Just had an idea for a novel. Here’s how I developed that idea (think of it as a case-study):
When you flip a coin it can either be heads or tails. In any argument, there are two sides: yours and theirs. When something bad happens then there are at least five ways you can react: denial, anger, bargaining, grief or acceptance. What if all of these sides were not just aspects of the self, but real people (or characters in a novel)?
The characters are different aspects of me. My denial will be called Eddie (Sheeran), anger will be Kurt (Cobain), bargaining will be Simbiatu (Little Simz), depression will be Dylan (Thomas – Under Milk Wood) and acceptance will be Jane ((Emma) Austen).
- Eddie is really called Dean (Newstead). Some kind of a double life going on.
- Just noticed that Kurt’s got big(ish) boobs. I dunno, maybe it’s the steroids and that’s why his moods are swinging.
- Simbiatu is the first name of rapper Little Simz. I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed to write real people into a story but I can anonymise aspects of their life and personality.
- Dylan’s skin looks milky white. Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
- Jane looks like she could be an Austen but perhaps it’d be better to call her Emma. I could get a lot of mileage out of an Emma.
A serial killer is loose in the (city, countryside, hamlet, isolated mansion, fortified supermarket) – a cancer in the heart of the (city, community). One by one, Eddie, Kurt, Simbiatu and Dylan are murdered until only Emma remains alive. Is she the killer or is there someone else? Yeah, we’re going to have to go for the fortified supermarket. But fortified against what? Well, duh, Zombies; obviously! But don’t worry, they’re just a backdrop. Just a reason why the situation is inescapable. The inevitability of what happens next is important.
To be honest, that’s all the planning I need. The novel just about builds itself from here on out.
- Setting the scene: all characters together in the middle of a crisis (yeah, the zombies are trying it on)
- Killer’s background (lots of little stories that show character and motivation). Maybe cut this up and put a piece before each of the following sections. Let’s see.
- Eddie’s background told in a graphic and image rich style. Why is he really Dean? How does this contribute to what follows? How does denial fit in? Is denial in his natural nature or his bolted-on behaviour?
- Eddie being hunted, stalked and killed. Nothing too explicit. Bloody but not gratuitous. The death of denial.
- Kurt’s background and life before the zombies. How he got there. Use stuff from Cobain’s life but nothing too obvious. Do supermarkets stock steroids? Withdrawal? Anger? How does he show anger? What’s the root of his anger?
- Kurt’s death could look like an accident or suicide but it really is murder. Let’s see how that plays out. What does fiercely burning anger being snuffed out look like?
- Simbiatu is a waif. She is a very sympathetic character. Her background is a case study of rising up in the face of poverty and deprivation. She will capture your heart so that …
- Simbiatu’s death will hit you very hard. It will be tragic. A waste of potential, love, life and heart. Her determination to live will have you roaring her on in her attempts to evade the killer. She’ll try to bargain for her life, but she’ll still die.
- Dylan is a bit of a downer. He is melancholy and this affected the group, and everyone else in his past, in a negative way. We delve into Dylan’s background and in the process we draw on Dylan Thomas and his work. Steal, steal, steal.
- Dylan’s death is, to be honest, a bit of a relief to everyone concerned. I mean, no-one (except for serial killers) wants anyone to die (they want their victims to die) but removing all that wailing and weeping from a scene can’t be anything but uplifting.
- Emma’s background. Hmm. Well, for a start, she’s just like the Emma in Jane Austen’s novel. Please don’t make me read it. Maybe I could skim it or read the SparkNotes or watch the movie? Seems that Jane is her first name and Emma is her middle name, but she like’s to be known as Emma so I guess we just have to accept that.
- Emma’s survival means that acceptance is the final state of the book, but acceptance of what? Does she accept her role as a serial killer (if that’s what she is)? Or does she accept her role as a survivor? Any which way around, Emma survives, but what is she left with? The supermarket is the body. The fortifications are the drugs/diet against the disease (zombies) but how are they effective when the enemy is already within (the serial killer).
- The last scene is the invasion of the zombies from outside. The death of denial, anger, bargaining and grief, even though they are ineffective companions, has taken too much from the defence of the supermarket. Emma and her acceptance is too laisser-faire to defend the supermarket alone. We witness one last assault where the zombies (picture them as Covid-19, flu, or a common cold) invade the supermarket (the body). Contained within are Emma (acceptance) the serial killer (cancer). They try to fight together because, after all, the serial killer is still human (part of the human race) even though he has gone rogue (cancerous) and he still wants to live after his own fashion. Emma accepts everything and so has given up. Or – wait – has she? Let’s have a look at what Emma’s actually accepting here.
Here’s an invader. Here’s an enemy. The enemy is providing a way for the invaders to come inside (partly through killing parts of the defending force and partly by unlocking the doors (health, strength, immunity, order, determination) that kept the invaders (disease, disorder) out). Here is a weapon. Here is acceptance. Here is an invader. Here is acceptance of the weapon. Drug trials happen all the time. Some are effective weapons against disease. Accept the trial, accept the weapon, accept the victory. Accept the arrival of the cavalry. Helicopters can land on the roof of a hospital and whisk survivors to safety – it happens all the time. Not every serial killer story has to have an unhappy ending. Zombies don’t always win; they are not immune to napalm. And if the serial killer gets caught up in the flames then who’s gonna mourn? Now that’d be something worth accepting.
Ha, now all I have to do is write it up.
The serial killer has to have a name. It has to be so unpronounceable in English that they call him ‘C’ or ‘Big C’. I’ve been having a conversation with a language expert (hi, Melissa): at https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/129050235/posts/248
Me: “Hey, Melissa, I have a really random sounding question. I need a first name for a new novel that begins with C and is largely unpronounceable to English speakers. Your surname made me think you light know of one. Perhaps it could have plenty of zeds or exes in it.
I’m Robert. Sorry if I weirded you out with that question. :)”
Melissa: “Hello Robert! Well i don’t know if this will work for you, but what came to my mind is “Chizvinzwira” which translates to “now hear for yourself ” in my language (Shona). I’m honored you asked by the way, i guess i like random questions.”
Me: “Wow, thank’s Melissa – that’s ideal. I have no idea where to begin in pronouncing that correctly. Perfect.
Now I need to ask permission to use the name I guess. I’ve just planned out a novel (you can see the plan here if you like: https://robertcday.wordpress.com/2021/09/14/embodying/) and I needed a name for my serial killer. He’s not going to be called Chizvinzwira in the book because he’s in England and, because no-one in the situation he finds himself in (trapped in a Supermarket with Zombie Hordes surrounding it) has the mental bandwidth to pronounce his name (or they’re all racist idiots – I haven’t decided yet (probably a combination of the two)) then they call him C. Actually, they call him Big C. I’ve not decided whether that’s because he’s big and muscular or big and fat – which do you think would be most likely? I think the former (muscular) because he’s got to have some strength in order to be able to kill all those people. Unless he’s cunning, I suppose. Probably cunning and fat would be most likely due to his motivation for killing them (food is running out in the supermarket). I don’t really know what people who speak Shona are like (which dialect, by the way?) but there are always going to be outliers.
Anyway, like I say – I need to ask your permission to use this name because it’s not for good purposes. C will be fat and cunning, will kill four people out of greed for food and life, and will not be redeemed at the end of the book (he will die in a napalm attack along with the zombies in the closing scene). What do you think?
Kindness – Robert.”