Home » Blog » The Tricky Thing about Zombies: the Familiar and the New

Jay Wilburn - Dead Song Legend Series

The Tricky Thing about Zombies: the Familiar and the New

by Jay Wilburn

The Summer of Zombie blog tour is underway again. At the time that this post is first published, we will be seeing the interviews for some of the authors on the tour. While those are going up, check out those spotlights on great zombie authors. I wanted to include a few extra posts while we were being introduced to the authors. These are just tid bits for you to chew upon as we get rolling.

me mugshot

The trick with zombie fiction whether it is in the visual or written mediums is a balance between the familiar and the new. These obviously stand in some opposition to each other. A zombie story has a number of familiar formulas and paths that they can follow and often do. The rules for the monsters can limit the prose, if the writer allows it. The audience is tuning in or picking up the book because there is something about the zombie story that draws them in. That is often the familiar. They put it down or turn away disappointed when they find nothing new. This is quite a contradiction to overcome for this trope.

Characters in a zombie story are likely to be fighting for survival. In addition to fighting the monsters that once were human, they must fight to find the other components of survival. This often lends itself to stories of hiding or stories of running. Stories of running can become journey or road tales. The struggle against the zombies can take a backseat to the struggle of humans against each other. This may require the development of villains or a series of villains. What then do we create that is familiar in these stories or characters and how do we draw out something that is new?

Dead Song 3

There is a temptation to throw out all old conventions and reinvent the notion of the zombie. Writers can create dynamic, new rules that hold little resemblance to the Romero universe of zombies. These stories can be great and exciting. If a story is going to go to one extreme, it is probably best to go all new instead of all familiar. A story is less likely to be stale and more likely to be exciting and compelling. It is not a guarantee though. A creative new premise for the zombie trope is only a premise unless there is a real story behind it.

The elements of the familiar can also include heart. Readers are familiar with tones of emotional struggle and loss. Good zombie stories are probably the ones that use these emotional and character elements to full effect or with surgical precision. These familiar beats that draw all readers into really caring about three dimensional characters can underscore what is new about the zombie threat or the zombie premise in the story. Zombies can also reflect the struggle the human characters are going through. They can define the limitations and the potential of characters in a way that other story elements might not fully achieve.

Dead Song 3 cover back no words

There has to be something new for the audience. The run, hide, fight, live, die, and reanimate stories have to have some fresh angles to distinguish them from every other story that came before. The zombies can be traditional as long as the story has something to offer that takes readers to new places. These journeys are likely to contain various combinations of that which is familiar and that which is new. Good writers, zombie or otherwise, show their story telling in how they weave and balance these opposing ideas. Great writers figure out how to do it without the seams showing.


Check out Book 2 of the Dead Song Legend by Jay Wilburn.

Dead Song Book 2 front cover

meJay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com

Or begin the series with Book 1.

The Dead Song Legend Series


Jay Wilburn on FacebookJay Wilburn on InstagramJay Wilburn on TwitterJay Wilburn on Youtube
Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

Jay's Patreon Page | Purchase Signed Copies of Books

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.