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.
I 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.
I 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).
I 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.
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.
When 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.
That’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!