When the Dead
by Michelle Kilmer
Publication date: November 25th 2012
Genre: Horror, Zombies
Have you ever wondered what might happen if a group of survivors decided to stay put? To never leave the safety of home to search for salvation? When the Dead . . . provides one scenario to answer the question. In a world where neighbors are strangers and we live behind locked doors, the living dead can really bring issues to a head.
There is no way out for the residents of Willow Brook Apartments. Outside a plague is spreading while behind the walls, neighbors are forced to become friends . . . or enemies. When the Dead . . . will introduce you to a doomed family, a dying child, an egomaniac, a murderer, and other undesirables (including the undead!!) in three floors of secured-access chaos.
I’ve always written and I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t combine the two until the one day when I looked around me and said “What if…”
I lived (and still do) in a secured-access apartment complex of seven buildings, and with several hundred other people, yet I hardly ever saw anyone and if I did, they weren’t interested in interacting with one of their neighbors. This got me thinking of the feeling of being alone in a crowded room and how if I needed their help, they’d be more likely to continue walking by than to stop their busy life in order to come to my assistance.
It was a sad and sobering thought, but it was also inspiring.
Add in the chaos of a global event reaching home, specifically a zombie plague, and force these strangers together. Though they would have the common goal of survival, they would also be driven by selfish motives, have secret issues, and perhaps bad blood between the neighbors they did know.
Thus, When the Dead was born. It follows a group of survivors trying to stay safe by staying put in their secured-access building.
So. You want to write a zombie story, but you aren’t sure where to start? There a thousands of zombie novels and movies, some contrived, some unique, that already exist. How do you stand out? Below are some ideas on where to look for your next big idea.
The apocalypse will affect everyone, but our task as writers is to tell the reader about the ones with interesting tales. How do we find these characters? The answer is: they are all around us!
In When the Dead, there are many average people, but with them I placed a young adult with an eating disorder, an elderly couple with health issues, a single dad, and others who were struggling in life before the outbreak. How will they overcome extraordinary circumstances when their day to day is already difficult? Do their neighbors see them as assets or burdens? Perhaps they are more skilled at surviving…
It’s very tempting to choose to focus on strong individuals, those with weapons skills, special training, or brute strength, and these characters have their place. In my experience, readers enjoy characters they can relate to in some small way or those who give them a vicarious thrill they wouldn’t otherwise experience, so a good mix is your best bet.
A wide range of personality types also makes for good drama. How would a rowdy child and a reserved elderly man get along? How would a gentle pacifist whose only chance at survival is to rely on a murderous group?
Small problems in our normal world can become big ones at the end of the world too. Do you know someone with social anxiety? Would they be able to ask for help? What about someone with a physical disability? They may be the first to go or the last one standing if they play their cards right.
To find inspiration for scene settings, I drive or walk around town. When I first started writing When the Dead, I made up a town. It was tedious work that required a lot of mapping and decision making. At a point I decided to move the story to the city in which I lived. Boy, was that a good decision! The roads and buildings have already been placed. You can exercise some creative license. I enjoy mixing up some of the businesses.
If you’re writing a short story and don’t need an entire town for your characters to run around in, choose one business that stands out. Maybe it has plenty of supplies, a place for a helicopter to land, a secure second floor, or is only one-story tall but has no windows. If you need more tension, trap your characters in the wasteland of a place like an auto repair shop, where there is little on which to survive.
Buildings should be examined for both their positive and negative aspects to aid in determining challenges and triumphs for your character or characters.
On a trip to the San Juans, a group of islands in the northwest of Washington, I felt safe and at the same time, trapped. This inspired me to put pen to paper and start a plague on an island where residents’ only way off was by ferry or boat.
Look around you. How would you survive in your current accommodations? What changes would you need to make in order to increase your chances of living another day?
You don’t always have to write what you know. Here are some other ideas for picking your place:
Spin a globe or open a map, close your eyes, and write about wherever your finger lands
Somewhere you’ve always wanted to go (you probably already know a ton about that place or you’ll at least enjoy learning more about it during your research)
If you can’t travel there, use Google Street View to explore, gain an understanding of the layout, and find shops or homes to inspire you.
You have your characters and your setting figured out, what now? You don’t need to be a weapons pro or former Marine to write an apocalyptic story with all the flash and bang of the great military-centric books out there. Ask friends with more knowledge on the topic than you or visit the library (or the digital one called the internet) to find out the most important stuff.
I have to admit that I purposefully avoid writing any military scenes into my stories because I just don’t know a thing about it and I’m not interested in doing the research. But, that brings up another point! If you aren’t interested in it, don’t force it! Your zombie story does not need to have excessive violence, gore, or trained tactical forces in order for it to be a good one.
What would happen if your characters had weapons available to them, but no one was strong enough to use them? Children with machetes might not be able to survive against fully grown zombies.
Unconventional weapons are also fun to write about. Play the Facebook game where you look to your left (or right). Write a short story based on your survival or death with that object as your only weapon. Pens, coffee cups, lamps, computers, and other common household items could give your character the upper hand or a one way ticket to their grave.
When choosing character names, I’ve done all of the below:
*Look at cemetery headstones
*Mix and match names of relatives
*Ask Facebook friends. They’ll either want to be in the story themselves or will have great ideas for names you haven’t thought of.
*Spend time on Google searching for popular male or female names
*Another thing I like to consider is the meaning of the name. It’s adds extra depth to your character and might inspire additional traits you hadn’t considered. You may find a name you like so much that it will write the character for you!
I hope these ideas will help you with your next story, long or short!
~About the Author~
Michelle Kilmer is a zombie and horror enthusiast. When she is not writing, she is the co-owner/designer for KILMERHANSEN, a business branding and web design company. Her hobbies include hiking and camping, playing guitar, sewing, dressing up in “full gore” to attend zombie-related events, writing and gaming.
She lives in a secured-access building that is uncomfortably close to a cemetery, two hospitals and a police station. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, it’s a terrible defense location. She daydreams about owning a Pomeranian to forget this reality.
After many adventures, she currently lives in Seattle, WA with her husband, a machete and a fear of the dark.
Michelle’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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