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So You Want to Write a Zombie Novel...

So You Want to Write a Zombie Novel...

Throughout popular science fiction, specifically post-apocalyptic literature, there have been a plethora of theories as to how our known world has ended. One of the most recognised, traditional sci-horror sub-genres is that of the zombie novel, which has, no doubt, terrified adults and children alike, across the globe. The possible links between our modern society, and the grotesquely harrowing future presented, boil down to approximately three prominent speculations, or tropes. That is to say, the mystifying secrets of dark magic (in slightly more fantasy based novels), the effects of the panicking threat of nuclear fallout, and the chilling notion of biological warfare ‘gone wrong’. As your author, I believe it to be my humble duty to explain and in some cases, complain, about the (over)usage of these plot devices, and how they will typically be written.

Dark magic, which is specifically concerned with the rising of the dead, has been, in my opinion, most certainly overused, considering its pure and simple flakiness. Commonly, a dark sorcerer, or witch, or whichever general, run-of-the-mill villain you wish, will cast a spell, causing the dead to rise. In this exceedingly lazy trope, the reanimated dead, will atypically not pass on the ‘zombiness’ through bite, or scratch, but rather, brutally eviscerate every single living person in sight, which somehow benefits the ‘evil’ individual (although it’s a mystery to me how it does so). It is typically solved by the extermination of the magically malevolent being, causing all the dead to instantly fall to the ground, utterly lifeless, once more.


The notion of Nuclear Fallout is a more, for want of a better term, traditional, form of the ‘birth’ of zombies. It involves the beginning of the ever present fear of a nuclear war, and the panic of inefficient heads of state resulting in mutually assured destruction, the excess nuclear waste leading to the mutation of individuals, which the readers recognise as zombies. This trope is seemingly a provider of greater terror, as it can be viewed as more relatable than the existence of so-called ‘magic’. The presence of nuclear weaponry in our world, a constant threat to our existence, is an exceedingly easy trigger for destruction, as presented by the nuclear threat of 1962. Watch X-men: First Class, for completely and utterly precise historical references. It contains no inaccuracies. At all. There were mutants at the Cuban Missile Crisis. I digress, but to continue, the first novel in the Time Rider series clearly reflects this theory, presenting deformed, feral creatures, their human features barely recognisable due to the nuclear radiation. This specific trope traditionally has no solution, other than a complete massacre of either humanity, or the grotesque life forms created.

The final, and, in my opinion, optimum, main trope used to provide explanation for a zombie apocalypse, is that of biological warfare. The notion of a mutated, or escaped, malevolent virus, created in a military lab, the soon- to-be destruction of humanity, is an undoubtedly popular origin for zombies within fiction, as it not only tessellates with the traditional ‘they bite you and you become one of them’, due to a transfer of the virus via exchange of bodily fluids, but also presents a common enemy for the protagonists, and reader, to unite against with their hatred. That is to say, the government, who, frankly, we all vaguely despise anyways.

To conclude, if you want to write a zombie novel, use the biological warfare option as your explanation for their existence. Or, alternatively, don’t provide one. Leave your audience to speculate. Then, even the individuals who, for some reason, prefer their undead to be raised from the grave by some evil sorcerer or other, will be satisfied. Take a leaf from the book of Shaun of The Dead (which you should all go to watch, by the way), and emulate Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, by focusing more on the actual plot, which, you know, is important, rather than the source of the zombies.

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