Podcast Episode 10 (Part 2) – How to Create Undead


Episode 10 (Part 2): Learn How to Create Undead

Listen as host Randy Ellefson continues exploring how and when to create undead. Learn about their goals, traits, how to kill them, and what uses we can put them to.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How to goals can make your undead stand out from the competition
  • Learn to choose what traits your undead has
  • Learn the importance of deciding how your undead can be destroyed
  • How to get started inventing undead

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Episode 10 (Part 2) Transcript

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number ten, part two. Today’s topic concludes our discussion about how to create undead. This includes talking about their goals, traits, how to kill them, and what uses we can put them to. This material and more is discussed in chapter 7 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

What Do Your Undead Want?

Even the undead want something. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about what they might want and why. Just because someone is dead doesn’t mean that all their desires have left them. But, this will depend on the desire. It’s probable that they don’t have desire for food, for example. So, someone who was a glutton in life is not going to have that preoccupation in death, most likely. But, you never know. They might have a ravenous appetite for something else. In the case of vampires, that would be blood.

This brings up the question of whether an undead type needs some sort of sustenance from the living, or even just from the world that it inhabits, in order to remain in its current state. We’ll talk about that a little bit more later when discussing traits, because the ability to consume something is one of those traits. That said, a goal for any undead would be to continue its existence. Now, by that, I don’t mean that it wants to remain undead because that could be very unpleasant. But, if it converts into a living person or goes back to being just fully dead, that is still some sort of existence. So, it might have a desire to go from being undead to alive, or being undead to dead, or just remaining undead. Any of these could be a goal.

Why might death be a preference? Well, if being undead is just extremely unpleasant, that’s an obvious choice, but there’s also the reality that this person who is now undead could’ve come from a pleasant afterlife like heaven. And, as a result, this is horrible by contrast. It’s possible that some undead are that way by choice, but many of them will not be. So, someone who was in heaven probably doesn’t want to go from that to being undead because it’s probably not a positive change for them.

That does bring up an interesting idea. What if you could willfully go back and forth between being in heaven and being undead? How and why someone might want to do that, I’ll leave up to you, but it’s an idea that I’m going to throw out there. It’s possible that someone might enjoy being an undead because they are very powerful. And the example that comes to mind are vampires. A common idea that we often see is that someone doesn’t want to die and become a vampire, but, once they become one, they are suddenly infused with all this power and super senses, and they kind of enjoy it.

We typically see that transformation from dead to vampire as being nearly instantaneous, so it’s not like the person spent 20 years or even 1 year inside a place like heaven before becoming a vampire. But, it’s a possibility we could certainly do. There’s no rule saying that someone who is dead for a long time cannot be resurrected as a vampire. It doesn’t have to be a vampire, of course. It could be an undead type of our own invention, which is the point of this podcast episode. So, we can create something where this has happened, where someone who’s dead becomes a new type of undead that we have created. And, as that type of undead, they are very powerful, and they actually enjoy being undead.

I do have to say, though, that my personal preference is not to make the undead state be something that’s really cool. You know, we see this a lot in a lot of the modern vampire TV shows, for example. And it takes the whole idea of being dead or undead and turns it into some great holiday or something. And I think it kind of fundamentally goes against the idea of horror in undead. So, it’s something to consider.

If you decide to go this route and make the undead state be somehow enjoyable, you should still probably try to find a way to make it also a torment for that character. There certainly might be individuals who enjoy this, but there are going to be others who find it horrifying. It’s going to really depend on the character of that person before this happened, and even their character after it happened because something like death and then reanimation as undead could certainly change one’s personality, especially if you gained super powers when it happened.

I just want to caution against making undead some idealized state. There may be people in that undead state who are romanticizing how great it is and sort of ignoring the reality of it, in some cases, and they may be trying to trick the living into thinking it’s great so that someone voluntarily becomes that kind of undead. You know, it’s one of the things that we think about with undead, especially with vampires, is the way they seduce people. And this is another version of that.

What I’m getting at is that some undead characters might think it’s great and honestly believe that, and others will just be trying to trick the living into becoming one of them. Because, of course, misery loves company.

One of the things that we see in the world of vampirism that we can leverage for our own undead type is the idea that if a vampire creates another vampire subservient to it, that vampire actually becomes physically or spiritually stronger. This is a good motivation for an undead to lie to the living. If converting you into that kind of undead makes me more powerful and makes my misery less miserable, then sure, I’m going to lie to you.

So, there’s a difference between the idea of it being romanticized and the reality of it being actually horrible, and I think that this is a viable way to go if you would like to have characters who are acting like it’s great. But, having it be actually great, that might not be the smartest or most believable idea. Some listeners might think that the idea of being believable is out the window because we’re talking about something as make-believe as undead, but making something believable actually makes our inventions more credible and understandable for the audience.

Make it believable and you may it better.

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

More Goals

An undead type may want to go back to being dead so that it can get some rest or go back to a pleasant afterlife. On the other hand, if that afterlife was one where it was being tortured, then probably it doesn’t want to go back. This is one reason why you may want to consider how long someone who is living must be dead before they become this type of undead, and don’t be afraid to decide that it can typically be one way, but then, sometimes, it’s another way. For example, with vampires, they usually go from living to dead for just maybe a minute before they become undead, and maybe we decide that that’s what typically happens. But then, there’s a case where someone’s dead for a year and then they somehow come back.

I’m using vampires as an example, but you can do this with any undead type of your invention. But, what about regaining life? Is this something that an undead might want? Sure. Why not? If you’re walking around this world as undead, surrounded by the living, you probably want to get back to that state. That won’t be true of everyone, but this kind of goes back to what I was talking about earlier where if being undead is unpleasant, then you probably will want to stop being in that state. And there are plenty of people who will say that life is unpleasant, but we should probably decide that undead is significantly worse. And, therefore, however much you might want to complain about how life was for you, you have a second chance here and it’s going to be better than being undead.

Your undead may say that they prefer being undead, but they might just be thinking that because they had a horrible life. If given the chance for a new life where it could turn out better, and they have all the knowledge that they have now – you know, we often ask that question, “Would you do it over again?” – they may decide to choose life.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that an undead type does want life. Well, how are they going to go about this and what challenges do they face? If you are a spiritual undead, the first problem you need to solve is where are you going to get another body? In most cases, your old one is dead and probably not much use. Now, it’s possible that it’s being kept in some sort of stasis chamber, because we’ve got that option in science fiction in particular, but, in most cases, the body, the original, it’s no good.

This will certainly be impacted by how you died. If your head was cut off, well, reanimating that body’s not going to do you much good because you’re just going to die immediately again anyway. Even if you died peacefully of old age, well, that body is done. So, you can’t use it again. There are very few scenarios where you could reuse that body. Any sort of injury or disease that ruined it and caused you to die is still, essentially, in effect, even if you reanimate it minutes later.

And the timeframe brings up a very important issue because the body starts decaying and becoming useless pretty quickly. The odds are that your old body is not an option. However, that said, in science fiction and fantasy, we have an option, such as technology or magic, that could restore that body. The issue is that you’re going to want to get that body restored before you reanimate it. So, how are you going to convince someone who has a life to do this for you? Or does your spiritual undead have the ability to manipulate physical objects such as a device that would do this?

Now we’re starting to get into something plausible. If it doesn’t have the ability to take care of this itself, then it’s probably going to have to appear as an apparition that appears alive, possibly, or as an obviously, spiritual undead to some person who has the ability to make this happen. Is that person going to cooperate? Well, of course, it’s going to depend on who they are. If it’s a family member and they miss you, then maybe. If it’s your enemy, then no. Unless, of course, you have some ability to threaten that person.

Being threatening fits more into the idea of what undead are like because these are supposed to be frightening, right? That brings up an interesting scenario, though. What if, as a spirit, you are able to threaten this person into restoring you to life, but then you re-inhabit your body and, as soon as you do that, you lose the ability to threaten that person, and then they kill you? It’s easy to imagine a story where someone doesn’t realize that could happen, but the person they’ve been threatening does, and that’s the outcome. Or is our spirit thinking that far ahead? If so, then it’s a little bit more wily.

Now, one thing to be aware of is, if the body could be restored this way, it begs the question of why wasn’t this done when the person was alive? And the easy answer for that is that something happened too quickly, and the person died. Medical, magical or technological intervention was unable to do this in time. We have another possible issue there, and that is that if someone’s body is burned to ashes, is the technology good enough to restore them from that state, or does the body have to be in a state that’s a little bit closer to normal? You may want to decide on some sort of limitation like this to, again, make it more believable and like your characters don’t have just incredible options at their disposal.

A story where characters find it too easy to get by or get around a situation is one that just lacks conflict. Generally, you don’t want to make things too easy for them. Creating a restriction might seem like it’s no fun, but what happens is that this gives your character something that they have to work around, and this causes plot, storyline and actions. Generally, this is one way that you can move your story forward, by creating a limitation.

What if restoring the body is not an option? What else can they do? How about possess somebody? Even if the individual’s body is available, it could, instead, try to take someone else’s. One question is whether the target body needs to have a soul in it for this to happen. This is normally what we assume, but there’s no reason it has to be the case. There could be reasons that a spirit is missing. For example, someone could be having an out-of-body experience, which we often think of as the soul being gone. During that time, what if somebody took over your body? Now you’re the one who doesn’t have a body you can go back to.

This might seem farfetched, and, of course, the whole thing is, but I have a species that has the ability to willfully separate its soul from its body. If I were living on that world and I was a spiritual undead, I would probably hang out with members of that species while I’m undead and then try to take over one of them once one of them leaves their body. In the cases where there is another soul in that body, now we’ve got a situation where there are two of them. A standard idea here is which one of those spirits is stronger than the other one, and which one of them can take over.

Something we should consider is what happens to the one who gets suppressed? Does the invading spirit get expelled or does it remain trapped in that body, but it’s now being dominated by the person it tried to take over? It might find that, rather than improving its situation, it has now made it significantly worse. However, what storytellers have typically done is decide that the invading spirit is the stronger one for whatever reason. After all, that’s one of the reasons why it has managed to cling to this undead state rather than going to an afterlife. This implies it has a certain amount of strength and, therefore, it’s stronger than the average person, since what usually happens is someone goes to the afterlife. Since it didn’t do that, it’s therefore, stronger. And, therefore, once it invades someone else’s body, it is strong enough to suppress the soul that’s already in there.

The only real problem with this idea is that this is not something new. So, we wouldn’t be inventing this if we decide to do this. However, as I mentioned in the previous episode, combining ideas into something new is a viable option.

What happens if someone is successful at acquiring a new body, whether it’s theirs or not? Now what? If it’s their old body and they decide to reacquaint themselves with their former acquaintances, then how are people going to react to their appearance, especially if they are known to be dead and they have been buried? Your answer to this may depend on how common it is for someone to reanimate their body this way. If it’s never been done, or hardly ever, then people will probably have a strong negative reaction. If it’s common, then they might think, “Oh, why did it take you so long to reanimate your body? We’ve been expecting you.”

What if they try to go and get back all their worldly possessions? Have they all been sold? Has their house been given away to somebody? They’re not going to be able to reacquire all this stuff. Once again, this will depend upon how long they were dead before becoming undead, and then regaining life. If it is common for people to come back like this, then maybe there are laws that you can’t give away someone’s stuff for about a year. Do they get back any of their rights now that they have returned? In the United States, at least, people are declared legally dead. But, if you reappear, then what is your option here? What if they’ve got a new body and they try to reinsert themselves into their old life that way? No one’s going to recognize them. Are they even going to try to pretend that they are their old self in a new body, or are they just going to pretend that they are this new person whose body they’re in now?

The attempt at doing so might have them showing undue familiarity with someone they just met. That other person will think that they’re strangers, but this new undead person who is now alive again will be very familiar with them. There are other, similar questions that we can explore about this, and more of them are in the Creating Life book. Have a look if you are looking for more options.

What about undead that have a body? Since the body is moving around, they may have the ability to restore their own body. A device that does this makes this especially easy for them. On the other hand, they still might need someone else to do it for them, and they are still going to need the ability to threaten that person if they don’t want to cooperate. Once their own body is restored, they have all the same problems that we already just discussed.

In the last episode, we talked about the option of a corporeal undead that has no soul in the body. Whether this person can return to life is an academic debate that I will leave for you. However, it does beg the question that we went over in the last episode, and this is if the mind goes with the spirit and the spirit is not in this body, is this body even going to be smart enough to think of this plan? And, if it does, it if works, how is this body going to get its soul back if its soul is somewhere else? Its soul could be wandering the Earth, or it could be in an afterlife, which raises the stakes and the difficulty of getting it back and getting them back together.

What if the body doesn’t want that soul back, or what if this body is walking around and one of those spirits that’s looking for a body is the one that takes over? As you can see, a lot of fun can be had with this kind of thinking. It is possible to create new undead types by combining different ideas that have already been done.


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Unfinished Business

Let’s talk a little more about goals.

One of the frequently used ideas is that undead have unfinished business, and this is why they have stuck around. Once again, this is nothing new, but you can use this idea when inventing something. What kind of unfinished business might keep someone here? If someone feels honor bound to complete a request that remained unfinished when they died, then this is one reason they might remain. One obligation could be looking after family members. The spirit might want to provide for them or protect them. In the Star Wars universe, sometimes dead Jedi look out for living Jedi. How many times do we hear Obi-Wan Kenobi say, “Use the force, Luke,” to Luke Skywalker?

Now, when it comes to unfinished business, it’s unlikely that two undead are going to have the exact same task that they want to complete. Why am I bringing this up? Well, because we’re talking about inventing a type of undead. So, if two undead are unlikely to have the same goal, then it’s unlikely that we can identify this undead type by the goal. Now, if the goal is regaining life by getting the body back, for example, that is something that can be common to an undead type. But, a specific goal for unfinished business, I think that’s a little bit harder to imagine. What I mean is that the more specific that goal, the less likely it is that two people, or two undead, are going to share it. The general goal of unfinished business could be shared among an undead type, but the specific thing that each one of them wants to do is going to be different. This will likely be based on their personality and their life.


Another goal we might have for our undead type is to cause torment. If someone was a bully in life, or just obnoxious in general, then there’s no reason to believe that they’re going to change once they’re dead, and then undead. In fact, their personal torment is probably significantly worse. And, therefore, their behavior might also be worse. The idea of tormenting people is kind of an old one. And, in more modern works, we’ve seen this idea of trying to understand undead types or monsters and just say, “Oh, well, they’re not really evil. They just want something, and we’re scared, and we’ve misunderstood.”

And that’s certainly a viable option, but there’s no reason we can’t go simple and just decide, yes, it’s an evil spirit or an evil undead. It just wants to freak people out or scare them, even get them to kill themselves in some way, by accident or even just driving them to the point of committing suicide. If you have a number of undead types in your world, I would certainly make sure that one of them is simply evil. It’s not misunderstood.


On the other extreme is finding peace. Maybe this is what the undead really wants. And there are several versions of peace, one of those being a new life or going back to the afterlife, and then there is the option of simply being obliterated so that there is no afterlife for it at all and it is done, it’s over. We might not think that this is a kind of peace, but, of course, there’s no memory for this being once it’s been completely destroyed. Here on Earth, we have this idea that the soul never really goes away. It just enters into a different state. And that’s fine, but one of those states could be, yeah, that’s it. It’s done.

Since we already talked about regaining life, what about the option of regaining death? An undead might know that it wants this, but it might be unsure how to go about achieving it. In the case of a corporeal undead, it might assume that it can have its body be destroyed, and therefore able to return to the afterlife. But, it may not actually be true. The body could just end up really decayed or something else, and the undead finds itself in an even worse situation than before.

Spiritual undead are often depicted as having no idea how to go about going to the afterlife, and that’s one of the reasons why they are still here. They didn’t do this on purpose. They’re just stuck. These undead might be trying to find people who can help it. However, its ability to communicate what it wants might be impaired, and we’re going to talk about traits next. That includes communication.


So, let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Undead Traits

It’s time to talk about traits. These are what will define what our undead can and cannot do, and this is one of the best ways to distinguish one type from another. First up is speech and other sounds. In theory, a skeletal undead would have no ability to speak or make any sounds that don’t involve its bones clacking together because, of course, it doesn’t have a tongue. There are other parts of the body that are also missing, such as lungs and things in the throat that I’m not even going to name because I’m not someone that good with anatomy, but you know what I mean. All of that is gone.

However, as I mentioned in the last episode on undead, we assume that, if undead exist, that some supernatural agent is at work here, and that same agent could have given any of our undead the ability to speak. Even so, you may want to consider this when deciding if yours can. The inability to communicate effectively, or at all, is one of the reasons why they can be frightening because we don’t know what they want, and misunderstanding is one of the basic things that causes tension in a story. For that reason, having an undead speak perfectly is not something we typically see. A big exception to that has typically been vampires. But, remember that a vampire is usually only dead for just maybe a minute at most, so no decay has actually taken place. This is another reason to consider how long your undead must be dead before it can become undead.

Other types of corporeal undead have a decayed body, but it’s not so far gone as a skeleton. And if they have decayed, then that could explain why the tongue is dried out and it’s hard for them to communicate. This is a justification for something like moaning. We could always decide that our undead has telepathic abilities. However, once again, the ability to communicate so effectively might make them significantly less frightening. But, maybe that’s what you want.

We could also have an undead produce a sound that has an effect on the living, and I don’t mean just frightening them. I mean that maybe it causes us to go into a trance or be someone who is now easily manipulated. Perhaps the sound draws us closer to it. Maybe it causes us to stop resisting.

Let’s talk about touch. We briefly touched upon this in the last episode, but spirits are usually portrayed as being unable to touch anything in this world. However, sometimes we give them the ability to do so on rare occasions, such as being very upset. We could also decide they can only touch certain types of objects, or maybe they can only touch things at certain times of day, for example. Maybe it’s only twilight and dusk. Maybe they can only touch certain types of people, like priests of a given religious order.

Something we’ve often seen is a spirit shown as being somehow weakened by this contact with the physical world. Giving someone a price is a good way to balance out the fact that they can glide right through walls, in this case. In other words, if there’s a pro to being in this undead state, then there’s also a con to it. Whether it’s a spiritual or corporeal undead, there is the idea that if they touch a living person, that maybe something happens to the part of the body that is touched. For example, they could become infected, and maybe it has to be removed because nothing will stop this infection from spreading. Or maybe a magic spell or a technological item must be used to stop the spread. And what happens if that is not available? Well, possibly, this person turns into an undead. Or maybe they just turn into a monster of some kind. There’s no reason undead have to create undead. They can always create a monster.

When it comes to spiritual undead, there’s also the opposite problem. Can the living touch that spirit? Decide what impacts them. This is going to be relevant in a few minutes when we talk about how to destroy an undead.

Let’s talk about movement. Spirits are often portrayed as having the ability to move right through a solid object. We can decide that they are doing this on purpose or that they don’t recognize that the object is there. We could also decide that spirits don’t have the ability to cross over certain types of materials, such as water or silver. There’s a popular TV show called Supernatural where there’s a kind of salt that they can spread on the ground and, therefore, nothing can pass over it. Then there’s the most infamous idea, and that is that spirits or corporeal undead cannot go onto holy ground. Give some thought to whether your spirits or your corporeal undead are restricted in their movements. And once you create that restriction, decide how they can overcome that. You don’t want them getting past it all the time, but you should use this as an option. It’s always entertaining in a story when characters think they’re safe because of some thing that’s happened, and then it turns out they’re not.

Another trait we should talk about is consumption. Does your undead type need to consume something to remain viable? Vampires are a good example of this. Besides blood, what else might something need to consume? We have a few options such as magical energy, consuming someone’s soul or consuming some sort of energy that we would find in a science fiction story. The question then becomes how do they consume it? A skeleton has nothing to absorb something with if it tried to drink it. Another corporeal undead might have a mouth, but once it drinks something that’s going to go into the stomach, it will probably leak out.

And, of course, spirits can’t consume something that way at all. However, consuming does not necessarily mean drinking or eating, which is what we do when we’re alive. Maybe they just need to expose themselves to something like radiation and absorb it. Give some thought whether your undead can consume anything, and how it does so. If you’re looking for more ideas, there are more inside the Creating Life book.

Let’s talk about their residence. After all, an undead has to be somewhere when it’s not out and about terrorizing everybody. When it comes to spirits, we often don’t consider this. I guess we assume that the spirit is in some sort of in-between place when it’s not visible to those on Earth. After all, if it is returning to an afterlife and then coming back to the world, it’s going to be doing this repeatedly. So, we might need some sort of explanation for that. Or we can just ignore the whole subject, which is what people seem to do typically. But if you’re looking for one way to make your undead stand out, making a choice about this and making it interesting could be one way to do so.

You may want to invent another realm of existence, and this is where wandering spirits are when they are not on the world itself or in an afterlife. These alternate landscapes can often be useful, partly because we can send our characters into them in search of something or someone. I did this in my novella, The Ever Fiend, which you can download for free by joining my fantasy fiction newsletter.

When it comes to corporeal undead, they are either going to be wandering perpetually, even during daylight hours, or they’re going to have to find somewhere to hide. This is essentially their residence, although it’s certainly possible that they could be in a different place from night to night. One obvious place for them is a cemetery. But, of course, there’s nothing new about that. Where else might they be found? Well, it’s going to be anywhere where people don’t typically go, and a ruined place is a good example of this. This could either be a place like a building or an entire city, or it could be an abandoned ship, for example.

Just like with monsters, you may want to decide where your undead is when it’s not out terrorizing people, because this can really help you characterize it.


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How Can Your Undead Be Destroyed?

One of the subjects I’m not going to talk about today, but which is discussed in the book, Creating Life, is the appearance of your undead. This is a great way to make them different from other undead that we’ve already seen.

What I want to talk about next is death. Nothing lives forever, including undead. One of the things that your characters will most want to know about your undead type is how can they destroy it? For spirits, we often think that the final outcome is banishing them to some sort of afterlife. We tell ourselves that this is where they belong. Something like a prison for a ghost would seem like a temporary measure instead of a final resolution.

A soul being destroyed utterly is another option. This oblivion is considered the worst possible outcome. After all, nothing is more final from this. You cannot come back from it. There is no chance at redemption or another life. If your manner of obliteration causes people to forget that you ever existed, that’s even worse. Dead and forgotten forever is the worst possible fate, even though that’s the one most of us will end up with. And that’s probably one of the reasons we invented the idea of the afterlife.

Whether obliteration or being sent to an afterlife is the end result, how does our spirit end up getting there? We tend to assume that if it could do so on its own, it just would. Since it hasn’t, it must be unable to. And, therefore, it needs help. Decide what form that help comes in. Is it a priest, or is it a magic spell or a technological item?

If the spirit was possessing a body, we should decide what happens to the person whose body has now been vacated. Have they gone insane? Have they recovered and they’re just fine? Do they have no memory of what happened? Or, in the most interesting case, do they remember everything? And were they privy to knowledge that the other spirit had? They may have even experienced a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where they are in love with the spirit who has now been driven out. Are they now an ally of that spirit, and do they want to get it back or, in some way, help that person?

What about corporeal undead? How can they be destroyed? The most cliched answer is by fire, so we might want to do something different. Maybe this corporeal undead is, indeed, feeding on some sort of energy, and this energy can simply be drained from them. Maybe there’s another kind of energy, whether it’s technological or supernatural, that can have the opposite affect of, instead of giving them life, it gives them death. We tend to like this kind of symmetry.

There’s a tendency to focus on destroying the body of a corporeal undead without much regard for what happens to the soul. Maybe we are all assuming that if you destroy that body, the soul then goes to its rightful afterlife. But does that really need to be the case? What if the soul just ends up becoming a spirit that’s wandering and we’ve just traded one kind of undead for another? Regardless of your choice for how you destroy your undead, you must make one because this is one of the primary things your characters are going to wonder about.

Where to Start

Now I want to conclude today’s episode by talking briefly about where to start with creating undead. Arguably, the first thing to do is consider whether there is an existing undead type that we can use instead of inventing one. It is almost certainly public domain. If you don’t use it verbatim, you can still use it as the basis for your own undead by changing its basic appearance, behavior and imagining scenes of how this undead would frighten people or attack our characters.

I, personally, find it very helpful to imagine these scenes because it helps me figure out what I want to do, what I want to accomplish, and what I have already seen before and don’t want to repeat myself. If you haven’t already decided on whether it’s a spiritual or corporeal undead, this is the time to do so. For ideas on what you can do, you can listen to this podcast episode, the previous one, or read the Creating Life book, the chapter on undead, which is chapter 7. And if you want, and you really want to get a head start on this, you can download the template on how to create undead from The Art of World Building website. You can start working on its fighting style and its behavior and abilities. And then, of course, there is deciding on how it can be killed.

Most of this can be invented in any order. My usual advice holds true. Do whatever you have an idea for first, and don’t worry about getting it right. You can always review information on how to go about doing this and then come back to it later.


All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from my album Some Things are Better Left Unsaid, called “Just Passing Through.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!