How's this for a zombie apocalypse prologue?


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Thread: How's this for a zombie apocalypse prologue?

  1. #1

    How's this for a zombie apocalypse prologue?

    Yes, it's kind of rough and doesn't encompass a few other events (then again, it's really only for me right at the moment, but with some editing will probably be adapted into a prologue), but it's a general outline give me you honest opinions. And sorry in advance for the wall of text. Again, kind of rough.

    Four years ago, an event that came to be known as "The Rising" suddenly and quickly swept across the world. An unknown force caused the corpses of the dead to come back to life and consume living flesh. People struggled to discover the cause as cities and nations became overrun and fell one by one, suggestions ranging from plague and biological weapons to aliens and even God's wrath. Politicians and military leaders gathered and frantically bickered over ways to preserve the human race, but make little headway while the dead continue to rapidly multiply. Within weeks, communications and infrastructure breaks down across the world and public order deteriorates as desperate people turn on each other for shelter and resources. The human race is imploding. Not only are the authorities fighting a losing war against the dead, but now rebellions and insurrections popped up in every corner of the world, forcing them to violently pacify the very people they are trying to protect. On September 18th, a mere two months after The Rising, Australia is the first to go dark. China and Russia deploy nuclear weapons against their most densely-populated areas in a desperate bid to cull the number of dead, now ranging in the hundreds of millions. Following a brief nuclear exchange with their southern neighbor, the entire population of North Korea reportedly disappears into subterranean bunkers, never to emerge again. Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America go dark. Eight months after The Rising, the United States is last known functioning nation nation on Earth and struggles to endure, but begins to break down from within. The Southern states break away to briefly reform the Confederacy, but within days are overrun. On July 4th, ten months after The Rising, the dwindling remains of the most powerful military force on the planet disperse in defeat and the world's only remaining superpower ceases to exist. The dead have finally conquered the Earth.
    So go ahead and give me honest feedback. What works? What doesn't? What works but needs improvement? Not to toot my own horn, but after finishing it, it gave me a mild anxiety attack, so I think it's good.

  2. #2
    Four years ago, an event that came to be known as "The Rising" [I feel like this is a tad cliché, even though that sounds pretty bumptious of myself, it just simply looks and reads like a cliché. Also, "The Rising" doesn't really incite fear in the reader. The whole goal of a zombie novel is to incite fear into the reader, and the first chance to do that is through the inciting event. Now most of the time, the inciting event is never told, which is smart, people fear what they don't know. The Walking Dead, we don't know what causes the outbreak, we only are given hints about the cause. This allows readers to interpret and infer the horrors that created the screwed world our protagonists live in. The original World War Z, kinda does this too. However, there are some books that don't do this and blatantly state the cause and creation of the outbreak. the "28 days" series does this, and it's effective because the protagonists never know the truth behind it only the readers. Here, I am left to assume that "The Rising" is a name given by the protagonists of the book. See, this doesn't incite fear because both the protagonist and the reader know and understand the creation of the plot, unlike in both TWD (where both do not know) and in 28 days (where only the reader knows). The thing we fear the most is uncertainty, so if you can translate that fear of uncertainty to the protagonists, you can succeed in inciting fear in your readers. Having the event that causes the book being called "The Rising" doesn't cause uncertainty, it basically spells out the cause of the outbreak. "They rose from the dead yipee." was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this. Now, I call this a cliche because in every bland Zombie novel I've (and everyone and their mother has) read that states the outbreak to the reader with these just bland names for the event "The Outbreak." "The Sickness" "The Plague." They are so black and white that they are essentially interchangeable. Now, while I may seem against your naming choice (hell look how much I've written and I haven't even gotten past the first sentence, but overall for a place holder, I think it's fine. But I suggest spicing it up and adding a bit of originality to it. /minirant Because the zombie genre has been done to (literal) death (pun intended) and prospective zombie writers are given the metaphysical shaft to being original. Because it's boring to read essentially the same story over and over and over again. That is why books like "Warm Bodies" exist, because we, as zombie fiction writers, have diluted the source of prime zombie content so much that we need to delve into romantic comedies. /rant] suddenly and quickly swept across the world. An unknown force While this seems like a good string of words to cause uncertainty in the readers, it actually does the complete opposite. See, what I failed to mention above, (for good reason) is that there is a fine line between creating uncertainty, and leading your reader astray. Again, I'll use the Walking Dead (spoilers y'all) again as a perfect point for comparison, we initially have no idea what caused the outbreak, but eventually we get the CDC two part episode (episodes like 9 an 10, so relatively early), where eventually we learn next season, that everyone is infected, whilst keeping in the narrative that they have no idea what caused the outbreak. "Was it the government? They were in the CDC so it may be the government. But I could also be an overseas biological weapon right? Or is it just a piece of circumstance?" These are all questions that are brought up during the course of two episodes. These are questions of uncertainty. So yes, TWD runs under the "unknown force" much like you do, but they actually have a force: "It's a disease." This is again why a book like "Warm Bodies" is sub par in my eyes as a zombie book, because unlike time travel the Zombie portion of the book needs to be the focus of the book, Warm Bodies is a great romantic book sure, but it fails at being a Zombie book as it uses "Zombies" as a crutch at a grasp of being unique. Now this all sounds conflicting right? "You can't tell both parties what happened but you still have to give a reason to both parties?" is probably flying through your read right now, and the answer is yes. You can give hints, but you really shouldn't give the full story, because hints cause readers (and the protagonists) to ask questions. and when readers ask questions, they are surprised when the truth is relieved, so they are on the edge of their seats on what the cause is and they pry and pry at more details behind what the cause of the outbreak was. This is why I was so attached to TWD for three good seasons (besides season 2 being trash): I wanted to know what the cause of the outbreak was. And after the CDC episodes, I got my fill that tided me over for two whole seasons, by the end of season three my focus was no longer on the cause, but on the characters. This should be your goal. (of course, my words should not be taken as final, there are many ways to write a successful book, and many great books are those that break the mold of the common thought) Your goal should be draw the reader in with the cause of the outbreak, then sell them on the development of your world. Saying an "unknown force" was the cause, does none of this, it doesn't draw in the reader, even as a prologue, it doesn't draw me in. (And I realize you can explain this as you go on but saying "an unknown force" doesn't bode well for the rest of the book in my eyes, of course this is only a prologue. But it seems to be you are set on using the outbreak as a backdrop immediately rather than as a catalyst to push the story forward.) caused the corpses of the dead to come back to life and consume living flesh. People struggled to discover the cause as cities and nations became overrun and fell one by one, suggestions ranging from plague and biological weapons to aliens and even God's wrath. You know, now that I just written a full entry level essay on the topic right here kinda sucks the life out of me. My points still ring true though, you still hang onto the "unknown force" with out a true hint. Expand on this point, don't use it as a throw away line in the prologue. Politicians and military leaders gathered and frantically bickered (I don't like the use of "frantically bickered" not only does it use an adverb over another descriptive word, but the use of "bickered" implies they were arguing over trivial and petty matters when this is the end of the damn world. I suggest maybe using a more power full word here, "spar" or "fight"?. "Desperately" easily outclasses "Frantically" as an adverb in this section, remember this is the fate of humanity. No ones going to "frantically bicker" over the end of humanity as they know it. Maybe "Politicians the military leaders desperately tried to formulate a plan to save humanity from it's impending... blah blah" Yes it's as cliché as next Tuesday, but it instills more in the reader than "frantically bickered" over ways to preserve the human race, but make little headway use "progress", not "headway" it reads easier while the dead continue to rapidly multiply (I'd prefer if this was flipped to "multiply rapidly" I think it just flows better). Within weeks, communications and infrastructure breaks down (Wait. wait. why switch tenses? You switched from past tense to present tense almost immediately, whilst still using "withing weeks" implying that we are still reading in the past tense. I suggest sticking with one tense until the end (preferably past tense) and then push into present/future tense. The break here and sudden switch reads very oddly, and kind of breaks the flow of the prologue. across the world and public order deteriorates as desperate people turn on each other for shelter and resources. The human race is imploding Of course it is. It's the freaking zombie apocalypse. This line has no real merit as it tells the reader something they already know. I suggest cutting it. Not only are the authorities fighting a losing war against the dead, but now rebellions and insurrections popped up (wait again, now we're in past tense again? I think you need to reread this to figure out your tense usage) in every corner of the world, forcing them to violently pacify the very people they are trying to protect. On September 18th, a mere two months after The Rising, Australia is the first to go dark. (In two months? Jesus, the land down under lasted a long time. You realize that they would be underwater within weeks if not days. If this was your classical Zombie (slow walking, incurable, scratch or a bite turns you, none of those 28 days later kinda freaks) It would take a mere week for them to effectively take over the coasts of Australia where most people are densely populated, due to population density and the locations of hospitals. Now, as a person who has researched this kind of stuff, I easily can point this out, but for a regular reader you should be fine. I'm just saying, two months, is a hell of a long time for a place like Australia to last. Plus you state that there are hundreds of millions infected within two months of "The Rising" this just backs up how fast Australia would be screwed. For reference the 1918 flu infected 50 million people in a 35 month span, or around 2.857 Million people every two months. The Bubonic plague ranged for 7 years in Europe (84 months) and killed up to 200 Million. I'll take the high number of deaths (since we don't know the exact infection rate) and say 200 million were killed; that is only 4.761 Million dead per two months. Also the fact the the worst plague in history killed only the amount of people you have infected in 7 years kinda should tell you that Australia would be done within weeks, if not days if the infection rate is that damn high. Let's say you have a 300 million infection rate in 2 months. That is almost 5 Million infections A DAY. That's more than the Bubonic plague KILLED in 7 years. Aussie land has a population of ~23 million. They should be done in with in weeks if not days at this point. Basically what I'm getting at is reduce your infection rate, or your time for The Land Down Under going dark. It's not realistic to expect for the grid to go out in two months, when more than 99% of the population would be dead in week or two at most. China and Russia deploy nuclear weapons against their most densely-populated areas in a desperate bid to cull the number of dead, now ranging in the hundreds of millions. Following a brief nuclear exchange with their southern neighbor, the entire population of North Korea reportedly disappears into subterranean bunkers, never to emerge again. (I like this. Good Job. I don't know how relevant it is to the story but still nice.) Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America go dark. Eight months after The Rising, the United States is last known functioning nation nation on Earth and struggles to endure, but begins to break down from within (I'm an American and yay the USA sorta made it. But I'm kinda iffy on us outlasting a continent that has almost 400 million more people than us. Yes, you can argue that could be more Zombie fodder but still. They have Russia, one of the hardest places to traverse in the damn world. I doubt that a bunch of risen from the dead Zombies could take over Russia. (I know the nuke strikes wouldn't help but still. It's still fun to imagine a world with us Americans.). The Southern states break away to briefly reform the Confederacy, but within days are overrun. On July 4th (har har, "the day that the USA came to be, it was ended." I don't know how original this is, but it just reeks of cliché), ten months after The Rising You realize that "The Rising" started in July right? It has to. The two months before September are August and July, so this thing started on July 18th. So unless the Gregorian calendar did a switcheroo on me, there are still 12 months in a year, not ten (technically it would be 11 and like 2 weeks, not a year between the start and the end of The Rising), the dwindling remains of the most powerful military force on the planet disperse in defeat and the world's only remaining superpower ceases to exist. The dead have finally conquered the Earth.

    Overall, (despite the flying red critique) I thought it was alright. You set an alright world whilst keeping true to the narrative. However I have a few questions and comments outside of my initial reactions in red:

    It reads more like a synopsis rather than a prologue.
    See, while it gives relevant and ties into the main plot. It does not read like a prologue. A prologue is meant to set a scene, not tell us everything. Basically, this reads like a brief summary of the premise of the story, it does not set up the story. Yes you have that little hook of "The dead have finally conquered the Earth" (like they had any ambition before) but that one line doesn't set the scene. The purpose is for the entire thing to set the scene, not one line at the bottom. You set up the world, not the scene in this piece

    Where does the story go after this?
    Are we going to get the world prospective from the view of the dead? I mean the ending line doesn't leave much to be desired, you basically exhausted all options for a story about th
    e survivors. Now, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Books about the experiences of the already dead are pretty unique and can open the eyes of the reader, but still we are given no inclination that this story will be like that. To be honest, this reinforces the point about this reading like a synopsis, not a prologue; I am totally clueless on where this story is supposed to go, and while that can be a page turner, it still has the potential to confuse the reader (which was accomplished with me) let me put it like this. I had a better understanding of your story before I read the prologue.

    It has some continuity issues.
    Yea, Yea, I've already pointed this out: The whole thing about Australia going dark in "a mere" two months is absolutely absurd with a "hundred million" infection rate in 2 months. I already did the math, this is simply a little reminder to be cognizant of your world building. Zombie aficionados are crazy about being immersed in the world, and little details like this can kill that experience for them.

    In Conclusion
    I want to read an excerpt of this story at least to get a basis and if you can post one, that'd be great. I mean it has it's flaws and it's high points, I just want to read the main story to really see if my convictions and ideas are really on point.

    Best of luck in your endevours

    ~P
    "He slides into second with a stand-up double." - Jerry Coleman
    "Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth." - Lou Gehrig
    "After Jackie Robinson, the most important black in baseball history is Reggie Jackson." - Reggie Jackson
    "Your Holiness, I'm Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal." - Joe Medwick to Pope Pius XII
    "I think Tim Wakefield would even say tonight that Tim Wakefield got to Tim Wakefield tonight." - Tim McCarver

  3. #3
    What did you tell the reader, as a lecture, that they couldn't learn, in context, as part of the story?

    Your reader is with you to be entertained, not to study in order to be able to read a story. When was the last time you turned to a history book for entertaining reading? Story happens in the moment your protagonist calls "now." Anything else all too often reads like an info-dump, and is the kiss of death on the sales floor—be that in the publisher's office or the bookstore.

    In fact, most of what you say in the prologue may be forgotten before the reader reaches chapter three. Remember, they may be with you for only a few minutes a day, at lunch, on the train, etc. So by the time they reach chapter three it's been over a week since they read this.

    One of the reasons acquiring editors are down on prologues is that all too often they are info-dumps, and read like a report.

  4. #4
    Thanks for the input, especially to Ptolemy. A lengthy read, but very useful.

    @Ptolemy
    I completely agree with you about the mystery aspect. Speculating about the outside world in a post-apocalyptic future is certainly fun and something I enjoy the most about the genre. TWD, The Road (probably my favorite post-apoc film; been meaning to read the book), The Book of Eli, The Last of Us, Fallout, and the Mad Max franchise all take good advantage of that by having smaller-scale, more concentrated stories while sprinkling hints about the outside world here and there.

    Zombie apocalypse plots are also an extremely difficult thing to begin in a believable manner. Robert Kirkman kind of copped out in a way (I don't mean that negatively) by starting TWD with the coma angle and has repeatedly said that even though he has ideas of the origin the zombie outbreak, he has no desire to write about it or the collapse of the government.

    On a slightly off-topic note, which Ptolemy are you a fan of to choose that name? Or did you just choose it because it sounded cool?

    @Jay
    Unfortunately, the concept is in its very early stages and still evolving, so I don't have anything I can post. I haven't really even delved into who the leading man or lady is yet. But Left 4 Dead and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare were the strongest inspirations for the idea, if that tells you anything.

  5. #5
    I think I'd give an excerpt a read to see what you have to offer-- for what that is worth.

  6. #6
    You've already received very apt feedback so I'll be brief.

    I'm an impatient reader. Most are. There is so much work out there that we'll not often read past the first sentence before deciding to buy or pass-by a book.

    Your first sentence managed to tentatively hook me with the mention of an unknown 'Rising' event. It was enough to make me read a few more sentences, but since there wasn't anything else to intrigue me I lost interest.

    I recommend you scrap the tedious history lesson, and write a scene which drops us in close to the climax of an action sequence.

    Ideally, we should meet your main character in the first few sentences, and find something about him which interests us (a conflict, a strong desire, a surprise, or even better, a relationship between characters).



    In writing a Zombie Apocalypse setting, you benefit from readers already knowing the general setting. It really doesn't need to be explained at all unless there's something very different and significant to the rest of the story.

    Any explaination you feel you must do, the advice is this: It comes back to that much-repeated adage 'show don't tell'. Your text is entirely tell. Instead, show us what has happened in the living, breathing world! (or undead, rotting world in your case!)

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