June 27, 2013

Chris Philbrook: The Journey of Character

Philbrook is the author and creator of 
which is a zombie fiction web phenomenon 
as well as a successful series of books. 

Characters in zombie fiction?

Are frequently crap. I hate to say it, but it's true. I wonder how much of it is us authors wanting to write stories about straight up badasses?

Or, alternately, are zombie fiction characters always badasses because we need badassed characters with a certain skill set to survive the post-apocalyptic scenarios we put them in?
Of course there are the zombie fiction characters out there that are the non badassed type. A great example is Jon Maberry's Rot & Ruin character Benny Imura. He's just a scared teenager. Of course his older brother Tom-

Is a straight up badass.
You can't win.
Incidentally, I love Jon's work. If you haven't read it, do so immediately. It would be considered a win.

Sometimes zombie fiction characters exist solely to offer knowledge or a perspective to a story. I know I've written a few of those types. Need someone to fix a broken engine? Write yourself a mechanic. Engine's fixed, the knowledge imparted, and you want the story to seem really scary and brutally realistic?

Kill the mechanic off.

BOOM. You too can be a frigging BOSS zombie fiction writer.
The pay sucks, and there's a LOT of us, just so we're clear. But hop in, the water's warm, and very few us bite!
Back to the character thing. Some of the characters we write exist to be victims, let's be honest. Our very own zombie fiction red shirts. We give you just enough character development for readers to get attached, and then BOOM! We kill them off because the story needs to be scary. Flex that author muscle. 

It's kind of fun killing off characters, I won't lie.

Someone once asked me in the Adrian's Undead Diary premium forums if I have trouble killing off characters. The honest answer is no, I don't, but that's not the full answer. I've killed off many characters in AUD that I genuinely liked writing that readers liked or even loved. The hate mail I could show you would either make you laugh, or run screaming to your gun cabinet.

But the real duty of the writer is not to simply the characters, and our enjoyment when we write them. Our duty is to the story.

And sometimes, we need to sit down, drink our alcoholic beverage of choice to excess, and realize that the story we are trying to write will be better if we kill off a certain character, even if we never intended to in the first place.

I mean hell, what if we kill someone off and we do a crap job of it? What if we just slightly miss the tone of an important death scene, and don't do a major character justice?

You, the reader will be super pissed at us, the writers… But you know what, you gotta break eggs to make omelets, and in this genre, you gotta kill characters to make a good zombie story.

I have a certain level of acceptance towards these pre-generated character archetypes. They're useful, they're predictable, and folks honestly really like reading about badasses. We want to read about people who can do the things we can't. Hell, how many of us picked up a book about the dude who was unhappily employed, overweight, and spends too much time on Facebook?

Well I wrote a book that kind of started like that, but in the end, my main character became the badass that everyone wanted to read about.

Moral of the story folks, is that the stories we read are journeys. Journeys fundamentally no different than the ones we take in our everyday lives. Not everyone who starts a journey with us gets to end it with us, and we are virtually guaranteed to be at least a little different when we reach our destination.

The characters we love in the stories we read should be no different.

--Chris Philbrook

Chris Philbrook is the creator and author of Adrian's Undead Diary.  

Chris has several years of experience working in game development and editing as well as writing fiction for several major game design companies.  


  1. Very true Chris, you created one HELL of a story with AUD. But just admit it you had fun screwing with our minds and emotions, sometimes I think you lived off that hatemail. Also... F**kin' Randy.

  2. Loved your article! 1st zombie story I wrote I agonized over which main characters had to die. Knew that someone had to die but I became attached to them and just couldn't see losing any of them from the story line. When I just started writing the action some characters died...lol - had to learn I just needed to follow the story!