I decided at the last minute to enter this year’s Nanowrimo (that’s National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated)…in fact, considering I entered at around midnight on November 2nd, I didn’t so much enter at the last minute as join 48 hours late.
I’d had an idea I’d been throwing around for a while, but after 1500 of the most difficult, arduous words I’ve ever produced, I came to a conclusion…I didn’t have a story so much as a setting. It was like I had Hogwarts, but no Harry Potter and no Voldemort for him to fight. There was no way I was going to be able to flesh it out and get it to 50,000 words in less than a month.
So I started to look through my hard drive at some of the abandoned stories I’ve started over the last few years and found a Zombie story I’d started in 2004. The fact I was already 5000 words in would let me catch up for the days I’d missed, but there was a big problem with that idea…it was terrible. Really terrible. I got embarrassed just reading it. It wasn’t so much a story as a collection of movie clichés, right down to the Siege in a Mall, to the crazy religious nutcase and the arrogant ‘I’m in charge’ lawyer.
So I hit on an idea. Zombie movies are full of clichés that would get you killed immediately if you were in that situation for real. In the movies, the heroes always end up barricading themselves in a mall, which sounds like a good idea until you realize those sorts of places would be packed to the gills with terrified, panicky, trigger happy people.
People have been trampled, seriously injured and got into fights over Tickle-Me-Elmos on Christmas Eve. What would a terrified father of three do for the last loaf of bread ever when being chased by walking dead people?
(Plus, a Chainsaw? Really? You’re going to choose a weapon that’s heavy, loud as hell, useless without gas and is going to cover you from head to toe with infected bits of walking corpse every time you use it?)
So rather than the clichéd ‘seige’ type of Zombie story, I went with a journey instead. A story about a normal guy just trying to survive in a post-zombie world.
Shit. I just realized I’m writing ‘Zombieland’…Oh well, ‘Zombieland’ is comedic and mine is a drama. Like I said, ‘The Simpsons Did It’ phenomenon is hard to avoid in the Zombie genre
Anyway, as of last night, I’m exactly 10,333 words in, and while I’m not saying it’s going to be amazing, I’m actually enjoying the story.
Last night, I reached that magical part of the writing process where I wanted a character to do something, and couldn’t get him to do it.
I used to think that when this happened it was because I wasn’t a good enough writer to describe the action believably…until I realized it was because my characters had started to develop personalities and I was trying to get them to do something that went against their character.
The best part about this phase is that your characters suddenly become co-writers giving you ideas. Once you know how your characters wouldn’t handle a situation, you know how they would, which takes you down different paths you’d never planned on.
For example, Let’s say I wanted the protagonist to be a hero and run into an impossible situation to save someone…which he was going to succeed at because… well… he’s the hero and it’d be really exciting for the story. However, when I come to that scene, I can’t get him to do it. Not because I can’t write it, but because over the course of the story, my two dimensional action hero has developed into a real person who’s a pragmatist and a tactician. He knows the odds. He understands he’d just be throwing his life away...so maybe he just lets that person die. Better one person that two.
I miss my cool action-movie scene, but maybe someone he really cares about, someone he can’t stand to disappoint begs him to do it. If he does, I still get my scene, but it’s far more realistic and the guy is far more relatable. If he doesn’t, maybe that person loses faith in him. Maybe everyone understands, but he blames himself. Maybe that makes him far too reckless, or far too conservative. Maybe someone believes he let that person die on purpose. Maybe that ‘unplanned death’ splits the group in two, maybe it brings them closer together. Later on, if someone he really cares about finds themselves in a similar impossible situation and he runs in head first without thinking, it highlights their relationship a lot more effectively than you ever could with dialogue.
Basically, I’d reached the point in the writing process where I started to think that instead of finishing it and thinking “Well, that was a fun experience”, maybe people would like to read it. Maybe it would be something I actually wanted people to read (which, believe me, is rare).
So, I’d planned to make the finished piece available for free online somewhere, and I was even toying with the idea self-publishing through Lulu or Createspace. I know no-one would buy it, but the idea that a couple of people might (and having an honest to god paperback version for myself) sounded pretty cool.
The only thing I was missing was a title…and it’s really hard to avoid clichés with zombie story titles. After a long time, I settled on ‘The Waking Dead’. Not great, but I liked it.
Then this morning I get up, start up iTunes and there, emblazoned across the top of the screen was “The Walking Dead” a new zombie TV series.
I threw a handful of hand-picked expletives at the screen.
You see, I won’t finish the first draft until the end of November, and then I’ll be spending a long while on re-writes and editing before it’s in any condition to release in any form…and after bending over backward to avoid clichés and trying to create a story that didn’t make it look like I was jumping on the bandwagon, AMC is putting out a Zombie TV series with a title one stinking letter away from mine.
No matter how good the final product, it’s going to look like I’m trying to ride their coat-tails.
Well, fuck you AMC. I hope your series gets cancelled. I like my title. I’m not changing it.