Want to create a monster? On paper, at least? Sunday at 5:30PM in Hyatt Embassy EF, authors Patricia Briggs, Nancy Knight, Berta Platas, Daniel Schinhofen, Tamsin Silver, and Patricia J. Wooldridge discussed tips and tricks on how to create a memorable and frightening baddie.
The authors agreed that it’s best to base the beastie on creatures already known to the audience—with a refinement or twist. Mash two or more together or alter their abilities, weaknesses, or motivations. That way, you won’t have to bore the reader with too much description. “Put your own brand on it,” Schinhofen said. According to Briggs, a fitting example is Jim Butcher’s octokong. Even the name is self-explanatory. “Now I want fire-breathing goblins in my book!” Platas said.
The authors agreed that folklore is an important source, but it’s vital to create the monster your story needs. If your main character is a tree, Knight pointed out, a were-beaver would be terrifying. Nix likes to create rational reasons for a legendary monster’s characteristics. Silver tries not to repeat the styles of monsters in her books and suggests drawing from lesser-used creatures from folklore. If using a well-known creature, Briggs thinks it’s important to acknowledge the lore first and then correct or change it for a reason. She shared an insightful view of three commonly used monsters and why they can be used so profoundly in a story: The werewolf is the beast within us, zombies embody our fear of death, and vampires denote power—those who take and never give back.
Asked if the authors have ever based a monster on their personal fears, uncomfortable chuckles followed. Nix related an ant infestation in his car that lasted for months—hence, his hive-minded ant-rats. “I’m going to sleep so well tonight,” Schinhofen said with a grimace. Silver only recognized later in her writing that her stories often deal with the soul and who owns it. Briggs recalled a terrifying face pressed against her window when she was a child and her elderly babysitter saying, “That’s what you get for looking out the window,” which Briggs thought made the experience even more terrifying.
If you decide to create an entirely unique monster of your own, Briggs warned, be careful to describe it a little at a time rather than in “a big splat of words.” To study an outstanding example of the above tips, she suggested reading The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip, who sadly passed away this year.
One last piece of advice from Nix: Be warned. Vampires produce welcome mats to gain entrance to your home. Whatever mat you choose, be sure it doesn’t explicitly invite them in.