1. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Zombies - describing their attire and who they used to be?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Magnatolia, Apr 12, 2014.

    Hi guys,

    I was reading The Walking Dead, and something that stuck out to me was that they nearly always describe their clothes to describe their profession before they became the undead. And I think they also wondered about who they used to be. I realized that pretty much every description of my zombies is their zombie description. Intestines hanging out like noodles, eyes tinted with yellow, rotting teeth, skin hanging off their face, etc.

    Yet my main female character is quite empathetic, still seeing them as people. She struggles to kill them, finally it takes her causing the other guy with her to get bitten that she starts getting over this.

    But I realized that describing them as I did above doesn't really fit a story theme of humanity. A character should be feeling sorry for them.

    So I'm thinking I need to go through and rewrite a lot of my zombie descriptions (in slow paced sections) better. This will also add to the characterization of my two main characters.

    An example that I wrote last night is A white apron clung to its round belly (zombie inside a diner, subtly tells you that he's the chef or cook). And earlier in the same scene The uniform was covered in a layer of filth. A mixture of bile, vomit and blood. Behind the filth they could read the El Machino logo embroidered in the top right.

    Those two examples don't add to the characterization as I already had a dialog scene earlier where the two main characters were talking about Jackie from the El Machino franchise in their hometown. Reminiscing over the food they served.

    These two small descriptions I feel add more detail (realistic detail) to really bring the scene to life. Before this they discussed trying to get into the El Machino diner, so the second one would have been better than saying. A zombie was tearing plastic bags open in the garbage bin. Rubbish spewed out over the concrete. That just makes the zombie feel like an object or an obstacle. Whereas my characters do what has to be done, but they feel remorse for it. They feel sorry for these people.

    What do you think? Is this better? Obviously where it's appropriate I will add characterization details. If I hadn't had the dialog about El Machino's I could have written The uniform was covered in a layer of filth. A mixture of bile, vomit and blood. Behind the filth they could read the El Machino logo embroidered in the top right. Clair sighed. What she wouldn't give for just one slice of their famous meatloaf. Maybe they would still have the ingredients. She scoffed. What would she know about cooking? Her mother had always taught her that she was above cooking. Their chef would always maker dinners, although he would often teach her some tricks when her Mother wasn't around.


    So I can take that visual description and work on the characterization. What I wrote above is essentially a remake of what happened in the dialog.

    Thanks heaps!
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, I don't know if it shows the humanity for the zombie or focuses more on her waxing nostalgic over the food. It's a tough one. Sympathy for the creatures might be best if you take a look at seeing them as being vulnerable. Having just watched the walking dead series I remember the scene where they're stuck in the mud and that you could feel the empathy for them packed in there like worms. I do agree though that giving the zombies more personality in description is needed - especially when you want to keep relating to them as people.
     
  3. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Zombie media is a bit over-saturated now. Wouldn't you rather write about hordes of mermen or something?
     
  4. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    @peachalulu Yeah I felt that describing the food that way focused on her longing for the way things were, still hanging on to how things used to be. She's focusing on the fact she used to eat home-cooked meals prepared by a chef and now she's having to live out of basic cooked meals, and cans and packets of food. I didn't really want sympathy, but more empathy. In the beginning she feels bad about raiding one of the local farmhouses because it belonged to somebody. Thomas then tells her they're not people any more. Yet his thoughts give away his true feelings, that he's just doing what needs to be done. Plus, by making the zombies unique it shows that they used to be human once. There is actually a cure that will reverse the effects of the virus. So, later they realize that every death could have been avoided but they had no choice at the time (this leads into the second novel). Referring to The Walking Dead, it's a bit like that scene, or several scenes, where the farmer is keeping his wife locked up in the barn. She's a zombie now but he can't let go of what she used to be. That scene is more about his character than the zombie.

    @MLM Not being rude, but please keep your replies to the topic. Natural transition via the thread and reply flow to related topics is fine, however I don't see how telling me that you feel the zombie market is over-saturated has any relevance to the topic. Every book category is saturated. Yes I have a twist in my story, two actually. I'm not going to publicly detail them as they lead into my next novel in the series. My story is also a mix of character and plot. The zombies push the plot forward in a specific direction, yet the details are in the characters and their struggles.
     
  5. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @MLM It doesn't matter what's be done before and what hasn't. Any writing experience is writing experience. The OP will have different ideas later, no doubt, and learning how to portray the human condition will help with that.

    @Magnatolia
    1: "The uniform" is distancing; remember it's not about the uniform, it's about the wearer.
    2: Second sentence is an incomplete sentence (not illegal to have those kind of sentences in fiction writing, but a colon would be more correct.)
    3: You repeated "filth" almost immediately, and "they could read" feels like a POV break to me.
    4: Who's "top right?" Clair's right or the zombie's right? It really doesn't matter, so you can be vague or use body parts for reference. I.E. "...embroidered over his now silent heart..."
    5: Speaking of the bold on #4. Perhaps be bold? I haven't read/watched any zombie matter that still regards the flesh-consumers with personal pronouns: HE HER HIM SHE? It would make your novel stand out a bit, considering its focus.
    6: There are a few more issues with the rest of the paragraph, chief being that it's not about the zombie you want feelings for, and that she fondly remembers her chef friend as "their chef." Not Bob, or Bruce Wayne, just "their chef." If she was a bit of a snob, then "the chef" or "her chef" would work, but I doubt that's what her character's like. And why did 'their chef' only make dinners?

    What would make you feel sorry for an elderly or mentally ill person, or even a normally vicious animal? I think that one thing (there are many others) would be contrast between the prime/expectation and current states. Of course, this banks on nostalgia a little when it comes to apocalypses. What do you remember about chefs/cooks, and what imagery would commonly resonate? The zombie could have a chef's hat stuck to its foot, dragging it across the oil-stained floor. It could knock over a bunch of plates, causing the heroine to fall into a bit of a state: He should be putting food on those plates. Making sure the asparagus is perfectly arranged on a diagonal next to the pink fish ribs before nervously sending it off to the front for a hungry customer. Now he's one of the hungry customers, and he doesn't give a shit about asparagus anymore.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2014
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  6. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    @Okon Wow wow wow! So much gold in that reply.

    1. I think I wrote The because I felt if I used His it would change to his POV but I realize now that's an error that I tend to make, because the POV is showing my main character seeing 'his uniform'. This also causes a problem as noted in point #3. I could rewrite that to His embroidered El Machino logo peeked out from a mixture of bile, vomit and blood that stained the front of his uniform. Or should this be rewritten from my protagonist POV? Clair saw the embroidered El Machino logo of his uniform. She'd always been impressed how they managed to serve food and still keep it spotless. Now it was covered in a mess of bile, vomit and blood.?
    2. Thanks, probably something I need to take more note of.
    3. Changed in the rewrite in #1.
    4. Thanks, that makes sense. Another POV problem with the use of The at the beginning. Vague makes it easier. By not using a side above it lets the reader infer which side. Or using a body part. Or using 'his' to inform the reader which persons right. A logo embroidered over the right side of his uniform.
    5. Thanks, this would definitely give more strength to the empathy of Clair for them. The elderly woman stumbled forwards, her arms stretched out in front of her. Clair wanted to rush up and give her a big hug but knew that wasn't what she had in mind.
    6. I didn't technically want to focus on the feelings for this particular zombie. The zombie they feel more for was the chef who is inside the building still. However the first zombie can still have a bit more characterization by the simple addition of Clair being impressed how they always kept their uniforms spotless and now it was a complete mess. The chef does have a white apron over a bulging stomach, standard, although slightly clique chef imagery. Thanks for picking up on the use of 'their chef'. I did give him a name earlier, and I should use it there. The backstory of why their chef always made the dinners is already covered in previous scenes, however the basic is her mother is the snob, and refuses to let her daughter eat anything else, but Clair sneaks out to the local El Machino for a late snack. That's why I added the bit about her chef teaching her tricks as a small clue to highlight to the reader that she may have grown up in a snobbish environment but that isn't her true nature.

    That is such amazing advice! I didn't fully comprehend the second and third sentence. Are you saying the thing that contrasts between who the zombie was as a person, and who they are now? Such as before he was a zombie the waiter (first zombie) would always take the leftover food to a local homeless man because he caught him one day rummaging through the diner's bins. Now he's the one going through the bins. Is that what you meant?

    The question about what do I remember about chefs/cooks and what imagery resonates is great. This can be asked for any zombie or person for that matter. Your example is incredible. You've answered the question by showing that as a chef he excelled at the art of presenting his food, and he was always worried that the customer would return it. Now's the hungry customer and he doesn't care about how the food is presented.

    Can this be done without having a lead-in such as the zombie chef knocking over the plates? And do I need to be in a characters POV?

    Example, using my zombie water: He'd always felt sorry for the homeless man that rummaged through the diner's bins. Eating the left overs that the chef had thrown out. Normally he'd take them to the local homeless shelter. Now he was the one rummaging through the bins for a feed.

    In your example the detail about the asparagus and the plates is Clair's POV, her thoughts about it. Yet the example above, trying to stay out of Clair's POV, it feels like I've jumped into the zombies POV, yet as a zombie he shouldn't have a POV as technically I can't think if that makes sense. Yet if I do it from Clair's POV then I lose the zombie's backstory regarding the homeless man.

    Or does that mean my zombies can't have literal back stories, but back stories that are from Clair's beliefs or thoughts about what that particular profession is.

    Thanks!
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Right; your zombie doesn't get a back story unless Clair knew him/her in life or can determine the backstory from the zombie's appearance or other evidence, or unless you leave third person limited for third person omniscient. For example, the following could be from Clair's point of view:

    Oh, my God, it was Carl! Clair remembered him sympathizing with the homeless men who rummaged through the restaurant dumpster--she'd once seen him bring out the day's leftover food in To Go boxes to give to them. Now he was the one rummaging...
     
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  8. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not at all. Claire imagined that. It's her idea of a typical chef in a normal world. The chef could have actually been a lazy sleazebag that abandoned his crew every five minutes for a smoke.

    Yeah, I didn't mean actual back stories, but they do work just fine when in the proper POV as @ChickenFreak explained. I stress that this contrasting, be it from Claire's imagination or knowledge, is one of the ways to illicit feeling; you don't want 400 pages of: He's wearing this, so he use to do this, and now he's just this.

    Your bit about the elderly woman worked in my opinion. However, the "but she knew it wasn't what she had in mind" falls flat; it could have used a little more showing-- what feature(s) of zombie grandma first brought Clair back to reality?

    You don't always need a physical "lead in," and you don't always need a "lead in." She could simply be noting how the zombie walked, how its presence contrasted a normally pleasant place, or right into how it made her feel. Or a thousand other things.

    While Stephen king has more random POV breaks than I'd like to admit, I forgive him for being so good at really, really getting in the character's head for the other 99% of the time. You might have fun deciphering his work, if you don't get too caught up in the story;).
     

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