I love writing zombie stories, especially young adult zombie stories. Zombies are such an amazing catalyst to spur survivors to act and react in a new world. Teens make great main characters because of their lack of experience with the world and their need to learn how to function in the world. Telling their stories and showing how they fail, learn, and grow is a lot of fun.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. There are a lot of dystopian stories in the world, and several young adult zombie stories. I would argue that the virus-infected people in The Maze Runner books are zombies, even if the majority of the story doesn’t focus on them—but it kind of does since it focuses on immunity and curing the world.
During my movie review on Monday, I mentioned that watching The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials got me thinking a lot about zombies in stories—particularly mine. The first thing that came to mind was the amount of films and shows that use zombies. This wasn’t surprising to me; it’s been going on for about the last 10 years. Zombies have seen their popularity surge, and perhaps wane slightly.
Having characters that are immune to the zombie plague isn’t a new idea. It might not have been done a lot recently, but it’s been done. I explore that idea in my book Humanity’s Hope. There has to be some hope that humans will survive and take back there world. But with that hope comes people who want to exploit the immunity and use it for their own gains. Again, not a new idea; exploitation is actually a trope quite common in the zombie genre. The world falls and there are those who do what they can to rule it. I also explore that idea in my book Life After the Undead.
What really hit me while watching The Scorch Trials was how incredibly common these ideas are. Yes, they are tropes of the genre, which means they are expected to be there, but how often are they done differently? This, of course, isn’t a necessity. I would argue that most audiences and production companies are looking for the familiar—ideas that have been done before and appeal to lots of people—so that they can make money. There’s comfort in that, on both the producers’ part and the audiences’ part.
In my own work, I point back to the classics and those who brought the zombie genre to the mainstream, especially George Romero. I would never say that my stories are new and groundbreaking or that they have elements that will shock and surprise you because they don’t, but they are unique to my voice. I would also argue that The Maze Runner stories have a unique voice, as do the majority of other zombie stories out there.
But within all of these stories, there is the familiar, the known, the unsurprising. I think that might have been what depressed me the most when thinking about zombie stories and my own writing. I want to create this totally new and unique world with zombies running amok, but I’m not sure it’s possible. I’m not sure there’s a new story out there with the undead in it. I think there are just variations on a theme.
Does that mean we should stop writing zombie stories? Absolutely not. Again, every writer has a unique voice to add to the lexicon. And if that is the story that makes you happy to write, then write it.
Monsters go through phases and popularity, and when one creature is in vogue, everyone will try to jump on the train to get their piece of the pie. Your story will just be one of many existing in the world, but tell it with pride, tell it with enthusiasm, tell it genuinely, and audiences will enjoy it. Above all, do what makes you happy, even if everyone else is doing it too.