Tag Archives: zombies

My Wish List for The Walking Dead – Season 4B

I’d warn you that this post contains spoilers, but, for cryin’ out loud, you have had two flippin’ months to catch up on The Walking Dead. Do you expect the whole world to grind a halt while you shuffle around aimlessly like… well, you know… a zombie, expecting that someone will eventually traipse along to pin your eyelids open and make you watch the darn thing? Frankly, I’ve had it up to here with you and your sense of entitlement!

Right.

TV’s #1 drama without an acronym for a title returns from hiatus this Sunday, February 9 to begin the back 8 episodes of season 4. When last we left Rick and gang, their prison compound was wiped out and overrun with walkers, and the band of bloodied and broken survivors had scattered in different directions, cut off from each other and alone. The action-packed mid-season finale set up what promises to be the most harrowing circumstances the group has faced yet.

As much as I love this show, I’ve long thought it could be improved in a few areas. They did fix one problem in season four, but I’d like them to address a couple of others, all of which is handily summarized in this wish list:

walking dead 4

1. Continue structuring the story so that it sustains momentum.

The six-episode debut season of The Walking Dead was pure cinematic nihilism. We met the characters, they were swept up in a maelstrom of apocalyptic terror, and they reached their journey’s end, only to have all their destination (and accompanying hopes) go up in a massive fireball. It was relentless and epic, partly because you can be relentless and epic when you only have to sustain the story for a little over six hours.

Then they doubled the episode output for season 2 and… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Those zees are not for “zombie.” They represent snoring. You can’t have 13 episodes of unrelenting epicness because it’s unsustainable, but sticking your characters on a farm and setting up a tedious love triangle with an irritating, unlikable shrew at the center is hardly the answer. Season 2 was a study in inertia punctuated by a couple of brilliant episodes that recalled – and sometimes exceeded – the dramatic intensity of the first season. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the overall story arc was a letdown.

Season 3, which was about Rick’s gang vs. the Governor’s gang, was a vast improvement over 2 and far more suspenseful, but it suffered from a number of pointless episodes leading up to a pretty underwhelming climax, and a dearth of zombies.

Hooray for new Executive Producer Scott Gimple, then, who finally brought momentum back to the show in season 4A. Instead of having the characters stand around and manufacture their own problems out of stupidity, season 4 introduced external threats such as plague, a new, bigger horde of zombies, and the return of the Governor, this time with tanks. The story kept moving because choice was taken away from the characters. They had to act or die. Let’s hope the writers keep it going the rest of the way.

michonne

2. Do something with Michonne.

The Walking Dead, as most of you know, is based on a comic book, and by far the most comic book-eque character is the sword-wielding Michonne, who is a bit like a superhero compared to the rest of them. The problem is, after introducing her at the end of season 2, she has had almost nothing to do but scowl and decapitate zombies. We want to know more about her! Who is she? Where does she come from? Why is she pissed off all the time? How come she never changes her clothes? Inquiring minds, people.

Hershel

3. No more melodramatic, heroic speeches.

Between Rick and Herschel, I’ve had enough pseudo-inspirational speeches about the human spirit, representing the better part of ourselves by forsaking violence, the importance of working together, and the true meaning of leadership to last five zombie apocalypses. Whenever I see the others standing in a circle with Rick or Herschel at the center playing reluctant, yet earnest, orator, I get up for a chips-and-salsa refill. It’s like an episode of 7th Heaven with zombies instead of teen angst. I realize I’m in the tiny minority here, but… Sayonara Herschel. You sure gave a great reluctant speech. But now that you’re dead… let’s go shoot us some zombies!

 

Advertisements

Writing Motivated Characters

Prose is a mixture of technique and artfulness. In my previous posts, I’ve felt confident enough to talk about aspects of the writing craft that are, in my view, technique oriented. Creating good characters, on the other hand, seems like an art form to me.  Let’s see if I can take the fun out of it and get technical!

turtle

Each writer has her own way of building characters, but we all share the same goal of making those literary creations authentic and interesting. Where to start? First I want to consider the major components of a character. I’m no expert, so feel free to add your thoughts or tell me what I missed:

1. History

2. Motivation (Today’s topic. I knew it would come up!)

3. Dialog

4. Action

In regard to history or backstory, many writers create bios of each character, especially for stories with complex family trees, royal bloodlines, or a multi-generational timeline. Others are comfortable with a general sense of their characters’ pasts. When it comes to dialog and action, our literary creations must say and do things that are consistent with who they are.

Which brings us to motivation. We, as writers, should ask ourselves what our heroes, villains, and supporting cast members want to accomplish. Although bit players can be purely functional, our stars must have objectives. Why write a story about them if they have nothing to do?

But is an external objective enough on its own to make someone real or interesting? Think about yourself. I’m sure you have goals, but you also have the push and pull of your intrinsic nature, which sometimes helps you and other times holds you back. For example, I know I am motivated to control outcomes, and I don’t like surprises. I relax like a turtle does a back stroke: Very poorly. On the other hand, I’m empathetic and see value in other perspectives. If you put me in a zombie apocalypse story, I’ll be the guy telling all the knuckleheads to calm down so we can make a survival plan in a logical, collaborative manner. I have a goal – to survive the zombie onslaught – and an intrinsic nature, which is to impose order and control while still respecting others’ views.

Here’s my formula for character motivation:

External motivation (goal) + internal motivation (intrinsic nature)

Internally, each of us is a cauldron of motivations that are often invisible to others. However,when the stakes are high, our intrinsic natures come to the fore. Going back to the zombie scenario, I can’t be the controlling guy with the diplomatic personality in one scene and the hysterical guy who loses his temper every five minutes in the next. A more plausible dynamic is for me to be frozen by inaction when I’ve imposed my plan but the zombies manage to breach the fortress anyway, since (warning: theme coming) efforts to control outcomes in life are ultimately futile. As I’m being devoured by the undead, perhaps I can say, “You know, I learned a valuable lesson here about living in the moment!”

Motivation: Find lunch

Motivation: Find lunch

Think about the people you know, dig below the surface, and imagine why they act the way they do. Have you ever met someone who puts people down to make up for her own lack of self-esteem? How about someone who tries too hard to please the boss because she needs validation as a human being and doesn’t know how to find it in herself? Combine those internal qualities, give the character an external goal (getting the heroine fired), and – voilà – you’ve got a secondary villain. The main villain is a serial killer hiding in the air ducts, by the way.

Here is a tiny sampling of intrinsic motivations that can be combined with others and, when coupled with an external goal, make one’s literary offspring more authentic:

Wanting to win at all costs and dreading failure. This character often makes the people around him miserable with all his ups and downs, and the world is all about him.

Striving to win approval and craving attention. This person may seek praise from authority figures and try to make others feel guilty. Passive aggressiveness, in other words.

Seeking variety and distraction. This character can get lost in what he’s doing and let people down who were counting on him.

Avoiding social interaction. No one knows what’s really going on behind her nerd glasses!

Assuming all people see things the way you do. He buys his wife a football. She wanted Sex and the City: Season 1 on DVD.

Trying to get everything done yesterday. She’s so wired, she makes the people around her tired just looking at her.

A character is bland if all he has is an external goal.  He needs dimensions. The next time our hero and his sidekick go on a quest to retrieve a magic sword, let’s make the hero a controlling, pushy type with no concern for others’ feelings, and depict the sidekick as an unassertive people-pleaser who gets walked on. The sidekick shouldn’t exist simply to help the hero find the sword. Give her a reason to overcome her anxieties and stand up for herself… even better if doing so is integral to the plot. While we’re at it, let’s teach the  hero a humbling lesson in empathy as he looks for that stupid sword.

On second thought, don’t make the sword stupid. People won’t want to read that.

****************************


The Worst Christmas Story Ever Written

Happy Holidays! As my gift to you, I have composed The Worst Christmas Story Ever, full of stupid plot points, embarrassing constructions, impossible dialog, tonal inconsistency, and implausible characters. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to read. Dig in!

 *****************

SANTApocalypse

Chapter 1 – The Beginning

Deep within the bowels of The Ice Caves of Crendor, that most secret of places hidden deep within the larger bowels of Mount Kringle (the mightiest volcano of the North Pole), Santa’s retinas accepted light reflected from the naughty-or-nice list (and its accompanying gradations of color and shade) with not inconsiderable trepidation and alarm.

He called out to Clorex the Elf. “Clorex! Appear before me as I speak.”

hunky santa2Clorex arrived at Santa’s side in due course, the green color of his elf costume uniting with the red color of Santa’s red suit to stir Christmas passion in all those who observed, had anyone been observing. Had the pair not been inside but, rather, outside, where the likelihood of being observed was greater, they would have appeared as living holiday vignette that belied the true tension of the situation.

“Yes, Santa,” Clorex chimed.

“Clorex,” Santa repeated with some loudness. “What’s all this about flesh-eating?”

“Santa, I beg your pardon sir, but what flesh-eating?” Clorex inquired with a questioning air.

Santa held aloft the list. “Clorex, the flesh-eating on this naughty list,” he edified.

Clorex’s elfin gaze fell upon the still-held page. His pupils dilated ever so slightly so as to permit more light to fall upon his retinas. Only then was he able to see the words by the firelight being cast from that which burned inside the kerosene lamp, largely being wick.

“Ah, that,” Clorex offered. “Yes. I remember now, Santa. There has been a zombie apocalypse. Those children have become zombies.”

Santa pondered upon this most grave of news scenarios with a face of woeful seriousness and far-off wondering. “Zombies. Zombies,” he uttered in a repetitious manner. “Yes, that is very naughty. Very naughty indeed! Why hath you not spoken of this before, Clorex, my trusty elf supervisor and confidante?”

Clorex looked away sheepishly, though with more sheepishness than can be anthropomorphized by such a small ungulate, thus rendering his look-away rather more bisonish. “You seemed busy with all the toy making, my lord, so-”

Santa cut him off, interrupting him. “By the gods, Clorex! What to do with all these toys I’ve made!”

Clorex piped up with, “There are two named on the nice list.”

“By the gods, Clorex. You’re right! I know what to do!”

With that, Mrs. Claus burst into the room. “Don’t Kris, don’t go! I beg you!” she pleaded, throwing her arms around the legendary present maker and sleigh flyer. Her copious bosom smashed against his muscular, well-oiled chest.

“I have to, Greta!”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“No!” She held aloft her hand. “I won’t let you.”

He held aloft the list in one hand and held aloft his sword in the other as he gripped her by the arms and pontificated. “Gwen, all my life I’ve been searching, always searching for a purpose in life, aimless and adrift and lost for a reason to go forth in life and choose my path. But now I know what I must do. Nay, what I was born to do. I must stop the zombies!”

Her warm, limpid eyes filled with tears. “I know. By the gods, I know!” She pressed her full, throbbing lips to his, kissing him. “Will you be back?” she said worriedly.

He broke away from the kiss. “You’ll have to find out.”

Chapter 2 – The Middle

Circling overhead, Santa saw the zombie horde surrounding the house. “Son of a bitch.”

“Sir,” said Rudolph. “I think I can set us down on that roof. It won’t be easy, but-“

“Do it, soldier!” Santa ordered.

With his steely glare, the young pilot aimed for the shingles.

“You’re coming in too hot!” screamed Cupid.

The sleigh’s runners bounced twice as the nine reindeer fought to keep from plummeting into the throng of flesh eaters below. Rudolph ordered a hard turn, sending the sleigh spinning toward the edge. The deer dug their hooves down and held fast.

Once still, Rudolph glanced back toward Cupid, his steely eyes in close-up. “You were saying?”

Chapter 3 – The End

“You mean all the kids are zombies but you two?” Santa said to Terry and Terry, the Johnson twins. Santa had climbed down the chimney and down to the main floor and found five survivors holed up in the boarded up house, six upstairs and six downstairs, though they were all in the basement.

Their neighbor, Ira Feinstein, stepped forward to communicate his thoughts verbally. “It’s very mrs claussad, but it is true, there once were many Johnsons and now there’s only two.”

“Bloody hell, man, what’s with the rhyming?” Santa interrogated.

Terry, a year older than the younger twin, verbalized, “Ever since Mr. Feinstein found out you’re real, he’s been rhyming. The doctors say there’s no cure.”

“With reindeer for fauna and holly for flora,” pronounced Mr. Feinstein, “I fear I no longer can use my menorah.”

“Bloody Hell, man!” Santa murmured. “Everything about me is borrowed from Norse pagan mythology. In other words, there’s room for everyone’s beliefs in this crazy world, as long as we can learn to tolerate our differences and welcome diversity!”

Sensing a story theme, rousing music welled around them. Feinstein smiled. “Damn it you’re right! I am going to fire up that menorah after all! And you, McGillicuddy, in the corner. I am going to celebrate Ramadan with you! And Mrs. Swanson, sitting at the kitchen table; I shall go to your Kwanza party! And Spagnetti, lying on the couch; I will cut off chicken heads and do a voodoo dance with you!”

Everyone smiled.

“Now,” Santa enunciated. “Let’s go kill some zombies! Right?”

Feinstein, McGillicuddy, Swanson, Spagnetti, and the Johnson twins said, in unison, “Right!”

They burst outside, swords held aloft, ready to do battle with the zombie hordes, when they were suddenly attacked by thousands of zombies. Elgard the Dwarf king fell to his knees, shouting, “Nooooooooooooooooooooo” in slow motion. When all hope was lost, Santa heard a familiar voice.

“Santa!”

The jolly, fat toy maker looked up to see his old friend Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer throwing down the sack of toys, which landed in the snow with a sack-thumping-on-the snowy-ground noise. Just as the zombies were .5 seconds away from biting them all, Rudolph dove across and tossed something to Santa. “Here!” he promised.

The activator button landed in Santa’s aloft hand. He knew just what to do: Press it.

The toy boxes burst open as the gifts inside transformed into robot warriors, who then cut down the zombies with their mighty swords of fire and laser guns, which they held aloft.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!”

“Not so fast,” said Satan as he leapt up and planted his feet on the ground, holding his pitchfork aloft. “Have you forgotten about me?”

Santa dropped his sword to his side, no longer holding it aloft. “Well, well, well. If it’s not my twin brother, Satan. I should have known you were behind this!”

Terry and Terry, the twins, said to each other and everyone else, with knowing smiles, “Twins? We know a little something about twins, don’t we?” Then they put on their magic rings, which, only when worn by twins, can create an evil-destroying shock wave that destroys all evil in the universe.

The ground split, Satan screaming loudly, and swallowed him back to Hell.

Santa ruminated, “Well kids, since you are the only survivors of the zombie apocalypse, I guess this robot army is yours.”

Simultaneously and in unison, both twins at the same time said, together, “Awesome!”

“Yes it is,” said a feminine voice. They all turned.

It was Mrs. Claus, smiling. Santa smiled too, and she ran into his arms, the top two buttons on her blouse popping off, unable to contain her ample bosom.  The pair embraced, the rippling muscles of Santa’s arms glistening in the moonlight.

“I shall never leave you again, Glenda,” he proffered feelingly.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!” The snow began to fall and, together, they sang secular holiday music.

The End.

**********************************

Every single sentence in that tale had something horrid about it. I quite enjoyed being awful.

But wait, there’s even more content today:

A few weeks ago I posted a humorous lament about missing Darlene Love’s performance at BB King’s in NYC. Well, I managed to catch her show in Newark this Saturday night. It was an amazing performance that included perhaps the most incredible and emotional moment I’ve ever witnessed at a live music event. You can read the full story and review here. It’s roughly the same length as my lovely masterwork above.

Cheers!


Zombies and Morality

Warning: This post contains pretentious writing and emotional necrophilia (in other words, zombie lovin’). The Walking Dead is back, and I’m about to go undead on yo’ butt. Read on…

________________________________________

American zombie movies and TV shows have replaced the Western as the go-to genre for exploring our culture through film. Classic Westerns address issues of American identity, racism, loyalty, friendship, moral obligation and ambiguity, and alienation by placing its characters in lawless environments that require them to make choices without a defined societal structure for guidance.

Hot damn! I should totally write articles for Film Comment, no? I just made that up off the top of my head.

Anyway, remove the phrase “Classic Westerns” from the beginning of that long, indulgent sentence above, and replace it with “American zombie movies” and it still holds true. I believe that explains the continuing popularity of zombie stories, and why people keep writing them. After all, good fiction writers strive to create worlds that explore those topics with subtlety and nuance and that force characters to make moral choices… even ones with potentially tragic downsides.

That’s why The Walking Dead so compels us to watch. Sure, everyone loves to see entrails ripped out and zombie heads cleaved with machetes. But gratuitous violence without characters or a story doesn’t make us tune in week after week, shout at the TV, or discuss, discuss, discuss the next day at work. On TWD, as with other great Zombie stories like Night of the Living Dead, the zombies are there to scare and thrill, but they are mostly there as the impetus for human conflict.

As writer Andi Marquette excellently discussed on her blog today, TWD’s characters can be both heroic and cruel, or brave and selfish, often at the same time. They have no congress to write laws or police to enforce them. Some turn to the Bible for guidance, others pretend the rules of civil society are still in effect, and still more take advantage of the freedom to act with legal impunity. The show asks us to consider which of these choices is best, and it asks us to imagine what “best” means. Does best mean taking whatever action is necessary to ensure the survival of you and your family? Or does it mean remaining loyal to your pre-apocalypse ideals, even if doing so results in your own physical destruction.

Hey, maybe The Walking Dead is a western after all.

Sometimes I feel that TWD has a conservative bent. Shane, who espouses self-reliance and a well-armed (if small) populace, is often the one who saves the day in a crisis, while those who represent egalitarian ideals and gun control, such as Dale, are depicted as ineffectual and even dangerous in their passivity. On the other hand, Hershel’s adherence to biblical principles nearly gets everyone killed. And remember when Rick, the ostensible hero, stood before a statue of Christ in an abandoned church, asking for “a sign.” He was promptly attacked by a zombie.

The overarching question of The Walking Dead is this: Is morality a universal ideal or a human construct?

I prefer to avoid labeling my beliefs, because labels equate to ideology, and ideology has set a bad precedent in human history. That said, if you want to call me a secular humanist, I won’t argue. I believe nature is amoral. Stars explode, lions eat gazelles, babies are born with fatal diseases. Morality is simply necessary for society to function. I also happen to think morality, when wielded without judgment, is the greatest of all human constructs. Imagine the day when our testosterone-fed, caveman brains finally catch up with it.

In The Walking Dead, the characters are asked to evolve a bit faster than they were expecting in that regard.

What do you think?

Something tells me at least one zombie will be a head shorter by the end of tonight’s episode.