Zombies are a beloved trope in literature and media, and it doesn’t seem like the craze will be dying off any time soon. However, in such a diverse genre, it’s not always easy to come up with ideas on your own. Zombies are only part of the equation, after all.
If you know you want to write about zombies, but you need a little direction, here are some short prompts, settings, and story ideas to help you get started.
Short Zombie Writing Prompts for Warming Up
Zombies are a lot of fun to write about, but if you don’t want to write an entire novel, try just writing a single scene instead. It can exist as part of a larger story, but you don’t have to write everything that precedes it. Give readers enough context to understand the characters and the situation, but get creative with how you reveal information over time. That way, you can practice writing about different zombie-related situations without the pressure of making it a complete narrative. Besides, if you end up liking what you write, you can always flesh out (haha) the story later and add more to it!
Here’s a list of zombie writing prompts you can use to warm up, practice, or just have a little fun:
- A desperate character decides to loot a shady gas station they normally wouldn’t approach. Most places have already been ransacked, and this is the only option left.
- Your characters have a bit of downtime repairing and cleaning up their current shelter. What sorts of things do they talk about? How long have they been there?
- Two characters are driving through a zombie wasteland when their car breaks down. One has to repair the car while the other has to defend against the oncoming horde.
- One character in a group of survivors is secretly infected. As their health slowly declines, they get more desperate to blame their symptoms on other things (ie: the colder weather, allergies). At what point do the other survivors realize the truth?
- A pair of siblings reunite for the first time in forever—in the middle of a zombie siege. Is this tearful reunion shortly followed by tragedy, or do the two successfully escape with their lives?
- Zombies are little more than a vague rumor, and you aren’t sure what to believe. The media has a habit of exaggerating the truth, after all… But when you accidentally hit a zombie with your car, you have no choice but to accept the gruesome truth.
- The zombie apocalypse has been going on for some time, and one character has managed to survive inside their own home. Most people abandoned the city, and there aren’t even many zombies around, so they have gotten away with fortifying their home very little. However, when a looter breaks in and injures them, they regret not taking the time to build up their defenses more.
- Your characters have nothing to lose, and a lot of high-powered weapons. When they are cornered by an immense hoard of zombies, they decide to take as many down with them as they can. What ensues can only be described as a zombie-slaying massacre, and the characters leave carnage in their wake before they finally succumb to the zombies.
- A single father of three has to break the news to his children: he was bitten and is going to turn.
- Describe a character slowly succumbing to the disease in first-person. Is it painful? At what point does their consciousness fade? Does it fade completely, or do they remain somewhat aware of what their body does after turning?
- Your protagonist has been living off-the-grid for years, with almost no connection to the outside world. During a rare visit to town, they finally learn about the state of the world.
Setting Ideas for Zombie Apocalypse Stories
If you’re already writing a zombie story, then you probably know that the setting plays a huge part in the storytelling. You need to keep putting your protagonists in interesting and exciting places to encounter zombies to set scenes apart from each other, but it can be hard to keep coming up with new ideas. So, I’ve come up with a brief list of setting ideas that you can use to spice up your characters’ zombie encounters!
Your characters could encounter zombies in a:
- Cruise ship
- Lecture hall
- Hiking trail
- Subway station
- Coal mine
- Pet store
- Water park
- Furniture store
- Wax museum
- Train graveyard
- Mountain lodge
- Sports stadium
- Film set
- Nuclear power plant
- Movie theater
Zombie Story Plot Ideas
If you’re looking for plot ideas for an entire novel, comic, roleplay, or another kind of story, then I’ve got some ideas for you. Unlike the prompts above, these will give you ideas to base an entire narrative around.
- Write a story from the perspective of the person who caused it. Are they a poor scientist trying to find a cure for another disease? A team of infectious disease specialists hired for biological warfare? What was their motivation in the beginning, and what are they going to do about the outbreak now that it is out of control?
- Your main character finds a safe camp, completely walled off from zombies. They have food, water, and shelter in place, as well as a complex security system and a simple form of government. They say their medics have discovered a mix of drugs that combats the virus in early stages and can even prevent infection from spreading immediately, but this is all a ruse in order to control and manipulate people. How do the protagonists find out the truth, and what do they do about it? The people are safe from infection behind the shelter’s walls, but there is no such thing as freedom here.
- Lately, rumors of a perfect camp have been spreading around the wasteland. With nothing left to lose, your protagonist sets off to find it, asking everyone they can for information. Finally, after months of searching, they manage to find the formidable walls of the last major safe place in the nation. When they approach the gates, however, they are told that the shelter is no longer accepting new residents, and if the protagonist does not leave, the shelter will open fire. What happens next?
- There’s a cure for the disease, and you’re a recovering zombie. What’s that like? Will you ever return to normal, or will you live with symptoms forever? Is this story a psychological horror, a comedy, or something else?
- The zombie disease only affects children. Some kids manage to make it to adulthood without getting sick, but the population isn’t sustainable, and the disease becomes more widespread each year. Humanity is slowly dying off. Your main character has a young child they are trying to protect from getting sick, but not only do they have to battle zombies, they have to resist a government that wants to confiscate the child to ensure they reach adulthood. As a bonus, all the zombies in this world are miniature because they’re all children, so that adds another layer of horror into the mix.
- Your protagonist is determined to find a cure… by any means necessary. They slowly descend into madness as the cure proves impossible to create, and they begin desperately experimenting on other human beings by infecting them with the disease.
- Zombies have been a problem for years, and your protagonists are part of an elite zombie cleanup team. The outbreaks are always kept under control and quickly contained… until recently. Now everyone expects your protagonists to control the growing horde, and they’re in over their heads.
- You’ve been bitten. You know it, your group knows it, and no one is trying to hide it. You know that you’re going to die, and you have accepted it. However, your group would be defenseless without you, so you must escort them to a new safe place before you turn completely—and you’re running out of time.
- A group of astronauts on a space station brings in a mysterious space rock from outside. Everyone forgets about it pretty quickly—especially since people start getting sick soon after. Thanks to the infected people’s tendency of biting at their doctors, the alien sickness spreads rapidly and soon gets out of control. Now, the astronauts must survive an alien zombie outbreak, trapped in a space station orbiting hundreds of miles above the Earth.
- Zombie fighting is now the most popular form of entertainment for post-apocalyptic America. Two zombies are drenched in fresh blood and locked in a cage together to tear each other apart. People gamble on the fights, and it all seems like a good way for people to overcome their resentment towards the zombies while having fun in the process. Your protagonist has been going to these fights since they first started, and they love it. However, they stumble upon a dark secret: one zombie owner has been kidnapping strong humans and turning them into zombies to win more fights, and ultimately make more money.
How Writing About Zombies can Make You a Better Writer
Writing about zombies is a great way of refining some really good skills as a writer. That sounds ridiculous, so let me explain. Zombie stories commonly contain a lot of similar themes, techniques, and storytelling strategies. To write one effectively, you need to be good at utilizing suspense, surprising your readers, and exploring the duality of each individual character. You will have to press your characters to do bad things, to manipulate each other, and to act in unsavory ways, and this can help break you out of the habit of writing perfect Mary Sues.
In addition to that, zombie stories often blend many different genres, like horror, action, and even romance or comedy. You need to be able to write high-energy fight scenes, while also being able to properly write suspense and tension. You’ll need to convey sadness, fear, loss, and death, and you need to show tenderness and love between surviving characters. Zombie stories are a great way of probing human conscience and exploring the complex emotions of humans when pushed to their limits.
Although that sounds difficult, a lot of this comes naturally to writers tackling a zombie plot. We’ve all seen zombies in movies, books, comics, and video games, and we subconsciously understand that that’s what the genre requires. Then, after writing about zombies, you’ll get better at applying those techniques in other things you write.
And really, zombies are fun to write about, so relax and just enjoy the carnage.