The Zombie Dilemma

Recently, a rather fierce plot bunny attacked me and sank its tiny little teeth in, refusing to let go until written. I haven’t been able to shake this idea for a story, and I have decided that it’s the perfect project for the upcoming NaNoWriMo season. Scenes are starting to form in my head and take shape in my outline, but I fear I’ve hit a snag. For, you see, I’m working with something entirely new to me… ZOMBIES.

My dilemma is this – In most anything I’ve read that involves these moaning and groaning monsters, it’s entirely too taboo to use the “Z” word. Call them “the infected”, “walkers”, “the living dead”, “undead”, etc….but never just zombies? I’m torn on how I feel about that.

The reason I’ve never written anything with zombies before is, well, because I thought they were pretty much the lamest monsters of all things that go bump in the night. Vampires? Yes, I’ll write those all day everyday. Werewolves? Sure, why not? But zombies? I didn’t see the appeal. There wasn’t anything scary about a monster that lurches towards you at the rate of a handicapped sloth. No, thank you very much. So, what changed? Someone turned me on to The Walking Dead recently. By recently, I mean, season five is starting next month, and I’ve marathoned all episodes up until where I’m at in season four. If I didn’t have to work and could sit at home with a box of Capri Suns and only my television for company, you can bet your bottom that I’d have not only finished all the episodes, but I would probably already be rewatching them all again. I thought I would hate it, honestly I did, but the biggest shock to me was that I just couldn’t stop watching. The storylines are compelling, I’m attached to the characters, and I’ll be honest…on more than one occasion, I’ve driven home in the pitch dark on the lookout for walkers.

Now I’m here with the beginnings of a young adult novel that has me more excited than any recent project I’ve worked on, and I’m stuck up against a fence full o’ zombies. What do I call them? Do I try to create some new alias for the creatures, use something familiar to readers, or do I just go ahead and drop the big “Z” bomb?

I asked a fellow writer for his opinion and received a somewhat unexpected answer. He said, “Call them what they are. Zombies. People get so caught up in creating other words for what something monstrous is, like how we have so many names for the Devil, but fear of a name takes away fear of the thing itself. Have a character rebel and refuse to call them anything but what they actually are – zombies.”

Interesting…I like it. I enjoy the name it, claim it attitude, and it could be used reasonably well alongside those less willing to acknowledge what’s around them. I can even see the character who would say it. At the same time, I can feel my main character staring at me scrupulously from across the table, arms crossed, saying, “Zombies? Really?! That’s what we’re going to go with?” And that’s when I bang my head into the keyboard repeatedly, waiting for some better idea to spill from my brain.

So what do you think? Would seeing the “Z” word in the back blurb of a book turn you off from reading it? What’s your favorite name for zombies? I’m looking for any help I can get, because right now my outlining is progressing at a dragging zombie-walk pace until I figure this out.

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3 thoughts on “The Zombie Dilemma

  1. I say call them zombies if you want. For every monster or creature, there certain standards or expectations. If I pick up a vampire novel, I expect vampires to drink blood and burst into flames if they meet sunlight (vampires DO NOT sparkle!). It seems not calling a zombie a zombie could be an expectation of the zombie enthusiasts, but it doesn’t mean you can’t creatively break that “rule.”

  2. Oh, those stumbling blocks that stunt the creative process. I feel your pain. I’ve been sitting on my outline waiting for a characters name…and he’s not even a main character.
    But to your question, I’m with the name it and claim it clan. I submit that it is nearly as cliche to call a zombie by some other name as it is to call it a zombie. Think of it this way, if an outbreak/apocalypse of the walking dead variety were to occur. We wouldn’t be debating what to call them. We’d be running from damn Zombies!!
    Also, I think that people who want to read a zombie novel will be looking for zombie on the back cover. That’s my 2 cents.

    Btw, my YA that I’ve been working on. Zombies. Lol

  3. I call them monsters, ghouls, things, creatures, undead… i think I’ve only mentioned zombies once or a couple times in my book, or in the project I just finished. But…. ? I guess only because it didn’t fit. GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie

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