Writing Monsters, by Philip Athans, has been on my list of books to showcase here on QE for a while now. Why? Because it is one of the most entertaining and well written books I have found on the subject matter. Before I go into my blow-by-blow, you can check out the book on [Amazon] or [goodreads].
There’s a big list of things that really made this book appeal to me. To make my bias apparent, I’m going to make a slight deviation from my normal blueprint and offer a short list. Some of these things may seem silly to you all, and some of these things may make you foam at the mouth and impulse buy the book (or snag it from the library).
- Philip Athans is awesome. There, I said it. I’m a fanboy of his, and he actually maintains a WordPress blog called Fantasy Author’s Handbook, which he updates every Tuesday. There is a massive amount of information to be mined from his page.
- In our continuing study of character archetypes, I wrote a post called Writing Characters & Role Playing Games a few weeks ago. In it, I talked about how the computer game Baldur’s Gate blew my mind and really made me examine character archetypes when I was younger. Well, Philip Athans wrote the book on it. By that, I mean he literally wrote the official Forgotten Realms book, Baldur’s Gate.
- Why am I sharing all of this? For transparency. I’m obviously biased toward this author, and I like to be honest with you all. With that being said, let’s talk about this book.
This book, for me, is solid because it covers a wide range of topics regarding how to write monsters. More so, because it uses a number of examples and cited works to bolster and emphasize points. Athans uses examples from literature (spanning from historic works all the way to modern time), movies, and even video games. For my gamer friends (console, computer, and D&D), you are going to feel very comfortable flipping through these pages as Athans uses these mediums as tools to provide information to the reader.
Writing Monsters also does a phenomenal job of defining the physical, psychological, and emotional characteristics of monsters from almost all genres. While this book is shorter and more current, at times I felt like I was reading the “monster version” of Joseph Campbells’ book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The only difference being Campbell provides a sweeping mythological look at the hero throughout time, while Athan pinpoints certain monsters to drive the purpose of his book.
The book is broken into three main parts: What They Are, Why They’re Here, and How to Write Them. While all parts are very insightful, I found the chapters within, Why They’re Here, to be especially enjoyable. In this section of the book, Athans talks about monsters as metaphors, obstacles, agents, sources of pity, sources of magic or technology, and how they bring out the good and bad in people.
In short, if you are struggling with coming up with concepts for monsters, or simply curious about them, this book provides some very interesting and fun information. Also, this book serves as a great tool to find other relevant sources of inspiration. I did a quick scan of the cited sources and Athans uses more than thirty books and short stories to drive his narrative. That by itself is a gold mine if you are entrenched in these genres.
That’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it! I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!