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Why are Zombies frightening?

My friend, Eric, just sent me an email asking me why I think Zombies are frightening. I can’t help but put on my Philosophy Beanie and take on the question. So, here is why I feel Zombies are scary.

  1. They look horrible. Human beings are both repulsed and attracted to grotesque human beings, as well as other people who have been injured. We have trouble looking away or ignoring things like that. (Been in gridlock traffic when there’s rubbernecking at the scene of an accident?) That tendency also comes with a certain amount of identification with the grotesque or the wounded human. “What if that were me?” That is a fear-generating thought.
  2. Zombies are implacable. You can’t reason with them, or expect mercy. They’re going to kill you if they can. This is the same sort of sensation we get from wild animals and the Terminator. The enemy does not see you as something it can identify with, and it is not open to negotiation. It places a value on you that is uncomfortable: food. It is both degrading and objectifying. Add to that, Zombie and wild animals come in packs, or large numbers. More fear for you!
  3. The only resort to dealing with a Zombie is to kill it. Regardless of how horrible they look, they used to be people. Your moral compass is disturbed by having to kill something it reads as being “people”. That seriously messes with your worldview. Another fear-generator.
  4. The projection of “I’m next” into the situation. They’re going to get you, and you’re going to lose everything you are—consciousness, morality, and humanity—when they bite you, or eat you. You are going to die, but (paradoxically) live on to perpetrate awful things. This is a nasty parody of resurrection. You don’t go to heaven, or paradise. You become an evil, implacable, merciless, killing machine. To most people, this is disturbing. (As an aside, this is why my zombies are conscious. I think it is scarier that they simply don’t care that you’re another human being. You’re food, until you’re one of them… then you might be competition. A horde of sociopaths.)

So, there we go. My theory about why Zombies are scary.

The latest post over at Newbiewriters.com

For a change, I’m posting the article and the link.

Be where you’ve been

My last post was about fictionalizing yourself for the purposes of kicking your story development into gear. This post is along similar lines.

Use places you’ve actually been as settings for your work. Try locations that have had a profound impact on you in some way. Another option is to fictionalize places you’ve been frequently.

Why profound impact or frequency? Your words convey the experience of where you’ve been. Familiarity or repetition produce more data in your mind for you to use in your writing.

I’m sure you’ve heard about big name writers who travel to the location of a proposed novel, stay there for X amount of time, and write their brains out while they’re in town. Well, as newbies, we don’t have the budget to nip off to Kathmandu for a month, or hole up in Las Vegas for just long enough to lose money and generate 20,000 words.

What we’ve got is all the data that remains in our minds from places we’ve been. Take that framework and build your exotic location, or write it as you saw it and experienced it. Either way, you’ve got real experience to feed into the story and your readers will pick up on it.

Since I know my work better than anyone else’s, I’ll give you two examples from my first book, “Blood-soaked and Contagious”. The primary setting of the book is the intersection of Route 29 and Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia. Why? Every time I go out to the blacksmith shop to beat the snot out of hot metal, I turn left at the traffic light there. Also, it seemed to me that area would be a great place to settle in the middle of a slow zombie apocalypse, because there’s a hardware store one block to the side of that intersection.

Really, if you had to “saunter vaguely downwards” as a civilization, wouldn’t you like to have goods to trade? Of course you would! So I made Frank (the main character) the de facto owner of the store. It made a certain amount of sense, and I think, added a little more realism to the bloody goings on.

Later on in the book, there’s a flashback to the day Frank first hears the news about people coming back to life. He’s hanging out in the Sheep’s Heid pub in Duddingston, Scotland. I’ve been to that pub (to discover the bartender’s sister is married to an American, and they live about 30 minutes away from where I do, here in the Washington, DC area), and it made an impression on me. (To say nothing of the world being WAY TOO SMALL!)

I think you get where I’m going here.

What you’ve done, and where you’ve been, greatly inform your writing. Your feelings and experiences lend reality to the words, and help your reader suspend disbelief. They’ll sink deeper into your story if they can float away on something that feels real, rather than one-dimensional descriptions that gloss over details.