In our last segment, I discussed a couple things: (1) how I outlined the story in 3 parts, mimicking the 3-act structure of a movie or stage play, (2) how Part One set up not only the zombie rules, but also the way that each part of the story would be structured (flashforward-flashback-present), and (3) how I came up with the immune child idea, and Nick suggested the kid grow up to be a jerk.
I tore through the writing of Part One. Since I had the original comic book “Of Forces Beyond” as a template, the only real struggle was stretching their story out to make their location of the lab a little more believable. At this point in the writing, I imagined the main character Vincent as a white male. However, later on when I reflected more about the fact that the Vietnam part of the story is most closely analogous to the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD era, I decided Vincent should be black, just like Ben was in NOTLD.
When Part One was done, I immediately jumped into writing Part Two. Here is where I ran into some difficulty on the opening scene. It was flashforward time again, and I wanted it to be about the arrival of the immune child.
Now here is where the difficulty came in: I had an idea for a main character named Molly, a butt-kicking zombie-killing strong female who was modeled after the likes of Trinity from THE MATRIX, Aeon Flux, and others. She would be the badass leading the survivor group in charge of the immune child. Molly is a stone-cold killer; she can see the world in very black and white terms. She is worried that the child is infected, so she thinks it should be killed at birth.
In the original scene, Molly delivers the unborn child. But then it dawned on me how that made no sense. If she thought the baby would be born a zombie, then why wouldn’t she just kill mother and child while the baby is still in the womb? Back to the drawing board!
At some point I devised a man named Doc, Mollly’s second in command. He thinks they should deliver the child when it’s time. Molly tells him that he better not do it or there will be severe consequences. Doc sneaks off anyway and delivers the child, and he is human. This was the scene that stuck, and I’m pretty damn proud of it.
Then it was flashback time. At this point, I needed to describe how the zombie virus got spread to the rest of the world. (Without wanting to give any spoilers, I will say that it did NOT spread everywhere else after the Vietnam War.) I came up with an idea that could almost be a stand-alone comic itself, where a boat with some Chinese fishermen crashes on an island during a storm, and they find the island is not quite deserted. This segment here is another area of the story that makes me proud because it seems to not fit in, but if you take in the bigger picture, you realize its logic.
At the conclusion of the Chinese fishermen story arc, I went through a “Cliff’s Notes” section that describes the virus going worldwide, until it reaches the United States where they manage to stop it with brute force. Then comes the building of the quarantine wall. Then we get to the “present” section of Part 2, where we are to meet Molly and her band of survivors.
This was the most fun for me, creating Molly’s team. I wanted to model it after a traveling band of Dungeons and Dragons characters. In D&D, there are several different races (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) and character classes (knight, cleric, mage, thief, ranger). I modeled Molly’s team after this, except instead of different “races” or “species,” I had different ethnicities.
Molly was a white female skilled at hand-to-hand combat (equivalent of a knight). Doc was, of course, a doctor, envisioned as a white male (equivalent of a cleric). Jackson was a mechanic (equivalent of thief class), and he was also Chinese. Ted (a giant muscular black man like Roadblock from GI JOE) was a computer wizard; he does not have any direct correlation to any D&D character class. Then there was Sonya, a Hispanic female sharpshooter (equivalent to a ranger).
I did not realize what I was accomplishing when I created these characters until much later, when a friend pointed out, “The best thing about this story is that each character has their own personality, even the ones with minor roles.” This is the greatest compliment I have received on the story, and it means I have really grown as a writer because in the past when I tried to write a story that focused on a group of people, the main critique I got was that they all sounded like the same person, but in four different bodies.
Part Two wound up growing to three times the size of Part One. However, long before that, I realized that my three-act outline might not work out so great. With the way it was laid out, Part Two would be JAM PACKED and bloated beyond belief in comparison to Part One.
What was originally in Part Two? Well, aside from the baby being born, the Chinese fishermen, and introducing Molly’s team, we had (1) the team facing an unexpected enemy (who I will not describe here, because that would be WAY too much of a spoiler), (2) Molly’s team searching for a geneticist and a lab to prove the baby was immune, and (3) when they failed to find a lab on the West Coast, Molly’s team realizing they had to destroy the quarantine wall. Last but not least, the destruction of the quarantine wall also coincided with their standoff battle with the Unexpected Enemy.
By the time I got to Molly’s survival group, I was already a good 100 pages into Part Two. Judging by the pace I was going, I knew Part Two would be way too unruly if I crammed all that stuff into it.
Then it dawned on me: Shakespeare wrote all of his plays in FIVE acts, as opposed to the standard three, so why not follow in his footsteps?
I immediately set about restructuring the outline, placing certain events in different sections so that the pacing would justify the new five-act structure. When I stepped back from the new outline for a few days and came back to it, I was amazed about how well it worked. (Little trivia fact for you here: I was never much a fan of Nick’s INFECTDEAD title, so when I revised the outline to five parts, for a while I jokingly called it SHAKESPEARE WITH ZOMBIES.)
I was excited to share this new outline with Nick. Unfortunately, he was not to share this excitement.
That’s all for now. Next week: Part Five!