Digging Up Cadavers

Zombie GirlDespite the cup of hot coffee and quiet writing area, demons tormented my aching mind. Each evil spirit poked at me, laughing when my new story fell apart somewhere around Act IV. Camellia, my main character, trudged through the motions of lifeless actions. The plot dulled and fizzled on the page. And Beelzebub’s minions waited for a final fall: I would quit the new fantasy-horror book.

Gnashing my teeth, I searched for a better story. The main character’s actions and choices required credibility. And the stakes must rise higher. To write a novel length story, the book must compel a reader to turn the page.

I had to dig deep. I must defy death. I had to start over. Or Camellia lay sacrificed upon an altar of a forgotten manuscript.

Uncovering New Story Bones

Within my mind’s eye, a time-gate threw me back into the main character’s past. I watched Camellia live out past experiences. Some moments delighted her. But an event wounded her emotionally and this trauma haunted a broken heart. A mask grew to hide the pain that she desperately avoided. But underneath this camouflage, the woman’s essence struggled to burst out.

With a backstory revealed, I returned to the present.

The Dead Return

This skeleton needed a soul, mystical elements which animated my story characters. These components lay buried in the backstory:

  • A longing or deeply held desire that the character doesn’t pursue just yet.
  • A need to fill a hole within the heart.
  • A painful wound which spawns a fear.
  • A false identity or mask to shut out the wound’s pain and to prevent it from returning.
  • And a character’s essence or truth that the character’s mask hides.

With these key elements, Camellia wanders about regardless of story setting or genre. She fights an ongoing struggle between her identity and essence. And at the book’s finish, the truth reveals itself or, tragically, the protagonist falls victim to her personal weakness.

A Heart Beats 

Knowing how the story finishes, when the character rips her mask off or falls to tragedy, is only a beginning. What makes my story credible? And compelling?  Derived from the major story elements, scenes play out a purpose. Camellia is not a mindless zombie.

A zombie character acts, more or less, dead on the page. He or she performs physical and external actions, but internal motivations don’t drive them. Sure, villains plan to blow up Boring City, but the protagonist packs his bags and moves to Boring City Two. The End. A living character wants to thrive in jeopardy and eventually defuse the ticking bomb.

So to compel a reader onward, Camellia (my main character) acts credibly within a scene’s frame:

  • A character scene and story has a visualized goal, driving the story forward.
  • The character’s motivations for such a goal make sense within the larger key story elements. What is within the character’s soul?
  • Something could be or should be at stake. This external or internal potential loss hurts the protagonist or someone else close to the protagonist. (Internal losses affect the character in an overarching and greater way.)
  • And of course, there should be a conflict against man, nature, or self.

Now, her heart pulses. Camellia lives.

She Lives and Breathes

I’m drinking hot coffee, again.  Camellia shows me a new inner peace where her story goes to better places than I had ever considered. And perhaps she’ll be happier by “The End”, too. Time will tell. But at least the demons have fled, having no one to torment now. I write on.







3 thoughts on “Digging Up Cadavers

  1. Ben Burnes

    This is a great writeup, it’s interesting how deep and immersive story writing can be. I love that good stories actually omit lots of the details that led to that moment, they have the character act the way they would.


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