Guest Post: Jay Wilburn #SummerofZombie

Summer of Zombie 2015

Dead song book 1 CD Cover Idea-001

“The Weight of a World in Freefall”

by Jay Wilburn

The smart money in writing is on the series. Stand alone novels are thought to lose readership that could potentially follow the characters into another novel that carries the story forward. Readers of apocalyptic literature are thought to be particularly prone to follow a series or sub series which follow characters through the other parts of the world created by the story.

An extended series with multiple installments creates quite a landscape and mythology to follow for the readers and the writer attempting to serve the readers over time.

I’ve spoken to a few authors that don’t fret too much about the complexity of the world they create. Some of them use loyal beta readers that keep track of which houses are blue and which roads lead east. They quite successfully catch most of those bits in the editing as far as I can tell from my reading.

Writers are getting divided into planner/plotters or “pantsers” – those that plan and outline their stories as opposed to those that fly by the seats of their pants and just let the story evolve. I’m kind of something else, I think. I’m a tracker or mapper maybe. I do rough outlines for stories in the form of jotting ideas and I often outline out the last few chapters as I reach the final stretch of the book. Most of my notes on characters and story are after they arise in the novel. A character’s back story or some detail about what they say or do in chapter 5, I will write that down in running notes so that characters speak and act in a consistent way.

These running notes include the world building for me too. In the midst of my jumbles of hometowns, parents’ names, and catch phrases around a character’s name, I’ll also have sketched maps with roads, creeks, and lakes around a farm the characters are holing up in or returning to. These maps will expand to the fields where they drop a weapon while escaping or to a cabin on one side of the highway across the river where they became trapped by the zombies. If the characters return to these sites in a later chapter or book 3, then I flip back to those maps and update them as they interact with the landscape.

The fact that Line King Drive goes north along the eastern fence of DW Farms from the gate and burn pits to the docks on the Tennessee River west of the dam may not all be important every time they leave the farm, but it might be important for a reader that has invested into the setting of the story. The fact that Fisher Span goes northwest from the cemetery to a bridge that’s out with an abandoned neighborhood on the other side may never come up in the series, but it probably matters that I know where that road leads so that I don’t take it two different places in two different books.

I know other authors that just look that stuff up when and if it comes up in one of the later books. Maybe they will live longer than me by not worrying about it ahead of time, but I could have a nervous breakdown searching through a book looking for one detail about what street a house was on or where I said the master bedroom was in book two. Was it over the garage or over the office? The entire series may hinge on this!

The streets and lake position may matter a good bit in a series that stays put in the same town for a long time. A story that travels might have some bigger concerns in terms of the world.

A number of zombie stories I have written recently are taking place further into the future beyond the initial outbreak. I wrote one that took place in the distant future around Washington D.C. and Arlington. The details about the ruins, where monuments and bridges were located, and how the structures were used over the centuries all played into the story and the world.

In Dead Song, the characters are music collectors that travel between pockets of survivors to record music being played by these different groups. Some areas are more isolated and solitary. Other parts of the country have vibrant, post apocalyptic economies and trade. Some areas have been preserved by the occupation of survivors. Other land is being reclaimed by nature in its abandonment. Some scenes take place in areas that were once occupied, but then lost. That unseen history is communicated through details about what is left behind and in what condition and it manipulates the story based on the obstacles and visuals these pieces of the world place in their paths.

If a group of survivors expanded into an area, claimed it, and lost it, but then fell back to survive again, that is going to have certain structural clues to that history. If that culture is encountered in that regrouped state, are they reeling, are they recovering, are they better for giving up the ground, or have they doubled-down in some other way which will inform how they will interact with the characters? These differences may be subtle and not directly explained, but they can use the world itself to create layers to character and story that can be powerful in their subtlety.

My favorite uses of setting and detail are when the world itself becomes a character. In a very few stories, I have seen authors almost reverse the dynamic where the setting becomes the character and the people in the story are the set pieces that develop the place. It is tough to explain how that happens, but I see it in authors that are writing about a location they know intimately. If done poorly, they run a risk of saturating the reader with description at the cost of story.

The best settings reflect something about the characters. The lay of the land, the details of the decay, and even the graffiti inform about the characters’ past, their moods, their intentions, and their secrets. It foreshadows the action coming in the story, but also the inner turmoil of the characters themselves. Setting serves as a blank slate for story telling in the same way that zombies can serve as a blank slate of a monster for the characters to fight the dangers outside and inside.

A great story and a great series of stories deserve a great world to both backdrop the story and to enhance the experience of it all for the readers.

Check out The Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals

Check out the five song sound track in The Sound May Suffer … Songs from the Dead Song Legend Book 1: January

Check out the five song sound track in The Sound May Suffer … Songs from the Dead Song Legend Book 1: January

me (1)

Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near Myrtle Beach on the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He was a teacher for sixteen years before leaving to become a full-time writer. He writes in many genre. His Dead Song series book 1 is available now along with the five song soundtrack The Sound May Suffer.

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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 30+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!

Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!

#SummerofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!


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