The teenager who works behind the counter at the corner convenience store after school; the hot girl in spandex who works out at the gym in the mornings; the elderly widow that lives across the street and two houses down. What do they have in common? Well, in a zombie story, they may be the next member of the undead horde who comes to call on the living characters. As monsters go, zombies occupy an interesting niche. Functioning member of society one minute, flesh devouring automaton the next. Stripped of their humanity by some random event (another zombie, a comet’s tail particles, irradiated groundwater, etc.), they are people in appearance only.
But that very appearance of normalcy from afar can prominently figure into the story. Zombies are usually up close and in your face dangerous. From ten yards away, they just look like a person in distress. No cunning involved, no premeditated plan, no trap of their own making. Stimulus and response. Enter their space of awareness, you are now prey. When they’re not actively chasing a tasty brain snack, they usually fall into patterns of aimless wandering.
As a writer, there are a couple of interesting plays on human/zombie encounters to consider. One is the character who goes missing for some time and is then rediscovered. Were they “turned” in their absence? Do they think the other characters have “turned” in their absence? Plenty of room for the writer to craft an encounter to keep the reader engaged. Another staple is the “safe haven” that is found to be compromised. Likely, the characters have had to endure hardships to reach this place of presumed refuge. Now what are they going to do? Plenty of room for the writer to explore the emotional dynamic of the living characters.
It has been some time since my first post in this series. Although I am a fan of the genre and have embarked on the writing of a trilogy of screenplays in this space (one down, two to go), I realized that there are great gobs of zombie-centric movies and books of which I was unaware. I am but a necrophyte! (a term coined by a member of my writing group, today). I started getting caught in a research loop. So, this post is an effort to break me out of that cycle as well.