Writing a Monster into Existence

dragon.jpg

[Editor’s Note]

The QE household has prepared itself for the onslaught of sugar-craving children.  I figured today (Halloween) would be a great day to repost an older blog about monsters to free me up for pumpkin carving and other fun things.  Since writing this post, I purchased Cryptozoology A to Z, by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark (thanks to a suggestion offered by Dillon, over at From Rad to Dad). It’s a very organized glimpse into the monsters of all shapes and sizes.

While I love reading most genres, few things give me more pleasure than reading about monsters chowing down on unfortunate locals.  It can be zombies, aliens, rodents of unusual size,  or anything else you can think of.  I enjoy it even more when the writer creates a new beast for me to add to my bestiary archives.

I‘m currently working with a couple writers who both have monsters in their books.  The human chomping freaks are terrifying and enjoyable to learn about.  One issue we have been sorting out together is how they can describe the monsters clearly.

This lack of description becomes a larger issue when you have spawned a new breed of monster.  When you say dragon, I know what you are talking about.  At the very least, I have an idea of what you are talking about.  But if you go springing an ancient force hell bent on sucking out my eyes and using my spine as a fiddle bow, then I need to some details.

writing monsters.jpgI recently snagged Philip Athans’ book, Writing Monsters, to help me find some creative solutions to provide.  By recently, I mean it came in the mail yesterday.  I sat down to read with a highlighter in hand and a notepad ready to jot down ideas.  My plan was to pull all the pertinent information from the book and compile a list the writers could use to beef up their monster description.  I hit page eight, and bang, there was a goldmine.

Athan had created a template called, “The Monster Creation Form.”  I’m not going to reproduce that simple, but genius, form here.  I think that level of borrowing would border on copyright infringement.  It did get me thinking about a similar form I used to play with a lot – a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) character sheet.  I’ve done a blog post on character sheets before, which has examples.  You can check that out here.  If your monster is quasi-human, you might be able to use one of the templates I provided there.

monster manual.jpgI also ordered the D&D Monster Manual (the version I linked).  I could remember a younger version of me flipping through one of these and marveling at both the written descriptions, variety, and artwork.  I figured the older version of me could use another point of reference.

After the euphoria of my Amazon impulse buy wore off, I began searching for D&D type templates to build monsters.  After some internet scouring I ended up right back here on WordPress.  I found a blogger, OldDungeonMaster, who has a literary ton of great D&D related materials.  One such item was a monster sheet for a Cranium Rat.  You can look at the image below.  I also linked this image to his/her page so you check out the rest their content (for you aspiring D&D players and Dungeon Masters).

cranium_ratI combined some elements from the monster sheet above, and some elements from Writing Monsters, and created my own Bestiary of Destiny.  You can use this template to sketch out your monster and assign elements.  While I’m no artist, I sometimes find even a crude drawing helps me better understand how something looks.  It helps pull the description out of the creative whirlpool in my head and give it shape.

Bestiary of Destiny

If you click the image it will send you to my Flickr page where I uploaded this image in higher resolution.  Print it in landscape and have some fun.  As with anything I create for the blog, it’s free to share and use for whatever nefarious purpose you have in mind.

 

Many times when I talk to writers about description, they know all the answers.  I’ll say something like, “It was great when Zolgorg the Mighty ate that guy.  What does Zolgorg look like when he eats someone?  Does he tear them in two and go into a blood frenzy, or does he carefully quarter them?”  Usually the writer will launch into a five minute description-fest explaining the ordeal in fine detail.

griffin.jpgWhen they wrote the scene, the information was clear in their head, it just didn’t make it onto the page.  In my own writing, having visual references (like character sheets and templates) reminds me to include those descriptions.  I make sure to stick the papers up on the wall in front of me, or somewhere I can see them.  This way when the time comes for juicy description, a glance at those papers zeroes me in on important descriptive elements.

If you are having issues being consistent with description, or generating a clear picture of what your monster should look like, I encourage you to try this tool.  Worst case scenario is you have a crudely drawn picture, but a clearer mental one.

 

Oftheunicorn.jpgThat’s it for today.  I hope you found some useful tools to create your own monsters here.  I’m sure as I continue reading through Writing Monsters some more nuggets of information will accumulate.  You can look forward to some posts about flesh chewing chinchillas and what not.

Do any of you have effective ways to create new and terrifying monsters?  Or know of good books on crafting monsters?  If you are willing to share I would love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Writing Monsters: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Monsters

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Monsters, written by Philip Athans.  If you click the image you will be teleported to my Flickr where the image lives in high-res.  As always, it’s free to share and use however you would like.


W
riting 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].

A Refined List

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

writing monsters.jpgThis 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.

question-markThat’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!

Copyright Info (final)

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