Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Zombie Dilemma

"Zombie" got your attention, didn't it?

I love the word dilemma. It has such a poetic ring to it. In the sense I'm thinking of it, dilemma means "a position where each of two alternative courses (or all of the feasible courses) is eminently undesirable". That definition is from my 1972 edition of Webster's Dictionary (New Edition).


There are a lot of words that can't be found in my trusty 1972 New Edition, like internet.

I'm about to start the next book in my thriller series and I have a dilemma: who is the villain and what is the crisis? What nefarious plot is hatching? Why should I (and the reader) care? I have to come up with a theme/plot that will be fresh to the reader's eye. The dilemma arises because every option I think of seems boring at first glance. You don't want boring when you are writing or reading a book.

There are many options for a thriller. Meteors, a new ice age, volcanoes, nuclear bombs, earthquakes, plague, zombies, evil terrorists, global warming, world conspiracies, Nazis, a stolen secret that creates big problems for the forces of light. Not to mention assassinations, traitors in high places, military misadventures. They've all been done. I've done some of them.

It wouldn't be a dilemma if I didn't care, but I do. If a writer doesn't care, he/she probably isn't going to write a very good book, much less a successful one. There are, of course, exceptions. Many awful books have made gazillions of bucks for their authors. You may have come across a few, particularly in the last year or two. Bad books that sell well seem to be proliferating.

For many writers, especially new ones, there is a temptation to copy whatever is popular. Romance is big? Write a romance novel. Zombies are huge? Attack the White House or some other significant icon with hoards of 'em. That is a serious mistake, if you care. Authenticity demands that you write about what interests and excites you, not about what happens to be the latest big trend. Besides, by the time your book is done there will be another latest big trend.


Write what you love or you will go down in flames.

I could write a novel about terrorist zombies attacking the Pentagon while the heroine (the Secretary of Defense) falls in love with the Zombie leader, who is desperately seeking a cure that is being withheld by a military conspiracy. Maybe that would be big, sell a lot of books...hmmm...


The writer's mind is often filled with voices suggesting ridiculous plot situations. This is called "Inspiration".


The best way to stimulate inspiration is to write something.

I began today in a dilemma (if it's possible to be in a dilemma-and if it is possible, what does it look like, inside a dilemma? I imagine it's rather like a bad motel), the dilemma being who will the villain be and what will he/she do to provoke the engagement of my heroes? Not to mention the fact that a thriller should rightly begin in media res, i.e., with action, stuff happening, things blowing up, threats. I have this nit-picky need to be believable. That contributes to the dilemma.

Since I couldn't come up with anything, I decided to doodle around in the garage with a motorcycle I'm working on and then write this blog piece in an effort to get the inspiration flowing. I'm still waiting. But I feel better, because I wrote something. That's one of the reasons to write, it makes you feel good when you do it. If it doesn't, consider a different career path.

If you like the zombie idea, feel free to use it. If you make millions, I want 10%. 


  1. Hi Alex. You could always make the theme of the next book the hunt for the Holy Grail. Sort of a DaVinci code story but with The Project as the hunters. Maybe hunting for the Grail beforew Neo Nazis get to it? Whatever you decide I am looking forward to book six. I know it will be a winner. All the best.

    1. Hi Julian, you may be psychic...I have actually been considering a Grail quest for the next book. The only problem is that it has been done so many times and done well. But it is tempting. The legend of the Grail has always been close to my heart.

      Thanks for your confidence in Book Six!

  2. Sometimes the brain is just dead, ya know? Sometimes I *feel* like a zombie! Of course, that's when I cheat, and I post funny pictures on my blog instead of doing any actual writing. But I think that's a good idea to sometimes just write...usually that's enough to keep the creativity sparked and those loose writing ideas and doodles may gel into something epic.

    1. Hi Dale,

      Brain dead is pretty close to how it feels when inspiration hides. When I start a new book, I usually end up with three or four false starts before something clicks. Even when I have an idea of what the plot and story are about.
      Thanks for the comment.


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