Darkness“.
2) An unusual reason: Generally speaking, the reason why a zombie apocalypse has happened isn’t the most important part of a zombie story. Other things like suspense, horror, characters, drama, pacing etc.. matter a lot more than the precise reason why the world has been overrun by zombies.
After all, if someone is reading a zombie story, then they already know that zombies will appear in it. So, the reason itself doesn’t matter that much.
However, this isn’t to say that the reason behind a zombie apocalypse can’t be used in creative ways. The trick here is to come up with some unusual story mechanic that differs from the usual “being bitten by a zombie and/or exposed to a virus turns you into a zombie” rule.
Coming up with a different source of danger not only allows you to place your characters in inventively unusual suspenseful situations, but also allows for a lot of creative scenes of horror involving people turning into zombies (for unusual reasons) too.
3) Don’t include an apocalypse: This has to be handled well or the reader may feel cheated, but one way to make your zombie story a bit more distinctive is not to include the usual zombie apocalypse. Yes, your story still has to include zombies, but not focusing on post-apocalyptic survival means that you can focus on all sorts of other things that don’t usually turn up in zombie stories.
For example, Laurell K. Hamilton’s “The Laughing Corpse” is an urban fantasy/horror detective story involving Voodoo-style zombies. Because there are relatively few zombies in this novel, each zombie encounter has a bit more dramatic weight to it. Plus, someone being turned into a zombie is a more dramatically significant event when there aren’t hordes of zombies everywhere. Not to mention that the much more frequent contrast between the ordinary, normal world and the story’s undead horrors also makes the zombies a bit scarier too.
Another good example is a French TV series called “Les Revenants“. Although I’ve only seen the first season of this show, it isn’t really a typical zombie series. In this series, the “zombies” aren’t a mortal threat to humanity itself. They are just dead people who have returned to life as if nothing has happened to them. This, of course, allows for a lot more character-based drama, other types of horror (eg: the returned dead consist of both good… and evil… people) and stuff that you wouldn’t see in a traditional zombie apocalypse story.
Again, this is something that is a bit more difficult to write well and, if done wrong, then the reader will feel cheated (since they probably expected a zombie apocalypse). But, when done well, it can really help to add a lot of extra drama, variety and uniqueness to your story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂