You've somehow stumbled upon the page of Dan DeWitt, genre-hopping author of the zombie thriller ORPHEUS, the Norse mythology adventure ODINSONS, and the horror short-story collection UNDERNEATH. There's lots more where those came from, so stick around.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why is it so hard to find well-written zombie fiction?

Zombie fiction isn't even close to the only thing I write, but I find myself constantly on the lookout for some to read. In the last several books I've read (whether free or cheap) I keep running across the same pitfalls. I won't name names, because I don't feel it necessary to in order to get my point across, and I have no desire to trash another writer's work personally. I'll have my own detractors, of course, but there's no way in Hell that they'll be able to accuse me of the following sins.

1) Ridiculous dialogue.
This is rampant, not just in zombie fiction, but in indie fiction in general. I see three common ways this is done:
  • "On the nose" dialogue is when a character says exactly what he/she wants/feels with no subtex.
  • Child dialogue. I often wonder if some authors have ever bothered listening to how a real child of the character's approximate age speaks.
  • Trying to illustrate a character's intelligence by removing contractions from their speech. Even geniuses use contractions.
None of this is realistic. Stay away from it.

2) Comically slow zombies.
I'm not talking slightly sub-walking speed. I'm talking about characters quite literally having an entire conversation with a zombie when it's no more than a few feet away in the kitchen. "Are you okay? Dude you okay? Seriously, what are you doing? Are you sick? Speaking of sick, remember that one time in Puerto Rico? Dude, are you that sick? Stay back, I'm warning you! I'm serious! Stay back!" *Insert either gruesome death or "harrowing" escape here*

I'm only slightly exaggerating here. In the book I just finished, a zombie had a child by the arm and was moving (ever so slowly) in for the bite. So slowly, in fact, that the main character had time to yell to his compatriot, "I have a plan!" and begin yelling to distract the zombie.

3) An inconsistent threat.
This one drives me as batty as any other. At several points in a recent read, the comically slow zombies were somehow able to sneak up on the characters. At a different point, the main characters were able to travel numerous blocks through a city of approximately 1.5 million zombified people without incident. Uh, what?

4) Word bloat.
For some reason, numerous writers are approaching the genre as if it were literary fiction. This pretty much means using fifty words when ten will do. It also means numerous flashbacks, extensive descriptions of characters and setting, repetitive declarations of emotion, introspective moments right in the middle of the freakin' action, and generally purple prose. A lot of what I'm reading is heavy on word count (a few are well north of 100,000 words, which is in epic fantasy range) and light on plot.

This is exactly why I couldn't get past the sample of Colson Whitehead's "Zone One." He may be a literary genius for all I know, but he's lost in genre fiction.

People putting themselves in danger when they should know better.
Every zombie book that I've read in the last year, every single one, has had this scene in it:

The main character will be aware of the zombie outbreak by now. Even when armed with the knowledge of what the zombies are/do, a character will inevitably voluntarily get close enough to a zombie (who will, naturally, have its back to our character) to check and see if the person is okay. They will approach slowly and say something that is repeatedly met with silence. They will most likely touch the person and be shocked when it turns out they're a zombie. They may or may not get bitten.

I wouldn't do that under normal circumstances. In the ZomPoc, I'd sooner smack someone with a shovel after the first unanswered greeting.*

This is something that probably only concerns me, but it's my blog, dang it! Where is the good stuff hiding?

*You'd better answer me the first time.


  1. Well, I'm really hoping I don't do any of that stuff. As I'm reading it I'm like, "Yes, I don't do that."

    So we will see I guess. I love writing about zombies. I didn't think I would say such a thing, but I do. What first turned out as a writing exercise, just for fun, has become something more. I used to write YA contemporary, but not so for the past year and a half.

    I hate fast zombies. Totally not fair. But super slow zombies, where's the fun in that? AND if someone is going to check on a person, asking them if they aren't fine and getting no response, that character needs to die. Stupid. (My main characters know better).

    I'm in the middle of working with my editor and hope to have it ready by mid-February. I hope it doesn't suck :)

    Right now, I'm reading the Zombie Bible and though I'm only a slight ways into it, it's written better than some of the zombie novels I've read lately. Oh, and I did just finish reading Atticus for the Undead and loved it. I finished it in 2 days. A zombie is accused of killing a woman and eating her brain so he gets a lawyer to help prove he didn't do it. The lawyer talk is great and believable (the author himself is a lawyer). I enjoyed it.

    But, I'm with you, there are a few zombie books I have been given to read and I can't get through them at all. I feel bad, but what do you do?

    Anyway, if you have any good zombie book suggestions, send them my way.

    Thanks. And I promise to make my kids sound like kids :)

  2. I'd venture it's because a lot of people are writing zombie books because it's the hot thing right now, and many of these books have never been given more than a cursory edit (if that, in the case of free ones)?

  3. Rebecca, you may be right about that.

    Angela, you hit on another one of my major pet peeves: the "smart" zombie. I read the synopsis for "Atticus" and I knew immediately that I'd never even bother to read it. It just seems like a gimmick meant to capitalize on the zombie craze without actually having to write a zombie book. Eh, just my opinion.

    And if you're looking for zombie book recommendations, I suppose I could start with my own, "Orpheus." If you're interested, just give me an email and I'll gladly send you a copy.

  4. Hi Dan, (may I call you Dan?)...I agree with you on your pet peeves and have to add a couple....I hate when there is more graphic sex than there are zombies in a zombie book. If I want a sex novel I'll read the fifty shades series. Also when they make the main character so perfect you want to puke..I recently read a book that was so bad because it was from the main characters eyes and he was the best lover, could kill men and zombies with his bare hands, no one was as good at anything as he was and all the women wanted him..oh and now and then a zombie would show up. Ok a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point :-). I usually read books to the end no matter how bad but just couldn't get through that one. Now for the polar opposite, I LOVE Mark Tufo`s Zombie Fallout series. He scared the bejeebies out of me while making me laugh (a rare quality). I have read about 40+ zombie books and that is definitely the best. Give it a shot, I hope you like it....now, if you'll excuse me, Orpheus awaits :-)....I'll let you know what I think....oh and, I really liked your book Underneath which is why I think I'll love Orpheus...thanks for reading this....Julie

  5. BTW.....I just realized you posted that over a year ago. Hey, I never claimed to be quick..lol