Getting Creative with Writing Part 2: Zombiegeddon

There could be no scenario in which being an Effective Contributor would be a more essential capacity than in a zombie apocalypse. Everyone would have to stick together. Together we stand, divided we fall. Or even get eaten.

I created a collaborative creative writing project for 3rd Level called Zombiegeddon in which groups plan short graphic novels about a Zombie Apocalypse in Scotland.

They create five hero characters, each embodying a different survival quality. Pupils are encouraged to make these qualities relate to outcomes from Curriculum for Excellence - Literacy, Numeracy or Health and Wellbeing.

The first step is for pupils to plan a setting by listing five positive and five negative things about Scotland which they plan to make use of in their story. For example, a positive might be the country’s historical landmarks like Edinburgh castle, whilst a negative could be Scotland’s unhealthy diet… This gives a context for the story to communicate that the negative things about this imagined Scotland have in some way destroyed its positives.

Next, they discuss their characters. As this is a collaborative exercise, it makes sense for each member of the group to create a character and decide their survival quality. Something which works well to personalise the creative experience for the pupils is if they isolate one of their own attributes or of someone they care about and develop this as a character. 

It is essential that the main idea of the story comes across clearly. This could be partly achieved through the illustrations but most importantly, the choice of dialogue and events should convey what the story is really about. A science fiction story will often present an allegory. This is a zombie story about an imagined future but pupils should try to use it to tell another story about the real present.

The constant theme of zombie stories is survival but there are countless other possible themes – for example, citizenship, the end of humanity, morality, the need for communication, individuality, the preciousness of life; the list is almost endless.

Once groups have planned all of these elements, they take the content to planning the graphic novel format. The translation of one form of text to another is very much in tune with the ethos of Curriculum for Excellence and encourages a breadth in young people’s understanding of 21st Century Literacy.

This is a zombie story about an imagined future but pupils should try to use it to tell another story about the real present.

It is important to remember that graphic novels are - just as the title suggests – a combination of words and images, so groups should first plan out the layout and content for each page. Narrative will appear in a small box within some (but not all) panes. This should be used to contextualise the events which are taking place and provide additional information about character and setting.

Details of the story can be given in captions, more or less like stage directions, and dialogue will appear in speech bubbles - in this way, graphic novels are like scripts, only with illustrations.

One of the things which works particularly effectively in this task is the combination of media as this allows each group member to play to their strengths. If someone in the group is a talented artist, they should plan and manage the design and layout; if another member is a skilled writer, they should employ their vocabulary to ensure the best words are chosen to make dialogue carry meaning. The illustrations themselves are very important because these act as snapshots of the action. Only one visual concept should feature in each panel in order to give the reader an immediate impression of the action.

Through working together, ideas are strengthened and developed from the planning stage to completion. This activity creates a terrific sense of shared effort between learners and I even heard of some of my pupils meeting up in the public library on the weekends to work on their Zombiegeddon story. With teamwork like that, surviving a zombie apocalypse would be nothing to them at all…

Peter Kelly has led some fantastic creative writing projects featured on our website - have a look at his case study package where you'll find everything you need to hold a classroom Word War!

If you and your pupils have zombies on the brain, why not check out our recorded events with acclaimed zombie horror writers Charlie Higson and Darren Shan?

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly is a secondary English teacher based in South Lanarkshire, currently working on secondment as a Development Officer. Stay tuned for the next blog in his Getting Creative with Writing series!