In the last segment, we learned how I decided to restructure the story from 3 parts to 5. I showed my ideas to my friend Nick, and he did not agree with me on several points.
In my version of the story, Molly helps to raise the Immune Child, but she treats him more like a possession than a human being with feelings ‘n’ stuff. Over time this changes, and she starts to unlock the part of herself that can actually feel again. In other words, she is REDEEMED. (I put caps there to stress that this was the first appearance of the theme of redemption.)
I showed it to Nick. He said, “I don’t think Molly and the kid should ever meet.”
I said, “But…she’s there when they deliver the kid against her wishes.”
“Okay,” he replied. “Let me rephrase. She shouldn’t be in his life anymore when he gets old enough to remember her.”
At this point I’m thinking: All right, maybe he just doesn’t see the big picture yet. Let him read on.
Next part of the story: as I mentioned in the last post, Molly and her team face an Unexpected Enemy. In the original version, the Unexpected Enemy comes along when Molly’s team runs a mission where they try to destroy the quarantine wall. I imagined a scenario where the wall was blown up, and the Unexpected Enemy died in the blast.
However, as I said before, this structure was cramming far too much stuff into Part 2. Therefore, I dragged out the Unexpected Enemy story arc, and it wound up lasting until Part 5. In fact, it took that long to get a clear look at this other foe. Regarding this change, Nick had no input either way.
Moving along. We get to the point where the Immune Child grows up and becomes a jerk. For reasons I would rather not disclose here (because that would be a MAJOR spoiler), he takes off on the group. They have to pause everything they are doing so they can hunt him down again. The search takes a while.
Now here is where I was stumped. If the Immune Child refused to be a part of the group, then how would they convince him to come back into the fold?
I ran it by Nick. His solution?
They don’t convince him of a damn thing. Instead, they KILL him. Then they take the blood out of his body and resume searching for a lab where they can test it.
I said, “Wait a minute. Killing him makes no sense. If he is alive, then he can keep reproducing the blood that could save humanity. If he’s dead, then the only supply they have is the blood in his body when he dies. And how would they preserve it? Eventually it would degrade.”
I waited, but Nick was at work and couldn’t reply. However, I did have one more thing to add: “Also, the idea of the Immune Child coming back into the fold to help the mission is another example of the theme of REDEMPTION. He goes off like a selfish brat, but then he comes back for the greater good. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
Eventually Nick wrote back. All he said was, “Yeah I get it. I just want to make sure the story is right.”
I didn’t understand what he meant. Make sure the story is right? Well, since we are the ones creating it, aren’t WE the ones who determine that?
By this point, I had also reached out and was talking to an artist friend of mine named Clarence. He had drawn some basic sketches of a couple characters, and I was excited to have him on board. I talked to him about what Nick said. Clarence had the same judgment of it that I did: Nick shot my ideas down, but offered no alternatives up to replace them. When *I* came up with a new idea, he would shoot THAT down…and again, make no suggestions for replacement.
Finally, I had to make a call. It was tough, but I had to decide to continue on without him. The bulk of it had been my idea anyway, so I didn’t think (and still don’t) that I could get in any kind of plagiaristic trouble. As for acknowledging the ideas he gave, I can do that for sure. Without Nick, I don’t know that I would have thought of the quarantine wall, nor would there have been the concept of the Immune Child growing up to be a prick. So he deserves credit for that.
With Nick out of the fold, I realized two exciting things: not only could I write the story however it made sense to me, but I could RENAME it!!!!
So, INFECTDEAD went out the window. But what to replace it with? At first I had no idea. Since “redemption” was a major theme in the story, I considered calling it REDEMPTION. However, at the time there was a video game out called RED DEAD REDEMPTION. The timing seemed too close to me, and I did not want to be harassed with the question, “So is this an extension of that open-world Western video game???”
More thinking. I wanted REDEMPTION in the title. Then I thought: how about REDEMPTION AMONG THE DEAD? It could be abbreviated RAD!!! How cool would that be?
Actually, not very cool. Now instead of having just one word in common with that video game, the title had TWO words in common! Back to the drawing board.
I thought back on the 5-act structure and how that came from Shakespeare, so for a while I jokingly called it SHAKESPEARE WITH ZOMBIES. However, that was just a place holder until I found a real title. With no clear answer in mind, I decided to abandon the title search and just did what was most important: I got back to writing the story.
However, after Part 2, that didn’t prove to be so easy either. Stay tuned for Part 6!
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!
When we last left off, I was talking with my friend Nick about creating a zombie story told in 3 parts, due to my fanatical love of trilogies. I had to go to bed, but I told him I’d work on the outline the next day…and I was true to my word.
I conceived all of part 1 as a kind of “prologue.” It would show how the zombie virus started, how it spreads, how someone turns into a zombie, and how to kill a zombie.
My goal was to carefully hammer out the “rules” because one thing I hate about movies is when they play fast and loose with their own systems. Sometimes you’ll watch a zombie movie, and it takes people 3 days to change into zombies after they are bitten. However, there are times where, when it serves some dramatic purpose, another person turns into a zombie in MINUTES!!! I wanted to avoid that by laying out all the rules before I wrote even a single scene. Some back and forth with Nick accomplished that in no time.
With the rules written and an outline from start to finish conceived, I started writing. My pace was fairly standard at first: 3-6 pages per day. At this point I was still using the initial 24 pages from “Of Forces Beyond” as a template to guide me. However, some things needed some MAJOR expanding. For example, in the 24-page comic they decide they need to find the place where the virus originated, and in the next scene they’re there.
Well, wait a minute. You are in the middle of a jungle in Vietnam. How are you going to find a lab? Wouldn’t that require some investigating of some sort? Of course it would! So their search for the lab had to be expanded.
Also, in writing the outline, I came up with a unique way of telling each part:
*The beginning of each part was a flash forward. It was set in a time that actually fell sometime AFTER the “present” for that section of the story. EXAMPLE: In part 1, there is the little girl on the hillside in the 90’s, but the bulk of part 1 takes place during the Vietnam War.
*The next section would be a flashBACK, to a time that happened shortly before the beginning of that section. EXAMPLE: In part 1, there was a scene with some Vietnamese scientists and takes place just before we join Vincent and his comrades. (NOTE: Anyone reading the comic knows the scientist scene is nowhere to be found. More on that later.)
*Then we get to the “present” for that section of the story.
As I wrote part 1, I started to pick up steam, writing more furiously and producing more pages per day than I had for any story in years. I remember writing like a madman on Thanksgiving Day, and my ex-wife asking me if I was going to spend any time with the family.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I was like a man possessed. This story was in my head, just waiting for me to write it down on paper. I wasn’t so much writing it as discovering it.
At some point (maybe it was while I created the outline), I came up with an idea that sometime in the future there would be a child born that seemed to be immune to the virus. By this point the quarantine wall would have been built, and the West Coast would turn into a lawless no man’s land. Non-infected humans have banded together in the form of survivor groups. Each group looks out for themselves, as is par for the course in zombie fiction.
However, now the group into which this child is born has a chance to change all of that. If this child really is immune, then they could maybe bring an end to all of this madness.
In a world gone to hell, how are they supposed to find a geneticist who could help them test the blood? And how can they find a functional lab to do the testing? Even if they do find the lab, how can they mass produce the antidote? Then of course there is the problem of distribution. As anyone who has read the front page summary on this site knows, it is the quest for all these answers that drives the bulk of the story.
I ran the immune child by Nick, and he was pretty excited.
During that first conversation I had with him about it, he said, “I got an idea. How about the kid grows up to be a jerk?”
This was a stroke of genius to me. How many stories can you name where the person who is supposed to be a savior is an unlikeable asshole? I can’t think of many…or ANY. The question was: exactly how would he be a jerk? I notated the idea so I could come back to it later.
Oh, and I wanted to say that at this point, the story had a different title, suggested by Nick: INFECTDEAD. Since I had no title of my own to suggest, that was what I gave it.
That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for part 4!!!
Yes, it is time for shameless cross-promotion, peeps!
Long before I had the idea for REDemption, I was a writer of prose. The following story came to me in high school. I held on to it for years before revising it with my 40-year-old brain. Give it a read!
Originally I did not think I was going to continue this topic with this week’s post, but then I figured, “Meh, why not?” I already have the train started on this particular track. Might as well get it to its destination, right? 🙂
So when we left off, I had gotten as far as my senior year of high school when I drew a 24-page comic book called “Of Forces Beyond,” about a group of 4 US soldiers in Vietnam who discover some of their enemies aren’t quite human. One of the soldiers dies, but then revives and attacks them. Eventually they find out about the zombie virus. They figure out how to kill them, but they don’t know what to do if they are infected.
In my opinion, that is where the story got interesting because here you are in the middle of a story that is part horror, part war…but now you also have part MYSTERY, because the soldiers need to investigate and figure out what to do.
So I drew that comic, and after that I lost interest in drawing. I can’t explain why. Guess it was just a phase I went through. I continued to write other kinds of stories in other formats (novels, screen and stage plays, short stories). Any time I saw a new Romero film or some other post-apocalyptic tale that rocked my world (28 DAYS LATER), I would always think, “Man, I’d love to write a zombie story, but I have no idea where to go with it!”
I think most people will agree: as far as foes go, zombies themselves are kind of boring. They don’t talk, so they don’t have personalities like Hannibal Lecter or Dracula. Also, they are slow as hell. These two facts stumped me for years. Decades, in fact.
Then in 2010 I started seeing commercials on AMC for a new TV show (based on a comic book) called THE WALKING DEAD. Frank Darabont was the main developer of the show. I’d heard Frank’s name for years. I was a huge fan of his work on films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, THE BLOB remake, and of course THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. (Side note: By the way, that movie had no impact on what I called MY tale!)
I watched the commercial to see what it was going to be about, and it looked like pretty standard zombie fare. Still, there was a lot of buzz and excitement. Plus what can I say? I am a sucker for anything zombie; I have no taste, so I will watch it all just to see if I am pleasantly surprised.
October 31, 2010 came. I tuned in to the show. The opening scene where Rick Grimes is shot and in the hospital, only to wake up and find the zombie virus has ravaged the world, reminded me of 28 DAYS LATER. I wonder which came first: that scene in the comics, or 28 DAYS LATER’s version. Was it considered an homage to the movie? Or was the movie an homage to the opening of the comics? I have never taken the time to research the release dates on that.
Anyway, the action was your usual zombie stuff. The way to kill them was also typical. And yet the show drew me in. Why? Because of Lincoln Grimes. Because of Morgan Jones. Because of Shane Walsh. And of course, because of the amazing jobs the actors did portraying them. I don’t think it registered with me then, but I realize now that what draws people repeatedly to zombies stories are the HUMAN CHARACTERS IN THEM, and how they react and interact once the zombies have decimated civilization.
Once the episode was over, I posted a comment on Facebook that said, “Just watched WALKING DEAD and loved it. I have always wanted to write a zombie story myself, but I never have because I don’t know where to go with it. Seems like it’s all been done.”
Minutes later, a friend of mine named Nick replied. He said he’d always had similar ambitions. I moved the conversation to private messages, asking him if he could draw it since I already had the writing covered. To my dismay he said, “No, I can’t draw.” Still, I was excited about the idea of creating something as a writing team.
I moved the conversation from Facebook messenger to telephone. Nick and I discussed our ideas, with me going into detail about “Of Forces Beyond” and using that as a starting point, and him telling me how he’d had this idea of the virus being quarantined with a wall that ran up and down the entire West Coast. (PLEASE NOTE: This discussion was had in November 2010…six years before Trump started talking about his Mexico wall. How about that for visionary?!?!)
I hammered out some more ideas with Nick, like writing the story in 3 parts (since I am a huge trilogies fan). At that point, I don’t think I developed the “immune child” idea, although I know I mentioned it to him not long after that.
We talked for a little while longer, and then I had to get to bed. However, I promised him that I would start working on an outline ASAP.
And I did. 🙂
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 NEXT WEEK!