Monday, July 29, 2019

Squeezing the Last Drop Out of a Premise

NOTE:  In honor of this week's series finale of iZombie, (You will be missed Liv and friends!), here’s a reprint of an article I wrote after the first season.

I am not a big fan of zombies because massive bands of stupid, shambling dead bodies, exploding brains, decapitations, and all-you-can-eat humans are boring in more than very small doses.  I like my bad guys to have brains, not eat them.  

I made an exception, though, after I watched a few trailers for iZOMBIE which seemed to be a paranormal mystery like TRU CALLING and PUSHING DAISIES.  I’m glad I did.

The premise is that a mixture of two designer drugs created the first zombies.  As long as the zombie has brains to eat, he remains human in intelligence, etc., and he can pass as a human although his hair and skin turn white.  Too much adrenaline brings out the red eyes and the rage but most can control it.  The zombie can turn others into a zombie with a scratch or bite.  

The heroine is Doctor Liv Moore, a medical resident, who is turned at a party gone really bad by drug designer, dealer, and zombie Blaine DeBeers.  Realizing she must totally change her life, she breaks her engagement because she fears infecting her fiancé, pulls away from her close family, and starts working as a forensic coroner for the police department to get easy access to brains and to avoid turning her patients into zombies.  

She discovers that she gains the memories, personality traits, and skills of the dead person from his brain so she convinces a police detective that she is psychic and helps him solve murders.  Each week is a new case.  Humor, a bit of romance, and an ongoing arc about Blaine’s evil schemes fill out the series.

Liv’s absorption of other personalities and lives adds humor as well as commentary on her own struggle with her changed life as a zombie.  

NOTE: If you think you’d like to watch the series, stop now because SPOILERS. 

The series would have been interesting enough with just the murder-of-the-week format, but the creators put some serious thought into the possibilities of the premise and really added a bunch of interesting worldbuilding.  Blaine, the drug dealer and entrepreneur, turns rich people and people who will protect him and his business into zombies then makes them pay premium prices for the brains he supplies, and they can’t get elsewhere.  His zombie protectors include several people high in the police department and rich and powerful politicians.  

He starts his own high-end butcher shop as a front for his brain harvesting and even offers zombie haute cuisine.  His minions get most of the brains from the homeless and runaway kids, and he’s found ways to hide the bodies so very few are suspicious.  

Now that the rich have figured out that they can gain new experiences and sensations from others’ brains, he’s started finding people like astronauts to murder to fit those interests.
The point of this analysis is that a simple worldbuilding premise can be so much more if you really think about it, your characters’ personalities, and the possibilities and changes that one element, like zombies, can make to the real world.  

If you do, you can move beyond a one-cool-idea plot to a much richer experience and world for your reader.

YET ANOTHER NOTE:  The complete series is also a perfect example of how to keep changing things up and building your world through a series to keep it fresh.  Every season upped the character and worldbuilding game until what should prove to be an explosive yet happy ending.  

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