5 Ways To Kill “Zombie” Prose Before It Kills You

Zombie Prose is writing that systematically deteriorates over time. It is slow, plodding sentences that all but growl at readers to go away. 

(Growling pages — now that would be cool)

Like the walking dead, Zombie Prose is infectious, contaminating surrounding paragraphs. 

Zombie Prose literally (and literarily) kills your writing. 

That’s why bestselling authors know and use 5 key strategies for keeping Zombie Prose at bay. 

5 Ways To Kill Zombie Prose

These secrets are like your personal fictional shovels to bash against the rotting skulls of Zombie Prose (wow, that got violent quickly!😬)

1) Awareness 

Many of the most pressing problems in life and fiction exist outside of our awareness. This is what you don’t know that you don’t know.

The good news is that, by reading this blog post, you’re opening your awareness to one of the most damaging errors in writing.

Awareness comes from intentional focus and mental discipline.

The more you train yourself to look for Zombie Prose, the better you’ll become at spotting it. This doesn’t mean perfection. This is about excellence and ongoing improvement of your craft.

As you become more aware of Zombie Prose, you can see it everywhere – in your own writing, emails, online, and even in published work.

The remaining four points might be considered signals to flag your awareness to possible Zombie Prose.

2) Active Writing 

While there are limited moments when passive tense is warranted and even preferable, most writing benefits from an infusion of active verbs and dynamic sentences.

One of the easiest ways to spot Zombie Prose is by looking for passive tense in your sentences.

My favorite way to explain passive tense is: “Anytime you can add the phrase ‘by zombies’ to the end of a sentence, you probably have passive tense.”

For example, the ball was thrown. Since you can add, “By zombies” to the end of the sentence to make “the ball was thrown by zombies” you have passive tense.

Another way to think about passive tense is to focus on it’s opposite – active writing. Active writing  (or active tense) is generally when the subject of the sentence acts upon a noun, or object.

For example, “the boy threw the ball.” The subject is the boy, the verb is threw and the noun or object is the ball. What you usually want to avoid is a object (that isn’t the subject) acting upon the subject of the sentence. In other words, “the ball was thrown by the boy.”

Just like keeping active is a great way to protect against real life zombies (I almost said “flesh and blood zombies” before realizing that really didn’t make sense) active writing is a great defense against literary Zombie Prose.

3) Quick Pace 

Another proven strategy for spotting Zombie Prose is to look at pacing. The faster the pace of the story, the less likely Zombie Prose is rearing it’s undead head.

Of course, pacing is a subjective element judged by the beholder. Most of the time, a faster pace is preferable. Stories with little to no Zombie Prose typically adopt a faster pace were events unfold in rapid fire succession.

Like an actual undead walker, Zombie Prose stumbles along at a slower pace.

A simple way, then, to eradicate Zombie Prose is to search for slow paced passages and speed them up.

Accelerated writing usually involves lots of action and reaction supported by strong verbs and often, but not always, shorter sentences.

4) Characters With Rocket Fuel

You can go a long way in defeating Zombie Prose by ensuring that your characters are properly and massively motivated.

The rewards for action should be paramount and the consequences of inaction (and failure) unimaginable.

That is to say, a motivated character doesn’t sit around doing nothing and having banal conversations about the weather. A motivated character asks, tries, fails, makes things worse, involves others, escalates and keeps moving the story forward toward the goal – whatever that might be.

Stories rife with Zombie Prose are full of inaction, long flowing descriptions and characters doing nothing but taking up literary space.

By the way, motivation is an equal opportunity element of fiction. The antagonist should be just as motivated as the protagonist.

Neither the good guys or the bad guys should be sitting still. Each should be involved in taking massive action toward their own personal goals.

5) Ruthless Editing 

Ah, editing.

No amount of Zombie Prose security will block all zombies from showing up in your work.

Your final defense as an author is objectivity and revision.

I like to say, only edit the pages you want published.

If you use these five strategies, the zombie hordes won’t win. Your readers will.


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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Posted in books, creativity, screenwriting, Success, writer, Writing
2 comments on “5 Ways To Kill “Zombie” Prose Before It Kills You
  1. Kat says:

    Very helpful!

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