I am currently slogging through my zombie book. It's been like threading a lemur through a needle. And the lemur is hopped up on cough medicine. I kept trying to up the ante, to increase stakes, but it all felt boring. What's the world coming to when zombies feel boring?
Until I had an epiphany. Zombies were boring because after the first encounter, it was more of the same. I mean, sure, the characters were worried about dying, but a constant "Oh crap we're going to die" gets stale, quick. It seems like it should be exciting, but in reality it's repetition.
I started to think about the zombie books I'd read, and the movies I'd seen. I realized that zombies were part of the initial conflict, yes, but they existed more as a setting conflict. Zombies caused conflict in the same way a character in a war zone was in conflict. The setting is actively trying to kill the characters, but that's not the only place conflict needs to come from.
In fact, it's not even the primary place.
Because the setting throws the character out in the cold, and forces them to survive. Your story might be about their survival, or some internal flaw brought to the surface, or maybe both. Because your story isn't about war, or zombies, it's about your character.
I know, right? This sounds really obvious, but when you're in the thick of writing it seems like you should be able to throw some zombies in there, and presto, conflict. But no. That's not actually how it works. Even stories without zombies in them (yes, they do exist--I've even written some!) aren't just about the main conflict. They are about how the main conflict affects the main characters.
That's what matters. That's what raises the stakes. It's not the zombies, but the fact that zombies are forcing the character to hide in a locker room and consider eating each other like a bunch of stranded soccer players.
So the next time I get stuck, I'm going to try and remember that it's not really about the zombies: it's about the characters the zombies are trying to eat.