The Zombie Writer’s Rulebook


In honor of AMC’s debut of their TV show based on the comic the Walking Dead, I am republishing my instructions to would-be writers who wish to tackle the all-too-germane topic of zombies, zombifacation and zombiecide. (Kirkman may not need to consult them, but clearly you do!)


In a mad rush to distinguish themselves, zombie writers have made a hash of things. I am stepping forward to administer a harsh, but necessary corrective to this pointless tendency toward the merely novel. What gives me the right? This gun.

(Clearly, the zombie apocalypse has driven the man crazy. Just nod and smile until I can work my way around behind him.)

I’m kidding. I don’t have a gun.

  1. Call a zombie a zombie. If your story is set on Earth between the Thirties and, say, the 24th century (and especially after 1970), they’re “zombies.” You can call them other things too, and you can name sub-species but don’t pretend everyone in the world wouldn’t call them zombies
  2. Zombies are people. There are no kitty zombies. There are no goat zombies (or goatbies, or zoats). If it’s a zombie, it was a human; if it’s a human, it can be a zombie; if it’s not a human, it can’t be a zombie.
  3. Zombies aren’t smart. Don’t allow a few of them to somehow retain their intellect to make a plot point.
  4. Focus on the people. Zombie stories are about people, not zombies. The emotional life of zombies, which doesn’t exist anyway, is not interesting. (see #3)
  5. No origin stories. Ruin the mystery, ruin the mood. You may have 20 pages explaining the origin of your zombies but those are pages that should never see the light of day. Hint, but don’t tell.
  6. Shoot them in the head already. Unless your zombie story is set on PSR B1620-26 b, or in the year 22,048, everyone and their rolling-pin wielding aunt knows you shoot a zombie in the noggin, remove the aforementioned noggin it or smash said noggin to a fine, disgusting paste. (see #1)
  7. Religion doesn’t disappear. If the world is full of people who pray fervently when they’re afraid they’ll get a ticket, do you really think they’re going to turn into humanists when the dead pop out of the ground and start bolting down viscera?
  8. It’s zombie-ism, not super-heroism. Don’t turn your human protagonists into Hong Kong movie stars. Something turned people into zombies. There wasn’t a corollary affliction that turned the survivors into chop-sockying, machine gunning, building-jumping super-humans.
  9. Break these rules. The only justification for breaking these rules is by getting away with it. If your story works despite breaking one, or all, of these rules, then, for this story, the rules were wrong.

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