Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Zombie training for Post-appocalyptic narrative crafting

This is a pointed article about Zombies and their narrative function.  It ties into my thinking on post-appocalyptic narratives.

Zombies represent death personified. They are just faster and more obvious than all the other things that can kill you in an environment stripped of the modern luxuries like healthcare, farming, law, running water etc.

Its hard to make a narrative work that uses a slow decay into hunger and desperation. Its boring and tedious and hard to convey to the reader/viewer. 
Its easier to user a device like a zombie horde to represent the inevitable surprises and the effects of fear and paranoia on survivors.  Zombies give a visual, physical reality that has the same effect as the unseen forces that can turn a survivor or group of survivors into a self-destructive mob and pretty soon after... roadkill.

Try watching a movie like "The Road". While its an incredibly moving experience and rates in my top 10 of post-apocalyptic movies; its still trying to convey subtle emotional transformations that are just difficult to communicate due to the limits of the medium. The sense of time and the effects of that time on the characters in the movie is limited. The narrative has an imperative to keep moving and keep the viewer engaged. Its impossible to take a long period of screen time, to convey a long period of narrative time. The viewers, reviewers and execs will not or cannot take that journey.

So how can a writer/producer communicate these difficult issues. Perhaps not verbatim, rather by creating a narrative artifice such as a Zombie horde.  The horde acts to poison and destroy everything that previously supported and nurtured the characters. So rather than having a fine old time living in a city full of resources ( such as in "Tommorow when the world ended") the characters are forced to avoid cities and any places that seem inhabited or habitable.  The comfort of strangers suddenly has the obvious risk of the stranger turning on the character.  Seeing a figure moving in the distance becomes the cue to run in the opposite direction rather than move in and say "Hi".  Zombies are a narrative artifice that wraps all of these difficult concepts up into a personification that can be seen and shot-at and run away from. But is, in the end, everywhere.  Its only a matter of time.....

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