Monday, June 8, 2020

Survivor Perspective

I'll admit it. I love the zombie genre. I enjoy the serious stuff, the campy B-movies, the remakes, the dark comedies - all of them. If there's a movie where most of the cast is undead, that'll be me in the front row, popcorn on my lap, ready to watch the carnage. Whether they walk, run, or shamble, the zombies make for a fascinating genre. Fortunately for you, this post will not be about zombies, but what makes this such a good genre - Survivor Perspective.

We all know the common story - someone wakes up to find the dead rising up to eat the living, and mayhem ensues. Now, the thinking part of me would say, "Not happening. Can't happen. It defies every principle of biology, physics, and so forth. Rotting flesh would just fall apart. They couldn't even walk, much less eat someone. Not believable." That thinking part of me is consoled with plausible deniability - the argument that says, "This is a zombie story - go with it." But there's a greater draw for me to watch the mayhem unfold, and that's how the story is played out.

Imagine for a moment that you wake up to see the dead chasing your neighbors around. Whether you believe such a thing could happen is no longer an issue. Even if you believe it was impossible, it's happening, and you have to address the more immediate issue of the flesh-eating zombies shambling through your neighborhood. If you stand on the porch and say, "You zombies can't exist. You defy every principle of biology, physics..." you will quickly be eaten and your story is over. Instead, you save the confusion for later, grab a baseball bat, jump into your car, and drive somewhere safe - but where is that? And so the adventure begins.

This is the Survivor Perspective, a great structure for thrillers. The main character is placed into immediate danger and does not know why, and has to seek safety by whatever means necessary. Is it a plausible threat? We do no know, but it's definitely a real threat whether or not we believe it's possible. Do we know what brought the dead to life? No time for that - we have to run clear of the immediate threats.

Think about the classic movie, Night of the Living Dead. Do we know what brought the dead back to feast on the living? There are sci-fi hints on the radio, but the main characters are more worried about the new adversaries. Do we ever learn about what created them? Nope. We do learn that if someone dies, they don't stay dead for long, but our characters spend their time trying to assess a situation that is very real but makes no sense and comes with very little information.

When we write the Survivor Perspective, we offer the reader a chance to wonder about what is really happening, but give them very little time to experiment on just how to prove everything. The character reels from moment to moment, the reader shares the confusion, and maybe we learn as the adventure continues. However, the immediate source of suspense and tension is not finding out what happened, but surviving a situation that completely alters the main character's version of reality.

The next post will be zombie-free, but will offer more on the destruction of reality as a source of character tension. (Okay, there might be a few zombies...)

2 comments:

  1. "Shaun of the Dead" not only has your survivor perspective but also humour!

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    1. Honestly, Shaun of the Dead is one of my faves not just for the humor but how it relentlessly plays on all the other cliches of zombie movies.

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