AFFLICTED by DG Lewis
Pitch Conference Assignment Work
First Assignment – Story Statement
A year after a virus known as the Affliction has decimated humanity, a group of ordinary survivors must brave a dangerous post-apocalyptic United States to follow the clues left behind by its creators in hopes of finding a vaccine for Leah, who is the only human ever known to display resistance to the Affliction, before she succumbs to it and takes what could be humanity’s last chance to develop a vaccine with her.
Second Assignment – The Antagonist / Antagonistic Force
In the novel, the role of Antagonist is fluid. The group of survivors is made up of clashing personalities, and they are in often conflict with each other, pushing each other’s arcs forward and progressing each other as characters. The character of Jay is a good example of this. He is as much a brother figure as he is disparaging, foul mouthed unwilling mentor to Ben, and as much a protector as a figure of distrust towards Leah.
The Afflicted are the constant Antagonistic Force. They are humans mutated and driven mad by the Affliction. As far as the characters know, the Afflicted only have two goals: spread the virus, and infect or kill every human they encounter. This makes them in constant conflict, with the Afflicted driving every aspect of the group’s adventure. In truth, the Afflicted are a far more complex force then they know, something that is hinted at throughout and brought to the forefront in the final act. Part of this force is a particularly dangerous type of Afflicted the group call a ‘Boomer’, who has been chasing the group since their first encounter in Philadelphia to their final conflict in Chicago, and who plays a large role in expanding their understanding of the Afflicted later on.
Third Assignment – Breakout Title
The title of this novel was one of the first ‘decided’ parts about it. Since the story revolves around one of the survivors getting the Affliction, to me it only made sense to call the novel an iconic title:
‘AFFLICTED PART ONE’
Assignment Four – Genre and Comparables
Part of the initial concept for the novel was that I felt as though I’d identified an area of the market that could be oversaturated with low quality, but very much underrepresented in high quality. The novel is broadly a science fiction, action adventure-thriller, with its sub-genre determined by its setting: a Post-Apocalyptic United States of America. I wanted to incorporate certain story elements that were more familiar to readers and fans of the post-apocalyptic genre, but otherwise tried my best to have unique or not widespread concepts (such as Leah, a POV, being ‘resistant’ to the Affliction, and her arc consisting of a firsthand look for the reader into how the virus changes a person). If I had to, from my knowledge, describe Afflicted compared to other media, I would call it “The Last of Us meets I Am Legend with a sprinkle of Dune.”
This isn’t a novel, but instead a video game franchise called The Last of Us by Neil Druckman and Naughty Dog is my favorite comparison to Afflicted. The franchise has won many awards and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, and is being made into a TV series at HBO for 2022 starring Pedro Pascal. The ‘vibe’ of the world setting of The Last of Us has influenced how I see the Afflicted world; nature reclaiming the structures of humanity, a very open, sparse world where death can occur with one careless move, and one in which most of humanity is either dead, or ‘turned’, with very little left of our race. The fact that the antagonistic force in both titles isn’t ‘undead’, but mutated humans that can further mutate into more dangerous and powerful versions of themselves. The familiar trope of ‘the journey’ in this genre is also on display in both titles, but the comparable between these is that both journeys undertaken are forced by an external event impacting the characters so that they can’t ‘go home’ or ‘stay where they are’.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson is also be comparable in the ghostly nature of the setting. The character of Jay bears some similarities to Robert Neville, and a theme of ‘infected’ people being much more than they seem, enough to be intelligent and capable of a society, is one that will become prevalent as my series goes on. In my novel it is merely hinted at until the final act. The deserted feel of the world is also similar to my novel.
While certainly not a comparable for story, I’m including Dune by Frank Herbert for two reasons: structure similarities, and the hero’s journey. As Denis Villeneuve has done with the recent film adaptation, Dune can easily be structurally split into two halves that, while they make up a fantastic whole, are also two quite independent stories of their own right. My novel follows a similar structure, wherein the first two Acts could essentially be their own novel outright, and two large events occur at the end of Act 2 that fundamentally changes the direction of the story, and ‘forces the issue’, so to speak, making characters undergo a change in their arcs and driving the plot forward. The hero’s journey and development of Leah also bears resemblance to that of Paul Atreides in Dune. Both are forced to evolve by extreme circumstances, and both face the prospect of unknown powers and abilities not normally present in a human, and both grapple with the knowledge that in their future they face a terrible purpose that does not necessarily make them ‘the good guy’.
While there may be other comparables I am not aware of, these are what I think of when I review the novel, and where I draw the most influence from.
Assignment Five – Logline
A year after a virus known as The Affliction has brought humanity to the edge of extinction, a young woman finds out she is resistant to the virus. Together with the remaining survivors of her group, they must find a way to work together to follow the trail of a long dead virologist and survive the trials of the post-apocalyptic United States in the hopes of finding a vaccine before she loses her mind and becomes one of the Afflicted monsters who haunt their every step, and takes the world’s last chance of salvation with her.
Assignment Six – Sketching Inner Conflict & Secondary Social Conflicts
The main protagonists and POV characters of the novel are Ben Colefield and Leah Hogan.
Ben is haunted by survivors’ guilt, which motivates his more morality focused actions and views. He struggles with the hypocrisy of doing whatever it takes to survive, and staying true to his idolized values of humanity, which he clings to out of fear that he isn’t worthy to be alive in the Afflicted world, and that he’s only alive and wasn’t trapped in Philadelphia with his family by pure luck.
A broad example of Ben’s survivor’s guilt and unwillingness to abandon his principles is displayed in Act 2. After the incident at the hospital, where they find the proof that Alex was telling the truth about who he is and what his quest it, he offers Jay and Ben the chance to join his journey. Jay accepts readily, but Ben is extremely conflicted and initially refuses to go. He believes the members of the group back at the farm will be helpless without Jay, and he sees leaving for a cause, albeit a ‘higher’ cause, as abandonment, and he believes that abandoning those who are weak just because it’s convenient is wrong.
Leah’s abandonment issues and early childhood death of a parent has led to her becoming an independent young woman who is also quite selfish in terms of her actions and how she reacts to most other people. She is constantly determined to be seen, and that leads to her determination to prove that she ‘knows best’. On top of that, she constantly evolving both physically and mentally due to the Affliction, and she is struggling between what she is expected to do – fight it, remain human, verses what she knows she must do – accept the best of both worlds knowing it will drive her to insanity.
An example of Leah’s selfish nature occurs in Act 1 of the novel when, despite orders to go home immediately after her Patrol is done, she disobeys and sneaks off the property to the nearby creek for a swim. As she is leaving the property, Hannah asks to go with her, but Leah refuses, not wanting an eleven-year-old to deal with, and doesn’t make sure she gets back to her Dad, instead only caring about her adventure and just leaving her. Thinking that she’ll hear or see any threats at the creek, she doesn’t take proper precautions, which leads directly to the confrontation with Afflicted that causes her to become infected with the virus.
It is alluded that Leah is attracted to Jay in the story; however, it is very much not reciprocated. Jay views people as risk/reward, and even before Leah became Afflicted, he considered her too selfish to be reliable, only caring about herself and her need to be ‘right’ or ‘the independent lead’ in a given situation. This leads to an altercation where, separated from the group, Jay threatens to kill her, and tries to make her see that her selfish personality puts all of them at risk when she doesn’t consider anyone but herself. This is important for Leah’s development, when she begins changing and realizes how selfish she is. The tension between them remains constant throughout the novel, with both often exasperated with the other’s attitudes.
For Ben, at a certain point in the novel, the group find a safe place to stay for the night with a pastor and his family and grandchildren. He sees a family in a safe environment and proposes that Hannah stay with them. He projects his own, “Old World” beliefs into the situation; Hannah is a child, they can’t keep her safe, she should have a childhood, etc. The group reacts poorly to the suggestion, especially Hannah, who runs away in tears. Ben is forced to deal with his hypocritical beliefs, old world verses new world: the Afflicted world doesn’t care how old you are, Hannah herself has at this stage already saved all of their lives, does age equal immaturity anymore, etcetera. He is forced by the social conflict to examine his own attitude and prejudices. There are more instances where Ben tries to revolve a conflict or view a situation as he would ‘Pre-Affliction’, but ends up realizing those views are no longer compatible with their new world.
Assignment Seven – Setting
The setting for Afflicted is a post-apocalyptic United States of America. The story is a product of its setting. I do mention some specific locations, and take some liberties with the interiors of those locations, but I try and keep city layouts and exteriors as faithful as possible (I have also at least walked past, if not been inside, many of my locations in real life. Using the comparables in Assignment 4, it does help that there is a popular, more visual medium that the audience for the novel can fall back on to aid their imagining of the setting. My goals with setting is more about the feeling of it, how does it change character’s actions and emotions, what feelings can I evoke?
The Affliction was a viral wildfire that tore through the world and left billions of dead in its wake. The world is presented through the eyes and knowledge of the main characters. As far as they’re concerned, there is no governmental structure left, no militaries, no operational power grids; no society: just a small number of humans in hiding, living off the land and scavenging what they can find to survive. As the characters world expands and the story progresses, the world will naturally evolve and open up as they travel.
The story begins at close to a year after the months where humanity collapsed. The Afflicted world is a haunted world, where death is a constant, and monsters stalk from every shadow. With no human caretakers, nature has already begun to reclaim the land, but that process is only in its infancy, so most of the destruction is man made from the initial short lived ‘war’ with the Afflicted. Many places appear deserted from the outside, but buildings often hide Afflicted within. Physically, roads are generally packed with abandoned vehicles, overgrown vegetation, trash, and decayed bodies. Mentally, for the characters, the world feels like an abandoned ghost town to which they are uninvited strangers. Indoor environments are meant to feel tense and menacing, and for a ‘we’re a day late for the party’ feel to their condition. Altogether it is meant to project a world that is harsh, bleak, and unforgiving. The characters are a contrast to the world, in that they fight against the negative emotions the world projects upon them. They choose to believe in the hope that they will succeed.
SPECIFIC SETTINGS USED IN ACTS
In Act 1 and 2, the story flips between Ben and Jay, who are in Philadelphia on route to Jefferson Hospital, and the West Chester farmstead the group resides on, and where Leah remains. The city is alien and dangerous in contrast to the safety and normality of the farmstead.
Philadelphia is presented through Ben’s eyes. It is his hometown, and his first time back since the end of the world. It is hard for him to contrast the decaying city he sees to the vibrant home he knew before. They can just about navigate the streets in a vehicle, and there aren’t many roaming Afflicted. The Three main settings in Philly are:
Jefferson Hospital – while I’m sure I’ve taken liberties with the interior layout; the hospital is the perfect ‘starter building’ for Ben to earn his stripes. It is presented as chaotic and crowded with gurneys, medical equipment and remains scattered within, though has windows so has natural light and easy to see. It also has limited power, so flickering lights illuminate the dark spaces.
Chestnut Street – The main road between Jefferson and Penn hospitals, which Ben and Jay have to walk after Jay’s car is stolen. It is presented as a ‘valley in the shadow of death’, and allows Ben to get a closer look at the buildings and damage to the city street.
Penn Hospital – Penn is presented as, at first, a military stronghold, known as ‘The Noah’s Arc of the Apocalypse, that was massacred in the early days of the Afflicted. As night approaches, the atmosphere becomes darker, more foreboding, and more claustrophobic. As Ben and Jay help Alex explore, they find a secret underground lab hidden within the hospital. This hidden lab jumps all of the above to the extreme, adding in the limited power that only powers the deep red emergency lights, bathing the tight corridors in an ominous glow, foreshadowing the violence to come.
Even when outside in Philadelphia, the atmosphere is presented as close and claustrophobic. Every environment is designed to emit the tense and anxious feelings that come with that closeness, to produce the feeling like you are trapped with no way out, and the sense that it is only a matter of time before something goes awry.
The Farm, in an undisclosed area of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is presented as a rural farmstead that is isolated enough to generally not be noticed. The house itself is a modest, aging home that can just about fit all 12 of the group inside of it. From the main barn that serves as a lookout post, one can see most of the main property. The group have tried to plant crops, but it is all done by hand without farm machinery. A forest surrounds the property on all sides. It is a recluse; a haven from the post-apocalyptic nightmare of the Afflicted world, a safe(ish) space for the characters.
Part 3, set on ‘The Open Road’, encompasses a few different locations. A common theme of the novel is this: the further west you go, the worse the condition of the environment gets. As they travel west out of Pennsylvania, many of the roads prove difficult to drive on, with nature beginning to reclaim the rural areas. Many of the more rural they go turn out to be deserted, even without much Afflicted presence lending to the eerie, haunted sense of the world.
Chicago is where Act 4 and Act 5, the climactic acts of the novel, take place. Chicago is presented as different from Philadelphia in that it is a ruined city that never had a real quarantine, but instead had many small factions of the armed forces and private citizens ‘holding’ different ‘zones’, and as a result the city is largely an impassable logistical nightmare clogged with wreckage. Specific locations in Chicago are Cornell Square Park, a small park in the South Side set up as a safe zone and CDC camp (long abandoned by the time the characters arrive), and the John Hancock building/360 Chicago, a well-known tourist destination in real life (I have been to it) which presents a unique ariel view of the city as well as having a cool restaurant on the 95th floor of the building. The setting here goes hand in hand with the notion that the characters, upon arriving, get to broaden their ‘view’ of the conflict they face, and Leah becomes further enthralled with the Affliction and is able to more broadly sense her new found abilities.
AFFLICTED Assignment Anwers NYC Event Dec 2021.pdf