Home > World-Building > Day One Hundred and Ninety-four: Zombies and Existential Uncertainty

Day One Hundred and Ninety-four: Zombies and Existential Uncertainty

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Today, I decided to take out the dice and look at a character. It’s not entirely random, though – it should be a POV character, or at least one who had a major part in the story in which he, she, or it appeared. So let’s take out the list of 361 characters and see how we roll…

Heh… Okay, sure. I can go with that. Ladies and gentlemen: Sean Danfield

Sean has appeared once in this project, in the story for day 156: Character Work, which was about an author trying to figure out his character. A nice coincidence, don’t you think?

According to what we see in the story, here is what we know already about Sean:

  • He’s a fictional character. I mean, in the story. Clearly he’s fictional, it’s just that his writer is, too. Sean’s writer is Wes Silver, a moderately popular penner of horror and thriller stories. His current book is trying to catch the zombie wave, and his protagonist is Sean. Their relationship is… interesting, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
  • Sean was a Navy SEAL. When he became a SEAL, he received a knife as a gift, and he’s kept it ever since, zombies or no zombies.
  • He is resourceful, as one would have to be in order to survive the zombie apocalypse.
  • He considers killing himself before the zombies get to him. He isn’t sure if he can do it.
  • His father abandoned him as a child. This has been one of the major influences on his life.
  • He is Caucasian, with “glossy black hair and deep brown eyes that Wes knew drove the women nuts.”
  • He was very close to a woman named Leah, who saved his life but was killed by the zombies. He says, “I didn’t want her to save my life. Not if it meant losing her.”
  • He can somehow communicate with his author.

That last part is kind of important, because it establishes Sean as a two-leveled character.

There’s Sean Danfield, the character in Wes Silver’s book (which I should probably find a title for), but then there’s Sean Danfield, the actual person, who isn’t quite what Wes thinks he is.

Sean is somehow aware of his status as a fictional character, and is aware of the time that passes while he isn’t being written. He knows that he’s not fully in control of his destiny, and yet he accepts it with a kind of stoic pragmatism. Or at least, he did. In the conversation with Wes that is detailed in Character Work, Sean actually considers giving up, and asks Wes to just write him a death so that they could both be done with it:

Sean took a deep breath. “What if I don’t want to go on like this?” He looked up, and his eyes were full of despair. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes,” he said. “Losing my friends? Running just a half-step ahead of certain death all the time? Watching the world I knew just…” He spread his fingers and stared at his empty hands. “Just fall apart?”

He shook his head. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes. Let them in.” He stood up and walked slowly over to the computer, caressing the screen. “Let them break down the door. The blockade I made isn’t that great, after all. They’ll get in eventually.” He tugged the knife from the desk. “Give me a moment to use this, and it’ll all be over. For both of us.”

He stared at the knife, turning it to catch the light, and Wes felt for the first time like he was in some real trouble. “Sean,” he said, carefully putting an arm around the man’s shoulders. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Sean whispered.

That was a tough question. Wes had an answer for it, of course, and any good writer would have had the same answer. He just didn’t think that Sean would believe him. He took a deep breath and let Sean go. “Because that’s not the kind of character you are, Sean Danfield. And you know it.”

At this point, Sean breaks down in tears, which Wes certainly never expected, and frankly neither did I. One of the joys – and occasional frustrations – of writing is that sometimes a character will do things that surprise you. I told The Boyfriend about this, and he thought I was nuts. You see, he was under the impression that I, as the author, exert total control over my characters. Yet they do, from time to time, say or do things that I never expected, and so it is with Wes and Sean.

Sean recovers from his self-doubt when he’s reminded that he’s a SEAL, dammit, and that’s not how they trained him to react to being chased by zombies. [1] He bucks up and helps Wes write an escape for him so that he can go on to do… whatever it is he’s going to do.

And that’s the tough thing about Sean as my character. I’m not writing him, at least not within his story. That story belongs to Wes Silver, who in turn belongs to me. If I write Sean’s zombie story, I have to either write it as Wes, or take it away from Wes and write it myself, which will probably piss Wes off no end.

Regardless, let’s take a look at Sean and see what the Elves of my unconscious have come up with for him so far.

The father / abandonment issues spring to mind first, of course, as childhood trauma is very adept at shaping the adults we grow up to be. Sean’s father left when he was six or seven – old enough to know what was going on, but not really old enough to get why. His parents had married far too young, with far too little understanding of what it took to be married and raise a family. If Sean hadn’t come along, they probably would have gotten divorced much earlier, but they tried to stick it out for his sake.

His father broke first, and fled. Sean’s mother never blamed her son for anything, but the more Sean learned about their life together, the circumstances under which they’d married and eventually had him, the more he came to understand that he was the thing that kept them together – and miserable – far longer than they should have been. Whether he understood rightly or wrongly is irrelevant – that’s what he really and truly believed.

Growing up without a father is rough on any kid, and it wasn’t until he was in high school that Sean realized the weight of responsibility that had been placed on him. The entertaining mix of adolescence, insecurity, and his mother’s refusal to discuss things with her son led to him growing up as kind of an asshole kid. It wasn’t until she was hospitalized for a back injury at work (I want her to be a manual laborer of some kind, but I feel like I’m skating really close to a cliche there) that he realized how much she did for his benefit. She died when he was twenty, but he spent the remainder of his time with her trying to make up for the misery he’d put her through. This fostered a sense of responsibility that would form the core of his character as an adult.

When she died, he was left without a college education or a job, and decided to join the Navy.

The zombie plague broke out about five years later. He’d been through SEAL training a few years before, and was romantically involved with a young woman named Leah. She was the one who gave him the knife.

He was as surprised by the zombies as anyone else, and believes that the only reason he and Leah escaped with because of luck. They were in a supermarket and fled into the L.A. hills. They made their way back to their house, armed up, and fled the city. They remained on the run for about two weeks before Leah died. She broke her ankle as they were traveling. As the zombies got closer, she insisted that he leave her behind, which he, of course, refused to do.

Since her death, Sean’s life has pretty much been trying to get away from the zombies. He will, I think, meet up with other humans at some point, and if Wes would like to sit down with me and plot out the novel, I’d love to hear it.

All that, of course, is Sean as the character in Wes’ book. Sean as the meta-character is all that, but he’s all that plus the awareness that he’s not in control of his life. He knows that everything that’s happened to him – from his parents’ tragically young marriage up to getting trapped in a pumping station with no way out – has been planned and orchestrated by a single individual for the amusement of others. Sean knows exactly what he is, and he’s slowly losing his ability to be cool about it. He’s not a very philosophical person, but these repeated meetings with his creator are causing him to ask some very serious questions about his own existence. There may come a time when he refuses to go on the path that Wes has set for him.

Of course, the way Character Building was written, it’s entirely possible that Sean-as-real-person is nothing more than Wes’ hallucination, or a mental construct that he’s created in order to figure out how to get out of the corner he painted himself into. Hell, I’ve argued with characters like that before too. But I find it more interesting to assume that Sean really does have an existence that extends beyond the story he’s been written into, and that his visits to Wes are entirely real.

Which means that at some point, he might be able to take action against his creator. And who hasn’t wanted to do that from time to time?

Research necessary to build Sean’s character:

  • Navy SEALS. It would be good to know more about the training of a SEAL and what kind of person not only chooses that life but flourishes in it as well. I imagine it takes a very specific personality type to be able to do that [2], and it would behoove me to know what comes with that, both good and bad.
  • The effect of growing up fatherless. I know what I’ve heard on TV, but given the moral overtones of the issue, it would be better to look at actual research into how kids cope with being abandoned by their father. For all I know, the affect on Sean that I’ve come up with could be the outlier.
  • Los Angeles. Okay, I had no idea he started out in L.A. until I wrote it up above about thirty seconds ago. Thanks, Elves.

Red Flags:

  • Why the Navy? I mean, I know why he chose to join the military – it was a choice a lot of poor kids without a bright future might make. But I honestly have no idea why Sean chose the Navy over any other branch of the military. I needed him to be a SEAL when I wrote the story, so there we go. One of the primary rules of character-building is that if you give your character a trait because “the story needs it,” then You’re Doing It Wrong. Of course, I could blame it on Wes, but I won’t. In any case, I need to think of a reason why he chose the Navy. And it has to be the right reason.
  • Why did Leah give him a knife? Yeah, that’s a weird gift to give your boyfriend just after he’s finished training to become a member of one of the deadliest military teams in history. But who else would have given it to him?
  • Why did he let Leah sacrifice herself? I need to figure out how Leah managed to sacrifice herself without Sean stopping / joining her. He definitely believes that he is responsible for her death, just as he believes he was somehow responsible for his mother’s death. So there’s definitely a kind of Rand al’Thor / benevolent chauvinism thing going on here.

——

[1] Request to any SEALs reading this: what was in the standard run of anti-zombie training? As many details as you are permitted to reveal would be greatly appreciated.

[2] And that personality is definitely not mine.

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