Ten Different Ways to Start a Zombie Apocalypse Story or Novel

A while back, I wrote an article that offered zombie story ideas for writers of horror and speculative fiction. Its now the most popular article on this blog, in terms of traffic and readership. I didnt expect that, but its fun to watch.

That article also generated quite a few questions and comments from readers. And one question in particular rises to the top: How do you actually start a zombie apocalypse story or novel?

So here you go, a fresh batch of story starters for speculative fiction writers.

Want more? This article is part of an ongoing series for writers. Elsewhere on the site, youll find a list of zombie-related story ideas along with a few strategies for writing good fiction.

As a writer, you have endless ways to start your zombie story. Most of these stories fall into the horror genre, and some dabble with science fiction or even fantasy. As a result, its the writer who makes the rules and sets the stage. And there are countless ways to do that.

One of the first things you need to consider is your timeline. You have to figure out when your zombie story starts, relative to the outbreak itself.

You basically have three starter options:

Most zombie stories start with either the pre or post apocalyptic model above. Those are generally the best options from a structural and pacing standpoint.

The middle of the three options starting your story as the outbreak is unfolding can be done, but its more challenging. You might pull it off with a shorty story. But for a novel, that option could create structural problems. Its hard to increase tension and build to a climax when you start off with fireworks.

So lets zoom in on the first and third options. Lets talk about the pre and post-apocalyptic methods for starting a zombie story.

The pre-apocalyptic zombie story starts before the outbreak. That is, it starts in normal times, a time when the average person would laugh at the mere suggestion of a zombie apocalypse.

Of course, things dont stay normal for long.

By starting your zombie story before things go south, youre giving the reader a chance to know your characters. We get to see what their lives are like in normal times. Then, later on in the story, we can see how they adapt to tough times. We can see how your characters change. And change is a key aspect of any story.

You can also start a zombie story after the outbreak has occurred. In this case, the novel starts in a post-civilization kind of world.

There are pros and cons to this approach. Arent there always?

The main advantage is that it makes the story more gripping from page one. When we first meet the protagonist which should happen within the first few pages, ideally he or she is already in danger.

The main disadvantage to staring a zombie story after the outbreak is that we miss some of the characters transformation. When civilization crumbles, it puts people under tremendous stress. It challenges them in ways theyve never been challenged before. And thats gold, from a character-development standpoint. You sacrifice some of it when you start the story after the zombie outbreak.

Of course, you can still put your characters through challenging situations. Its a post-apocalyptic world, after all. But as readers, we dont get to see how they adapt when the world turns upside down. Something to consider.

If you want to read a zombie novel where the story begins post-outbreak, check out Alden Bells The Reapers Are the Angels. Its a classic example of a story that starts after the fall, with a young female protagonist you wont soon forget. You can thank me later.

Every good story needs a central character, and zombie fiction is no exception. In literary terms, this person is known as the protagonist. Its the main character, the one we root for when reading the story.

Its usually best to introduce your main character as soon as possible. This helps to anchor us in the world youve created. It also gives us someone to follow and hopefully care about.

How you introduce your character will depend on the kind of story youre telling.

If your zombie story begins before the outbreak, you might show your protagonist at work or at home, going about her ordinary life. Take your time. Let us get to know her. Reveal some depth.

If your story begins after the apocalypse in a new world of your own creation you might introduce your character in a way that reveals the dangers of that world. Maybe we meet the protagonist as he is rounding up food, looking after his children, or performing some other survival-related function.

These are just suggestions. Theres no playbook here. No rules. How and where you introduce your character is up to you. Just know that its usually best for the reader to meet the protagonist early on, ideally within the first few pages.

Weve covered some important topics. We talked about the pros and cons of pre versus post-apocalyptic starting points. We talked about the need to introduce your character early on, so readers can get rooted within your story.

Now lets shift gears and look as some actual story starters. Here are some ideas and strategies you might use to create a unique and original zombie novel. At the very least, theyll get your wheels turning:

Send me your thoughts! Are you a fan of the undead genre? Do you have a unique idea for how to start a zombie story or novel? Leave it in the comments below, and Ill add it to the list. Include your name and website if youd like credit.

Go here to see the original:
Ten Different Ways to Start a Zombie Apocalypse Story or Novel

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