The Zombie Apocalypse – a Story Gift That Keeps on Giving

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Walking Dead Season 4 Cast – AMC image

The Walking Dead is a show that’s well and truly hooked me. I both yearn for and dread the approach of Sunday night (3-30-14), when the Season 4 finale airs. There are story threads I’m watching anxiously, to see how they play out. However, once those are resolved – or left all cliff-hangy – I will have to wait who knows how many months before there’s more Walking Dead to watch.

While imagining various outcomes, it occurred to me that the writers of this series sure know what they’re doing, in terms of keeping an audience slavering in anticipation. So obviously, I want to take the show apart to see  what makes it tick. I’m trying to leave spoilers out, though, so this discussion will be short on specific examples.

In MICE terms (where you classify a story depending on whether the main focus is on the Milieu, Idea, Character and Event; for further info, look here), the overall story arc of The Walking Dead is that of an Event story. There are some great character arcs and ideas/mysteries. In addition, the milieu (setting) has the benefit of being both familiar (contemporary America) and novel (after being smashed to smithereens). But what propels this series is the quest to bring order to the characters’ world in the midst of the aforementioned zombie apocalypse.

Some TV series peter out after a time. I suppose The Walking Dead could, too, if the show’s creators run out of ideas. Based on what they’ve come up with so far, though, that could take a good long while. As long as they keep introducing interesting characters at roughly the same rate they kill them off, and those characters deal with their horrible situation in compelling ways, this series could go on indefinitely.

Because – let’s face it. Once you have a zombie apocalypse, the world is unlikely to be the same ever again. This allows the writers to ratchet up the tension on a struggle many of us seldom worry about anymore – simple survival. In the world of The Walking Dead, that struggle is universal. No one has it any better than anyone else—at any rate, they don’t have it that way for long. You might find what you think is a safe setup for your hardy little band, but it only takes one wacko or evil person to bring it all down.

The characters’ lives would be fine if they could thoroughly vet the people they take under their wing, but human beings don’t work that way, do they? If you have ties to someone – maybe because you’re related or you’ve slept with them, maybe because they’re young and vulnerable, maybe because they did you a solid somewhere along the line – you’re inclined to say, “We have to bring this person in and provide safe harbor for them.”

The other people in your group, those who don’t have the same ties to this person, might say, “Screw that. Can’t you see this guy/chick is trouble?” But eventually the good-hearted Walking Dead band that we’ve come to know and love will say, “Aw, heck, nobody’s perfect. Might as well give them a chance.”

Sometimes it works out okay, sometimes it comes back to bite them in their collective butts.

Anyway my point is, it would take a lot to make this show jump the shark. I can see two ways of doing it: one, you allow your body count to include a character that too many viewers identify with. It could be Rick, or it could, as one internet meme has it, be Daryl.

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Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – AMC image

The second way is to find or create the orderly society to which most characters wish to return. Once an actual civilization (one that can keep you safe) is functioning, or once all the zombies die or go away, then the main problem of living in this world disappears. Everyone lives happily ever after. Obviously you save this solution for the series finale, and I bet you money, marbles or chalk, that’s the writers’ eventual plan. As clever as they are, though, there will be some twist I never would have anticipated.

And that, my friends, is what you call a well-milked Event story.


Somebody Else’s Turn – Jez Layman

Today on CB’s MoJo we have a special treat—a guest post. I met Jez Layman through Naperwrimo and The Writing Journey. I’ve known for some time that Jez writes fast. She won the coveted Hat of Word Wars in November 2013, for winning multiple word wars at a Woodridge Public Library write-in.

Since November, I’ve had the opportunity to read some of her writing and learn something else: Jez writes well. You do not, however, have to take my word for it. She’s won several writing contests, and she graciously shares some of her experiences below.

 

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Jez Layman


Earlier this week, I was notified that I had won Sound and Scribe’s Flash Fiction contest with an untitled piece, which you can read here. I was intrigued by this contest and its unique prompt, which was to listen to a specific song (in this case, “Bangs” by Bricks+Mortar) and write a story up to 500 words on any topic inspired by the song. For my piece, I wrote what I would describe as an almost dystopian survival story, which wove in lyrics from the song. I was a little surprised to hear I had won this contest because I had spent maybe a maximum of fifteen minutes on this piece, and most of that was looking up and reading over the lyrics multiple times (it’s not a song I had heard before the contest). I did not hear of this contest until its last day, but flash fiction is my passion, as well as my strong suit in writing, and writing something to a specific theme (broad as it was) seemed a lot easier than figuring out which of my previous pieces would be best for submission, so I took a chance and entered. What I appreciated about this contest in particular was the ease of submission, which was through tumblr, a social media website I frequent daily, and the rules were straight forward. The host contacted me shortly after the end of the contest and the prize was sent to me early the next morning—a very quick turn-around! I certainly intend on entering next month as well, and highly suggest others doing the same.

 

Like flash fiction itself, this contest was pretty quick-and-easy for me, and done with no prior preparation. This is not the case for all fiction contests. In fact, it’s quite rare. I’m not very likely to enter long-term or long form contests, but I did enter and win 1st place in the OPUS fiction contest in 2011 with a short story called “The Damsel,” which is about a professional Damsel in Distress. This was part contest, part conference, and I was asked to present my work to a live audience after winning, which I did happily. I cannot commend live readings highly enough to writers. The feedback is immediate and you can gauge the interest of the readers immediately. I received quite a few laughs from that piece and was happy to hear that my jokes and allusions hit home the way I had intended. This contest was different from Sound and Scribe not only because of the live reading and length of the piece, but because I had entered a pre-written piece. I prefer to submit my writing for publication, rather than to contests, but I had been asked personally to submit to this contest and I felt very confident in this particular short story. That’s the number one thing I think writers need when submitting to contests with pre-written pieces: confidence. These pieces should be written, adhere to the rules of the contest, be edited multiple times (and read by a second party, if possible), and fit the theme of the hosting entity or the specific contest.

 

To all submitting to contests or publications, I wish you luck.

 Would love to hear more about people’s experiences with writing contests, either via the comments section or whatever way you usually contact me. Ditto if you have questions for Jez.