I spent a lot of time with Zombies over Christmas break. I’m not talking about the people shuffling around Walmart on Christmas Eve – I’m talking about The Walking Dead.
Why I didn’t watch the show when it first came on, I cannot say. What I can say is that the hubs and I have been burning through the episodes every chance we get. (Or as he likes to say, “when football isn’t on.”) We’re almost halfway through Season 4 now. I’m going to really hate it when I have to wait a week between episodes.
For those of you who are not familiar with The Walking Dead, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: Deputy Rick Grimes leads a group of survivors around Georgia in a world overrun by zombies. (or Walkers, as they call them.) So, your basic Zombie Apocolypse.
Because I can’t seem to turn off the writer mind, I started seeing comparisons to writing when I was watching TWD. There are some essential things you need when you’re faced with a zombie apocalypse, just like there are some essential things you need when you write.
-Vehicle. You’re going to need a reliable vehicle. Now me, I keep screaming at Rick & Co. to take some of the army vehicles they’ve passed by, or raid a Humvee dealer, but sadly, they stick to their soccer mom SUV. (Except for Daryl, he rides a motorcycle. Roof? He don’t need no stinkin’ roof!)
In my mind, the vehicle of your story is your plot. What is carrying your characters from A to B. It’s important to fine-tune your plot. It will carry you through the obstacles, or rather carry the protagonist through them. It is the thing that drives your story.
-Weapons. Of course, you have to have weapons to kill the zombies, lest they kill you. TWD characters use a variety of weapons to get the job done – guns, baseball bats, crow bars, even their boots -anything that smashes the brain works fine. Daryl is the only one that carries a crossbow. It’s the best choice, in my opinion, because it’s accurate and quiet, and well, it looks dang good slung across his back.
There’s a variety of weapons you have in your arsenal when it comes to writing too – style, subplots, language, dialogue, conflict. But I’d say your writing voice is the crossbow of your story. It’s the single most identifying factor that says it’s your story. Some people take time to develop a writing voice. It’s easier for others. I found that trying to force my writing voice into a certain style failed miserably. When I just started writing what was in my head, it came naturally.
-Shelter. You’re going to need somewhere to hole up when you’re not out whacking zombies. Mid-season 4 on TWD, Rick & Co. have occupied a prison. It’s not the Hilton, but it gets the job done and they’re safe for the most part. They’ve constructed an elaborate security system that helps keep the walkers at bay. They work on it constantly. They’re always improving and finding new ways to make life bearable.
The shelter in writing is your practice. Emerging writers will read this piece of advice more often than any other-write and keep writing. The foundation that is going to support you and your story is the foundation you’ve built by practicing your craft. The more you write, the more you learn, the better your foundation, the better your story.
-Numbers. All Rick wants is to keep his family and friends safe. He has some trust issues with outsiders, but he usually comes squarely down on the side of “there’s safety in numbers.”
Writing is a solitary job. I have a lot of family and friends who support my writing and cheer me on enthusiastically. But when it comes to the words on the page, I’m sitting alone at my computer with only my imagination to keep me company. It reminds me of Daryl in the early seasons. He had his own tent separate and away from the others. He was comfortable there with is crossbow and his thoughts, but when it came crunch time, when little Sophia was lost alone in the woods, he jumped into action and joined the group. He worked with them and became a valuable (The most valuable, if you ask me) part of the team. That’s what writer communities are all about. You write alone…but you don’t have to go through it alone.
-Death. It’s inevitable that people are going to die in any apocalypse situation. Rick & Co. have had their experience with death. Some of the deaths they’ve experienced have been shocking and important. (From a writer’s perspective, I applaud the show runner’s guts for some of their choices. From a fan’s perspective, THEY BETTER NOT KILL DARYL!)
I’m not saying that all stories need to contain an element of death in them. I’m saying that when you’re writing, sometimes you have to be willing to let things that aren’t working die. It’s hard to do. But Stephen King said it for a reason. “Kill your darlings.”
Last night I decided to take a character out of my WIP. I eliminated references to that character then looked at my word count. 3250 words killed. Tragic. All that work…poof, gone. But my story? It’s better for it. So, I look at it as acceptable death.
One final thought that ties this all together, one of my favorite TWD lines, as said by Dale:
If I had known the world was ending, I would have brought better books.