David Kazzie: Five Things I Learned Writing The Immune
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS.
On a warm summer night at Yankee Stadium, a monstrous plot to eradicate the human race is set into motion.
Within days, the deadly Medusa virus is racing across the globe like a wildfire, leaving behind a handful of terrified survivors in a world unlike any they have ever known.
One of those immune – Dr. Adam Fisher – discovers that his college-aged daughter in California may share his rare resistance to the virus. With a raggedy band of other survivors, he treks across a ruined American landscape to find her, discovering along the way a dangerous new enemy that threatens their fragile existence and learning that his daughter may have become their latest victim.
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“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
You really need to trust your gut.
I fell in love with post-apocalyptic fiction after reading The Stand in 1993. Since then, I’ve read and watched countless books and movies in the genre. I’ve always been attracted to these kinds of stories – ordinary people living in a very recognizable world with suburbs and Twitter and Taco Bells suddenly thrust into a new world emptied by plague, ravaged by zombies, irradiated by nukes, whatever. For years, I’d longed to write a post-apocalyptic tale – but I never did it. I wrote other books instead.
Finally, in 2011, I sat down and started writing The Immune. I banged out about 40,000 words in two months. I loved writing it. And then I stopped, probably the most damn-fool decision of my writing life, having been advised that there was no market for such a book. Despite every fiber of my being screaming not to give up on The Immune, I wrote yet another book. That book wasn’t very good (and it remains locked in solitary confinement on my hard drive). I floundered for months trying to come up with something else marketable and didn’t write a thing. And then I decided I was either going to finish The Immune or I was going to stop writing entirely.
So on November 12, 2012, I went to a coffee shop and pounded out 4,000 words. None of those words made it into the final draft, but I was off and running. I didn’t care about the industry or the market. I never looked back. I wrote the book that deep down I wanted to write, the one my gut had been telling me to write for years.
There’s a reason people tell you to write what you love. When you do it, two things happen – the work gets done, and you’re driven to do your best work.
“Your friend is quite the mercenary. I wonder if he cares about anything.”
Look, no one cares if you ever write a book.
Nothing puts up a bigger headwind than the pursuit of the arts. I think this fact kills more writing dreams than anything else. Once you announce that you’re going to write a book, you’ll get an “Awesome, can’t wait to read it!” and 38 Facebook Likes. And then everyone will promptly forget about your silly book writing and you will be all alone.
Even worse? No one will be tapping his/her watch and saying, “honey, don’t you have a thousand words you need to bang out here?”
The world would keep on spinning just fine if I stopped writing, if you stopped writing, even if Chuck stopped… (*Writing Shed starts to rattle*). Well, Chuck is different. SORRY SHED.
Repeat after me. No one cares. Your mom or dad or spouse or kid or best friend will love you just the same if you walk away from that book forever.
But it’s so freeing. No one else needs to care, not right now. I wrote the very best story I was capable of writing, free of the shackles of worrying what others might think about it.
“No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
You’ve got more time to write than you think.
The first draft of The Immune weighed in at about 180,000 words. After my coffee shop get-r-done! epiphany, I wrote about 140,000 of those words in five months.
When you decide to seriously pursue writing fiction, you will probably be doing it at a time that you have about forty other VERY GROWN UP obligations and then fuck, can’t I just sit and watch this Big Bang Theory marathon while eating this here Chinese food because I’ve had the longest goddamn day?
I lead about the most suburban life you can imagine – I’m married with two kids and a job and a dog and I do most of the cooking and yard work. We have soccer games and practices, Girl Scout meetings, PTA meetings, I’m even on the board of the homeowners association.
But I always make time to write. It may not be the same place every day, It may not be the same time every day, it may not even BE every day. It could be fifteen minutes here, an hour there. At soccer practice. Waiting for the pasta water to boil. A couple hundred words at lunch. But it gets done. Because I want it to be done.
“Many Bothans died … to bring us this information.”
To a writer, a novel is a bit like the Death Star. It’s big, constantly under construction, and it looms over everything in your life. And to attack it, you need a blueprint.
There are more novel-writing strategies out there than there are naughty words in a Chuck Wending blog post so you know that’s a big number. In the end, they probably all work to some degree in that they force you to give some serious thought about where you’re ultimately headed with this hostage crisis I mean story. This is incredibly important because if you’re going to write a book in 15 or 60-minute slivers (and the truth is, you’re almost certainly going to have to if you’re just starting out), you want that time to be productive. A blueprint is incredibly comforting in the lonely weeks and months when you’re in the no-one-cares stage, when it’s just you and your keyboard and your tequila-Cherry-coke slammers.
Chuck has a great post called 25 Ways to Plot, Plan & Prep Your Story. Read it, arm yourself with the weapons you like, and launch your assault on your personal Death Star.
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
When things go off the rails, and they certainly will, your characters will tell you what needs to happen.
HAHAHA no, I don’t really mean that they actually tell you I’m not a psycho. At some point, things will go off the rails. You’ll cry, scream, beg, drink, eat Cheetos and you will want to give up and try that shiny new idea tickling you in your writerly parts.
You have to get past that. And this is how you do it.
Think about what your characters want. Everyone wants something – it could be an internal thing (be a better parent) or external thing (get tickets to sold-out Meghan Trainor concert). It could be both. Achieving one goal could get your character the other. Failing at one could mean success at the other.
On the surface, Breaking Bad was a show about a mild-mannered teacher who wanted to provide for his family in the face of his impending death from lung cancer. He used who he was (a brilliant chemist) to make that a reality via a very pure and very lucrative formula for crystal meth. But it went deeper than that – the man he’d been before the events of Breaking Bad played a significant role in driving the lengths that he would go to in order to achieve that surface goal. And as the story unfolded, we learned that Walter’s true goal was something much darker and more terrifying.
If you know your characters well, you’ll know what they want beyond the surface goal (and I don’t mean to discount the surface goal’s importance, because the surface goal is often the thing that brings the deeper goal to light), much like Vince Gilligan clearly knew what Walter White’s true goal was.
And those goals, filtered through the prism of whom your characters had been before the story began, will often light your way through the narrative and deliver a richer story.
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David lives in Virginia with his family. His first novel, The Jackpot, was a No. 1 Legal Thriller on Amazon and will be published in Bulgaria later this year. He’s also the creator of a series of short animated films, including So You Want to Write a Novel, which have been viewed nearly 3 million times on YouTube and were featured in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post.
The Immune: Amazon