Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Author’s Comments: First Meeting of the Zime

One of the tricks I like to use as a writer is to write scenes and then connect them, like little literary dots, to make a larger picture. It's a technique I've used for years, particularly when I have writer's block or have not been writing much over a long period of time. I pick a scene that speaks to me and has something I want to say, and I churn it out.

I actually got the idea from drama in high school. Most people don't realize it, but when you're putting a stage play together, the first scene you work on isn't the opening of the play; it's the climax. That's the most important part of the play, after all. Then you go back and work on the opening, which is the second most important because it's there to hook the audience.

The same trick works in writing, too. The first thing JK Rowling ever wrote was the end of the Harry Potter series. (Maybe that's why that last chapter seems so fragmented and disconnected when compared to the rest of the series.)

In the case of this excerpt, this is the first thing I've written in XS for some time. Moving cross country and starting a new job while coaching three sports is not exactly conducive to getting a lot of writing done. However, if I'm going to meet my publishing deadline of August 2011, I better get myself in gear.

In all honesty, I've had writer's block on one section of the book for twelve years. I managed to write my way through it, but I privately feel it's some of the worst prose I've ever committed to paper. Part of the reason I haven't gone onward is because I keep wanting to unfuck this part... and I have no idea how.

So it looks like I'll need to liberally apply this connect the dots method. Maybe if I'm lucky I can sort of "back into" the part I need to rewrite.

As far as this scene goes, this is the first time the heroes encounter one of the most dreaded enemies they could face: the Zime. Vaargus and Gmorkyn use them as shock troops. They aren't intelligent, but they possess a dreadful hunger, and the fact that they are already dead means that you need to have some rather specialized means to dispose of them or they're going to kick your ass. They're inhumanely fast. They never grow tired, and the only thing that really slows them down is cutting through enough muscle and sinew to make them physically unable to move. Imagine facing an army of them on the battlefield, knowing that they won't stop, won't slow, won't keep coming until you fall-- and when you do you will join them!

That would break your morale like a matchstick. Max Brooks, in his book World War Z points out an interesting tactical fact: the United States Armed Forces, arguably the strongest military in the world (when our Commander-In-Chief isn't some dithering moron who was elected because of the color of his skin rather than his competence), has a primary tactic of dropping a shitload of ordinance on an enemy and breaking his morale. After all, you only need to inflict 12% casualties on a unit to consider them combat ineffective, and at 35% they are effectively combat destroyed.

What if they don't even stop to acknowledge their dead and wounded? What if the wounded keep coming, too? In World War Z, Brooks uses this exact premise to explain the Battle of Yonkers, where a very few zombies manages to route an otherwise highly trained and disciplined battalion of the United States Army... simply because they don't stop coming.

In Crossed Swords, faery fire, we'll soon discover, kills them dead, but there's a problem with magical fire-- it has to come from somewhere and Steve doesn't have unlimited amounts of energy. Hopefully we'll find another source of it soon...

It's important also to remember that most of what we know is wrong. I want you to take a moment and think, really think, about what it would be like to confront a real zombie apocalypse. Forget Hollywood, what's your guarantee that shooting the brain stem disables them?

In fact, most firearms are piercing weapons. They do indirect organ damage by fluid shock, so what happens if the creature attacking you doesn't need organs in order to stay on its feet, knock you down, and start biting your fingers off, one by one? (You should also consider that knockdown power is a physical impossibility in firearms. After all, if a bullet was traveling fast enough to knock down a 200-pound person, what would its effect be on you, the person holding the gun it was fired from? Wouldn't that equal/opposite stuff knock you on your ass, too? In fact, Mythbusters debunked that myth pretty thoroughly in season three.)

Forget Voudun traditions, does salt have any real affect on them? Are they dry, like Mr. Slant, zombie lawyer of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, or are they soggy and juicy like a freshly rotting corpse?

This is important, because one of the main weapons to use against them might very well be normal fire, but wet objects don't burn well. Juicy zombies don't burn. (As an aside note, Juicy Zombies would be a great name for a rock band.)

For that matter, in the event of an actual outbreak of zombies, would acids or quicklime be effective?

Of course, I have my theories on the subject, but are they any more valid than... yours?

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!




  1. I soooo do the 'connect the dots' thing. I think that's because it's so much easier to immerse yourself in scenes that evoke emotion. Really, who wants to write those boring connecting parts, like how they get from point A to point B. We want to know what happens once they're there. This is also a result of a the 'movie' mentality people have. They're used to seeing the highlights. And then I remember, I like to read because I want more info than movies give in a two hour period. So the challenge as a writer is: to make sure the connecting scenes are as interesting as the ones that speak to you.
    My own habit is to take those scenes and arrange them into a very detailed outline. This is helpful and harmful - see, once I'm done with the outline I often loose the hunger to write any more ... :(
    Lastly - and I've had this discussion with a few other writer friends - it is VERY important to balance magic/super powers etc. If a character is all powerful and has NO weaknesses, they are not only unbelievable, they are f l a t.
    lastly, would you mind if I recommend your site to a few of my friends? I'm not sure all of them will agree with your political view but it's nice to find other writers out there who understand the need to build 'believable' worlds for our stories, even if they aren't fantasy. (I could even suggest one or two to you I think you'd enjoy...)

  2. I'm trying to find an authorship program I saw a couple of years ago that was designed specifically to help with outlining fiction. It allowed you to do exactly that on a software level: you could write scenes and then move them around, connect them as you wanted. It looked pretty versatile, but it didn't work for my non-fiction so I never looked further.

    You have two lastlys there. In response to your first lastly, that was something I really wanted to avoid with XS. David Eddings later stuff turned into a real pile of mud because his characters were never in any danger. Look at 'Redemption of Althalus' sometime. After winning the fight the first time, the main characters go back in time to fight it out again because one of them develops a creative solution and it sounds like fun!

    Are you shitting me? We're fighting for the fate of the world, we've won, and now you want to hand the bad guys a second chance because it sounds enjoyable? WTF?

    As for the last lastly, I'd be honored if you would recommend this place to your friends, and I'm always open to your suggestions!

  3. Hmmm ... I do have two of them don't I ... ah well.

    As for the last lastly, you might enjoy perusing this blog: http://hayleyelavik.blogspot.com/
    Hayley's very clever, well read and in touch with what is needed to make a world and its characters believable. Enjoy.

  4. I'll check her out. I mean literally, is she hot or are you just trying to make me stop flirting with you?

  5. Do you expect me to answer either of those ?!? Ha Ha Ha :D