I can’t stand zombie movies. Yet in movie after movie, suddenly there they are – the zombies, or the vampires or the special one who has a superpower. It’s getting old. Especially zombie plots:

A virus has been unleashed and everyone turns into flesh-eating monsters. A small band must fight against the obliteration of the species. Scientists search for a cure using barbaric methods. I never finish those movies. So predictable.

But it makes me wonder about the decline of the culture. And a general deterioration in writing. When did this become the go-to plot line for TV and Hollywood?

There is another plot that comes up again and again. The bad guy kidnaps someone’s family. He needs the nuclear codes (or some other destructive item). The scientist or engineer agrees to hand the codes over to save his family. The fact that this a) kills thousands of people or b) may even destroy the planet doesn’t occur to this supposedly smart fellow. He’s more than happy to trade one or two lives for thousands or even millions. I’ve watched this play out dozens of times. Here is how it goes:

“Give me the codes.”

“I refuse.”

“I have your wife and I’ll kill her if you don’t give me the codes. Once I have them I will use them to destroy the human race.”

“In that case, I will abandon all reason, compromise my integrity, and hand over the codes. My wife is far more important that the entire race.”

Oh, dear. Have people become so irrational and short-sighted? Are scriptwriters so starved of creativity that they can’t come up with anything original?

Let’s tie this back to non-fiction writing. You can get into a rut and trot out the same old stuff. Perhaps it is easier to get that story approved by the boss or accepted by editors. But if you put your writing on automatic, you’ll turn into a writing zombie – someone who churns out a tried and tested plot line (be it in a press release, article, paper, or blog) over and over. Eventually, it reads like a timeworn zombie script.

The answer is simple: don’t go on automatic:

  • Come up with an original intro by doing extra research. Perhaps topical news, an emerging trend, or a touch of history could work.
  • Skip those self-serving “how great we are” quotes in press releases. They are exercises in vanity. Say something the press might find interesting.
  • If you feel uninspired, do something to stir the creative juices. Take a walk and look at your environment. Talk to someone. Read something that intrigues you. Interview someone who knows more about the subject than you.