The Way of the Word

3. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

“Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?”

Sometimes things look good on paper, but they don’t work in practice.

Let’s take my idea on humanizing the zombie tragedy as an example. Revenge of the Walking Dead has 50 zombies. Not all of them are named. They don’t need to be. But I had the idea of taking 10 or so of them and writing one or two pages that introduce who they were in life. When I wrote the outline, I had also put in that there would be a couple of nights in-between the first and second zombie outbreak.

Neither worked.

By the time I introduced the fourth zombie, I got bored with introducing their backstories. They provided a human touch, but they didn’t advance the story. So I changed things a bit. I expanded their chapters, presenting the initial attacks of the second outbreak from the zombies’ perspectives. That worked better, but it quickly became old as well. So I decided to quit while I was ahead and get on with the story. Since the zombie-centric chapters both advance the story and make clear under what rules my zombies work, I decided to leave them in. But any more would have slowed everything down too much.

As the story progressed, I also discovered that I had to drop the “several nights later” idea. The timetable didn’t work. Things had developed in such a fashion that my characters would have drifted too far apart by then. Christopher Price, the protagonist, would have been long gone. The Hoodoo witch would have had time to prepare something to fight the apocalypse. And that would never do. I needed Christopher in Jaquard, and I needed Mama Loa at least a bit unprepared. The solution was obvious: I needed to step up the timetable. Instead of a few nights after the murder of Tom Gillette, the zombies rise the next day, and do their killing until that night. Instead of being stretched over a few days, the main story now takes place within 48 hours.

That turns out to have another advantage: the story moves faster. The characters are forced to react without being able to plan or prepare, and events move so fast that their plans get screwed up anyway. The shorter timetable makes the story more exciting.

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