5 Tips for Writing A YA Zombie Novel
By Rusty Fischer, author of Zombies Don’t Cry
So, what does it take to write a young adult zombie novel? The fact is, it’s harder than you think. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fun creating a world of the living dead, making your own rules and forging new ground, putting human characters alongside the undead, perhaps even treating the undead like they’re human, but like any genre fiction, it’s not without its unique challenges.
Take it from someone who’s endured his fair share of one- and two-star reviews for his own “living dead love stories,” writing a YA zombie novel is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for this particular living dead challenge, these five tips can help you achieve your ghoulish goal:
1.) Know your audience: Young adults are supremely sophisticated and know their stuff. They’re likely zombie “fans,” devouring every story of the undead they can get their hands on. Don’t underestimate or insult them by creating a sloppy world (see below), breaking your own rules (also see below) or just trying to cash in on a quick genre trend. Zombie fans are really open to new things, but they have to be interesting, believable and enjoyable new things.
2.) Know your world: Create a specific world unique unto you. Is it a dystopian, where lonely people roam the ravaged planet running from zombies? Is one town under quarantine and folks are stuck behind a giant wall? Or is it just another high school when zombies decide to attack? There are so many worlds to discover, but it’s important to fully inhabit your world for awhile, to feel around its borders, to make a mental or even physical map, to know what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, before you commit to writing about it.
3.) Know your rules: What can your zombies do? What can’t they do? Can they talk? Eat human food? Drink a soda? Drive? Text? Read? Write? In the world of YA, all of these questions need to be answered because your main characters, living or dead, will likely spend a lot of time doing all of the above. There’s no real wrong or right answer. My zombies talk, drive, text, etc. In that, they’re like the vampires in modern YA books. But there are things they can’t do, too, like eat human food or sleep or run really fast. There are limits, rules, that I have to constantly remind myself to abide by.
4.) Know your story: Forget zombies, forget brains, forget grave stones and cemeteries. Zombie novel or no, you should always tell a good story. Zombies should never be just a backdrop or a set piece; they should always be main characters like in the Generation Dead series or, at least, driving what the main characters do, like in The Walking Dead. Otherwise, it’s not really a YA zombie story.
5.) Know yourself: Finally, explore *why* you want to write a zombie story. Is it just to “be gross” or type “BBBRRRAAAIIINNNSSSS!!!”? If so, that’s great, but is there enough there for a book? Can you sustain that enthusiasm and curiosity about zombies for a full 50,000- or 60,000-words? Instead, find something more interesting to say about zombies; something that hasn’t been done, or a twist on what has, or a combination of the two. Writing a book, writing any book, is a long haul and you want to enjoy the ride while you’re doing it.
I believe that writing should be, first and foremost, fun. These tips are only a guide, of course, but the most important, always unwritten “tip” is to follow your instincts, have a good time and write something new and unique to you. That pretty much works for any genre, not just zombies, by the way!
Yours in YA,
About the Author
Rusty Fischer is the author of Zombies Don’t Cry, as well as several other popular zombie books, including Panty Raid at Zombie High, Detention of the Living Dead and the Reanimated Readz series of 99-cent living dead shorts.
Rusty runs the popular website Zombies Don’t Blog @ www.zombiesdontblog.blogspot.com. At Zombies Don’t Blog you can read more about Rusty’s work, view his upcoming book covers and read – or download – completely FREE books & stories about… zombies!