Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why a Zombie Proof Fence?

Because you need one--at least if you expect to survive a zombie apocalypse. I personally recommend one that will stand up to zombies in ones and twos and threes and dozens and hundreds. This actually needs to be a wall unless you already live inside a walled compound, in which case an actual fence will work (in case a few strays slip inside the wall).

I got to thinking about this one day, for no particular reason, and started wondering about the design of such a fence (or wall). At the time, I was thinking more along the lines of how to protect my house from a few zombies and eventually started wondering how to protect larger areas--and how to cope with vast the hundreds, even thousands.

The mobs are the real problem--if you have a wall or other passive obstacle, the mob will clump up until it makes living ramp of flesh allowing zombies to just walk right over the top a-la- Castle Roogna (though that may have been goblins, I forget). Once inside, these super mobs are nigh impossible to stop--you probably won’t have the kind of heavy weapons that would quickly stop them, and most people won’t have enough ammunition to make more than a dent in a super-mob. If you hole up, they can rip through barricades, pile up to reach second, even third stories of buildings and well, you get the idea: a fence just won’t do. Neither will a wall that’s just sitting there.

What you need is a high wall, carefully constructed, manned and maintained by an active security force. Integrated zombie disposal systems will make it even better by preventing the super mobs from building up. Such a wall could hold back hundreds, even thousands of the nasty things. This protection creates a zombie free area, a safe zone, a green zone where ordinary people can work and play.

As I whittled away at the engineering, another thought drifted into my head--wouldn’t it be easy to live with zombies? Not quite as carefree as what we have now, but certainly not as bad as most zombie movies make it out to be. In fact, it would be so easy that even little kids would be safe. To children who grew up like this, it would feel normal to live behind a wall while flesh-eating zombies roamed free and hungry on the other side. They would probably think it odd for dead to stay dead. This line of thinking led me to the principle characters in the story--kids who take zombies for granted, accepting them as a normal part of their lives.

This idea ultimately led to a novel, but I kept fence in the title since Zombie Proof Wall just doesn’t sound as good.

In scouring the web for other references to a zombie proof fence I found a miniatures game that looks pretty good: All Things Zombie by Two Hour Games. Also found Shelldrake, a guy here on blogger who does some great miniatures work. Here is a household/block kind of fence Shelldrake put together for the miniatures game: zombie proof fence.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bi-Weekly Status -- December 28th

Looks like a bi-weekly status is more realistic, so that is what I will shoot for going forward.

Had some time off during the holiday so made quite a bit of progress, burned through about 7K words. However, there has been some strain on the family as I try to get more done and they want me to spend more time with them. Sadly, that means I need to throttle it back a little. This is after all a marathon, not a sprint and although I want to cut loose and dash for the finish line, the family does come first (just barely).

Made it to the last big twist and wrote a painfully long dialogue sequence (4500 words of talking). It contains info vital to the remainder of the story, establishes key relationships, but it is currently staged as six characters sitting in a room talking. That does the job, but it’s really boring. I’m already brainstorming ways to work around this--introducing a little more action and conflict into this area.

With the truncated ending, I can reasonably expect to have the rough draft finished in January, a readable draft finished in March and a marketable draft finished in May, though I plan to start querying in March (yes, I am that excited).

Here are the vital statistics (from Sunday Dec 14th):

Rough Draft 46211 words
1st Draft 22264 words
2nd Draft 15314 words

Total: 83789 words

And some stats on the support files:

Outline: 25331 words
Brainstorming: 22240 words

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Character vs. Plot

I was listening to a writing podcast today and heard these guys arguing about what is more important to a story...character or plot. Not going to say which podcast since I am about to rip on them, but this is a debate that seems to come up a lot among very inexperienced writers and frankly, it is a stupid question.

Let me ask another question that has the same syntactic value in order to illustrate why it is a stupid question: which is more important to a coin, heads or tails?

Think about it.

Can you have a coin with just one side? Even if the sides look the same, there are still two of them. There is no dichotomy here, there is only a coin: a single, discrete object.

Stories are the same: a singular, discrete thing whose parts can be labeled, but whose parts have no meaning when separated from the whole.

If a story has a lame character, no one will believe or care what happens to that person. If Joe Papolitsky, my neighborhood State Farm rep were to captain the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, the story would fail. Joe is nice enough, but he’s a terribly boring man and doesn’t get on well with wookies (the believability part).

If a story has an amazing character, but nothing happens, no one will be interested enough to read on. Miss Marple sitting on the beach in Cozumel, eating some nachos, sipping a margarita then flying home with no conflict, crisis or drama is not a story; it’s just the diary of another crotchety retiree and no one cares, not even her four children who read her blog just to be polite.

So, rather than debating stupid questions, create interesting people and place them in interesting situations. If either one is boring or incoherent, go back to the drawing board before you waste time writing a whole story about it.

As for which starts the creative process (plot or character), it does not appear to matter. Of the writers I admire, almost all have stated that they will use either one depending on the story (though some have a preference for one or the other).

It's just a stupid question.

Weekly Status -- December 18th

Picked up the pace this week. Close to 5K new material. Running a week behind ‘schedule’, but things are progressing nicely. Also have greatly expanded outlines of the next major sequence.

Chapters 8 and 9 went through the Writer’s Block for critiques. Well received, but there are some issues I need to think about.

Good news--may have solved the ending problem and the length problem. This morning I outlined an ending that will chop off the last 3rd of the current structure and still give a very satisfying ending. This is great news because at the current expansion rate (outline to prose) the book will be WAY too long. This ending doesn’t impact the sequence I would leaves the section intact for the opening of a second book. Best of all, this will probably shave 6-8 weeks off the total writing time.


Here are the vital statistics (from Sunday Dec 14th):

Rough Draft 35363 words
1st Draft 22264 words
2nd Draft 15314 words
Total: 72941 words

And some stats on the support files:
Outline: 22579 words
Brainstorming: 21975 words

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Secret to Writing Success

Two things:
1) Write every day
2) Exercise every day

I suggest a minimum of 1 hour each. If you are not creative enough to carve two hours out of your busy day, then I am sorry to say you are not creative enough to be a writer. If you can manage more than this...go for it.

Another suggestion is to plan one or two longer writing sessions each week, where you can sit down and work for 3-5 hours without interruption. I find these longer sessions are when complex ideas become clear, characters start talking and the big picture of a novel or story will gel. These big-picture things are hard for me to get my head around in a frantic 1-hour session.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Weekly Status -- December 7th

Writing is slow this week, only 2K new material. However, some plot elements came together and I sketched out some detailed outlines for upcoming sections (about 3K of outline, which will grow to ~10K words when I write it).

Received feedback on Chapters 6 and 7 from the Writer’s Block writing group. This was a good session. The reviewers caught things I had overlooked, but nothing major came up so I think that part of the story is working (whew). Sent them Chapters 8 and 9 which will be reviewed in a couple weeks.

More troublesome, I’ve realized the old ending won’t work. Wrote up eight possible endings, many of which would work but none of which really ties out all the plot threads. Oh well.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blogging as procrastination

I have seen other writers touch on this briefly, but most seem to avoid the subject. The simple fact is that I should be working on the book right now, instead, I am writing this. It takes the same amount of time to bang out the words, the same amount of concentration and brain juice. Yet by doing this, I can put off some unpleasant bit of business I need to attend to in the book.

So, dear reader, know that by keeping the blog I am ultimately burning away many hours that could have gone toward finishing the book. At the end, I’ll try to remember to post a total so we can see how much time this cost the book. To date, I have spent ~6 hours on the blog, most if it over a 4 day weekend. That's about how long it takes me to write the rough draft of a chapter. So, blogging has procrastinated away an entire chapter. Ouch.

Decision of the Day:
A decision I am grappling with: keep story in Perth or move it to Seattle. For me, Perth is more interesting but I don’t know the city well enough to portray it accurately. Seattle I know well, but if I set it there, I will feel compelled to actually walk through all the locales I depict, checking facts, looking for little secrets most people don’t know. This would be fun, but it would burn days, maybe weeks and like this blog, would amount to little more than a form of procrastination.

Right now I’m thinking accuracy doesn’t matter because the story is about growing up in a zombie wasteland, not the trivia and culture of real place. But I ask myself: will the fine citizens of Perth hate me if I get their city wrong?


Why read this blog?

As a writer--this blog offers tips and tools on writing.
As a reader--you get to see how a novel takes shape.
As a zombie aficionado--you will get a fresh perspective on zombies.

To perk your interest, here is a list of things I plan to write about at some point. The list is in random order, so if you see something of particular interest, drop a comment and I’ll move it up the queue:

  • Blogging as procrastination
  • Productivity
  • Outlines
  • Useful sites (a list)
  • Good writing podcasts (a list)
  • Research topic: Refugee Camps
  • When I write (how it fits into my life)
  • How much I write
  • Weekly process
  • Revision process
  • Old writer vs. young writer
  • Writing and video games (and other distractions)
  • Writing and the family life
  • Wordcount
  • Writer’s Block (writing group)
  • Feedback
  • YA vs. Adult fiction
  • NaNoWriMo
  • Melodrama vs. Drama
  • So mean, it made me cry (doing terrible things to your characters)
  • Research topic: The city of Perth
  • Snowflake method for outlining


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cooking without fire

A central problem my characters have to worry about is a lack of fire/gas. They are in essentially a large refugee camp whose every resource comes from outside. How do they prepare food without fire? I burnt a couple hours researching this (for a 2 page scene...kind of a waste).

While researching this, I came across some interesting things:

1) It’s not an easy topic to find information on. Virtually all survival guides assume fire, or the ability to make fire.

2) A thriving industry for pre-packaged survival kits:

On-line shop specializing in survival:

Food pills (really):

Home/office/car/plane survival kits:

3) Some things that were interesting and started to paint a picture:
  • Raw Foods -- this goofball branch of vegetarianism (and the experts who prove it is an unwise choice) have a lot of data on the health effects of eating uncooked food.

  • Starvation -- thought perhaps there would be information if I looked at real-world starvation. Found nothing useful.

  • Famine -- this proved an interesting thread. Looks like I will need to spend some time reading detailed individual accounts of dealing with famine.

  • Famine Scales (means of measuring famine):

4) Alas, this topic will need more research. Looks like the best bet to get this right will be to read some personal accounts of starvation (holocaust survivor accounts, some African accounts and some prison camp accounts), as well as starvation in literature: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for example.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Zombies?

I never really liked zombies. They’re slow. They’re gross. But they’re not particularly frightening. Nor are they very dangerous, not unless they mob you or you do something particularly stupid. It can be argued that a sprinting crazy person (a fast zombie as in 28 days later) is dangerous, but let’s be honest here, those are not technically zombies--they’re still alive, that’s why they can run. Most zombie fiction seems to fall into one of three categories: cheesy, intentionally humorous or allegorical. None of these categories appeal to me (though I enjoy some of the allegories).

It all changed when I read World War Z. This was the first book I read in which zombies were treated seriously, with honest, insightful speculation into how the world would react if the dead rose up and tried to kill the living. It was also the first place I saw a zombie apocalypse addressed as a war, which, if you think about it, is exactly what it would be. World War Z also had an epic scope, spanning the first sign of outbreak, all the way through to final push against the zombies and the rebuilding afterward and it gave every step along the way serious thought. Great read.

After WWZ, I saw zombies as a serious speculative element instead of a farce. I started thinking about them and rather than just rolling my eyes whenever another zombie movie came out, I would watch it, analyzing the response portrayed in the film, the defenses and survival tactics used and the failure modes which inevitably doom the characters.

The inevitable conclusion of this thought process was my realization that a zombie apocalypse would be survivable (a conclusion Brooks reached years before when he started his Zombie Survival Guide), it would just be uncomfortable, require great sacrifices and would forever change our civilization. In short, it was a perfect backdrop for any number of serious stories.

WWZ Woke me up to the potential of zombies as a serious spec element and put me on the path to writing Zombie Proof Fence, but that story is for another time. So, thanks Max. As for the rest of you, if you have not read WWZ, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

ZPF Progress:
Wrote the first scene in the Crumble (making an official start on the second half), in which Kayla meets a scavenger kid and passes along Casey’s message about the Lowe Street Tunnel.

ZPF Soundtrack for today:
28 Days Later soundtrack
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra
Midnight Syndicate: Gates of Delirium

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Where I am now

Thanksgiving is over, so I now I have a few precious hours to write. First, a blog entry (as this is new and exciting), then some writing on the story. I made good progress yesterday, tackling the problem of too many characters and too many story arcs (by eliminating several from the middle).

Today’s topic: Where I am now
As of this moment, I am about 1/2 way done writing the rough draft of the book. I hit this point a bit ahead of schedule and have spent the last couple weeks reviewing and revising what I have written to incorporate some feedback and make sure it lines up with what is planned for the second half.

No one will read this rough draft, but I will quickly work it into a 1st draft which my first readers and local critique group will read. These folks have already given me feedback on the first four chapters and I have revised those to a 2nd draft. Before shopping it around, the whole thing will probably hit a 3rd draft, maybe a 4th if readers find any major problems.

Here are the vital statistics:
  • Rough Draft 27587 words

  • 1st Draft 22618 words

  • 2nd Draft 15314 words

  • Total: 65519 words

And some stats on the support files:
  • Outline: 16862 words

  • Brainstorming: 19615 words

This is great, except that I’m trying to keep it under 85K words, so I have some cutting and compressing to do.

I thought tidbits on the book might be entertaining, so here is one for this entry:

Tidbit on the story
I just reworked the outline for the middle 2 sections of the book, removing a whole story arc to get the word count down. Now, instead of going to work for Mr. Sham (which could be a book in itself), Mr. Sham is going to kidnap Molly and the girls will have to find a way to get in and rescue her. This is shorter, a bit more exciting and we still get to see what goes on in Mr. Sham’s place.


Well, I'm writing a book titled "Zombie Proof Fence" and thought it might be interesting to blog about the experience. My goals for doing this and what I hope to accomplish are listed below, but my personal driver is just to try it out and see if blogging is something I enjoy and find valuable.

The Zombie Proof Fence Blog Charter:
  • Share the creative process
  • Share writing tips, tricks and anecdotes for other writers
  • Share the experience of writing a book
  • Provide content to interest readers in my writing
  • Indulge in an occasional off-topic rant
It is NOT for:
  • An online diary
  • Posting about my family, friends or life outside of writing
So, if that seems interesting, read on.