Friday, 17 May 2013

May Monster Madness #7 - Writing Up A Monster

This is my seventh and final post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I'm a writer, so I thought I'd share with you some of my thoughts around creating a monster on the page.

The Name

Many monsters already have names, we have vampires and werewolves and ghosts and ghouls, but there are many ways to play with even existing names to add something a little different to a monstrous creation. Sometimes I have a name in mind for one of my monsters, sometimes not and sometimes I just go with the pre-existing term, but a name can convey a lot.

Let's try an example: if I called a monster in my story a Snurfle Dumkin, what would you think? Well, for me, I'd think I was in the realm of a loveable monster, because the sounds I have used in my name conjure up ideas of friendliness. Snurfle is close to snuffle, and 'kin' is a sound often used as a diminutive. However, if I called my monster a  Sandrack, the sounds are much harder, more menacing and I've even thrown in a suggestion it could live in soft earth thanks to the use of 'sand' in the name.

So, making up a monster from scratch, a lot can be said in a name, but what if we're playing in an existing sandpit, i.e. we're using vampires, or werewolves, or such like. Well, a writer can add their own mark to these monsters with names as well. This was done very effectively in Underworld, where the werewolves were called Lycans - it instantly told us, the viewers, that we had to look out for the rules of the world associated with these creatures, they may not be common-or-garden werewolves.

I have a werewolf YA story, Samling Born, in The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games Anthologies, which I plan to turn into a longer work, and there, I didn't change the name of the species, they are still werewolves, but I did give them a group name, The Samling, to add my own stamp to my breed of werewolf.

The Raison D'etre

A lot of lower budget horror movies forget this important point, and it separates a good story from a poor one, I think. Every monster has to have a reason to be. Why are they in the story? Why are they doing what they are doing? Even if this is a mystery to the reader/watcher, because the suspense of not knowing is part of the story, the writer still has to know, otherwise, how would we be able to write what our monster will do next?

I am writing a YA vampire series called 'Heritage is Deadly', and my major antagonist for the first story, whose echo will go through all the other books, is Raxos, the vampire father of my protagonist, Tom. The stories are written from Tom's point of view, the reader does not know Raxos' motivation for doing what he is doing, except for what he shares with Tom, but I know, and it is a major influence for later stories that I am developing.

On the surface, Raxos is a ruthless, selfish, destructive brute, playing games for his own amusement, which could suffice as his raison d'etre, it was enough for The Gods of Ragnarok in Doctor Who The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, whose very lives fed off being entertained. However, this kind of reason to be would not sustain Raxos' presence for more than one book. Thus, Raxos has a large back story and motives that I can dip into as needed to add depth and colour to the sequels.

The Look

When considering how to describe a monster, I always think about what I am trying to convey with them. Despite the terminology, 'The Look' covers more than just sight, I consider all the senses, which is something books have over TV or film. Like the name, the look of a monster can tell the reader/watcher a lot about that monster way before they act.

During this blog hop, lots of people have been talking about lots of different monsters, from the mindless, shuffling zombie to the 'nearly normal' serial killer. Instantly these are mentioned, certain ideas come to mind. The zombie looks like it is decaying inside its torn and detritus-covered clothes, plus for the written medium, maybe there is a stench of that flesh decomposing as the mindless creature advances on its prey.  The sound that accompanies the lumbering zombie is the shuffle thump, shuffle thump of it's slow advance, plus maybe a hollow moan.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the vampire, suave and sophisticated in many incarnations. Francis Ford Coppolla's Dracula gave us two 'looks' for Dracula, both very stylised to match the mood of the film. One is the archaic Transylvanian lord, alien to Jonathan Harker's eyes, an old, eccentric man. Then there is the Victorian gentleman, but even that look allows the viewer to see Dracula's strangeness, an otherworldly sexiness that sets him apart from Victorian London. Both looks are rich and sophisticated, but could not be more different in the face of the vampire they show us. The transylvanian lord is strange, clearly from another culture, another time even, whereas the Victorian gentleman is a disguise behind which those who know can recognise the seductive monster.

The reader and the viewer both make assumptions from the look of a character, so it better be right. :)

The Reveal

I may have imagined up the most terrifying monster from the black pit of despair with deadly tentacles and eyes burning with supernatural fire, but it I dump him in straight in front of my audience with no build up and no suspense, I have lost half the battle to captivating my reader. Introducing my monster is all important.

Maybe I should start with that black pit, 

nothing can be seen, only a smell of death and rotting flesh.

Then perhaps

a tentacles slithers slowly out of the gloom, much to the horror of those watching: it's long and agile, searching along the ground, curling over anything it finds and oozing foul-smelling slime in its path.

It's not that much of a threat, yet, just a revolting curiosity. However,

then, suddenly, the tentacle whips out towards one of our spectators, latching around his torso. He screams, convulses and collapses, the tentacle tightening round his suddenly unconscious body and with one heave, the helpless human is halfway back to the pit. His companions dive in to help, they grab for his arms and pull him back. Yet the thing is incredibly strong and they are still sliding towards doom, although more slowly.

So now the tension is building. What owns this tentacle and can the humans save their friend? The humans are intent on their friend, getting him to safety, and the reader should be too when, wham, things get a whole lot worse.

The ground shakes, a low rumbling rises up out of the pit, trembling through the would-be rescuers and then a huge, shadowy form looms out of the crevasse. It is immense, the form too big to see all at once up so close, but large, sunken eyes, their depths shining with a devil-red, captivate the humans....

Well, I threw that piece together as I was thinking the reveal through, so it's not brilliant, but I hope you get what I mean. Build up, suspense, shock, they all play a big part in monster impact.

Alien did it very well, introducing a complete unknown that goes from an egg and then a face-hugger all the way to something that could be the ultimate threat to humankind in the Xenomorph. Predator too, having a killing machine remain invisible for most of the film. Even the old classic of the protagonist walking into a darkened room, which is a favourite of horror films is a very effective reveal - we all know something is going to happen, bit we don't know what, and it builds the suspense, so that when the monster darts out of the shadows, we're good and ready to be terrified by it. ;)

So that's it, my last post for May Monster Madness. Thanks to those who organised this great event, Annie Walls, Emma from Little Gothic Horrors, and Ked from Something Wicked This Way Comes. It's been a lot of fun!

On another note: I'm an author, and I have dabbled in a few horror stories if you're interested. :)

When Darkness Beckons
This is a two story horror anthology created for All Hallows Read 2012.

Catcher of Souls by Natasha Duncan-Drake (that's me :))
When Miles sets foot inside The King James pub he knows instantly there is a disembodied soul in residence. The question is, is the soul responsible for the deaths that have happened on the site or were they just accidents. It's Miles' job to catch troublesome lost souls, but when danger strikes he might just be too late.

Some Things Are Stranger... by Sophie Duncan
Life is weird enough for Jake being a werewolf on the run from The Pagan Dawn, ruthless hunters determined to wipe out all 'paranormal scum'. His luck runs out when he is ambushed after a Halloween party and, badly injured, he dives into the shadows of an abandoned warehouse with his pursuers on his heels. Yet, Jake discovers that he is not alone and his encounter with a goofy hobo, who talks about the place being haunted, teaches him that all strangeness is relative.

Book of Darkness
An anthology of six short horror stories.

Sleep Of The Damned by Natasha Duncan-Drake
How would you cope if you discovered your bed was haunted?
BFF by Sophie Duncan
New school, new best friend, but Karen discovers that Debbie has dark secrets.
Just One Day by Sophie Duncan
The house was a bargain and Georgie loves it, so she's not going to listen to the strange warning from the estate agent that for one day every year it is haunted.
The Crosses We Bear by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Shitty hotel, shitty team bonding weekend, but Lyle gets more than he bargained for when he removes the cross from above his bed.
Queen Of My World by Sophie Duncan
Alfred doesn't like people very much, but he knows how to use them to get what he wants and he wants Lissy.
Dead Not Dying by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Jo loves her cat, Tigger, but when he comes back from near death, Jo eventually realises that it might actually have been death itself.

Sacrifice of An Angel (The Haward Mysteries #1)
"Harry Potter (with grownups) meets Midsommer Murders with a magical version of C.S.I. thrown in for good measure." - Rob Drake

The body of a beautiful girl dressed in a ceremonial robe is found on a playground roundabout. Her throat has been ripped out and the roundabout has a bad case of perpetual motion. Is it a ritualistic, magical murder or a setup to distract from the real killer?
That is the question that faces twins, Theo and Remy Haward, detectives in the Sorcerous Crimes Task Force (SeCT), when they are called to the scene in the middle of the night. That and who could commit such an act. They must find the answers to these and other questions, all the while ensuring the general public finds out nothing about the magical world that co-exists with their own.
 Armed with their experience, their natural magical abilities and their complimentary instincts, Remy and Theo must identify the victim, follow the evidence and find the killer before anyone else dies.

Death In The Family (Heritage Is Deadly #1)

When coming of age means a taste for blood.

Tom Franklin has never really understood his midnight cravings for red meat, he has merely accepted them. His Harley Street doctor had always diagnosed his symptoms as a protein deficiency, aggravated by stress, particularly the dark dreams that haunt his subconscious. Yet, when his dreams and consequently his symptoms escalate, Tom's parents are forced to reveal the truth: he isn't human. Tom discovers that the nightmarish images of dark places and even darker instincts are in fact repressed memories of his early childhood, and he must face the wild heritage from his birth-father, a ruthless vampire known only as Raxos.

Realising his memories are his only hope of controlling his awakening instincts, Tom returns to, Coombedown, the sleepy, Cornish village in which he was born, unknowing that the night-breed in his veins will lead him into danger.

"Death In The Family" is a young adult, paranormal novel.


  1. I love this post, very informative, thank you.

    It was wonderful meeting you through the MMM blog hop.

    Here is my final MMM post : Werewolf of London

    Enjoy your day : )

    1. Great to meet you and I already visited your post - loved the movie posters. :)

  2. Great points, all, Sophie and very well explained. The fact that you came up with that pit scene on the fly shows your creative powers and explains why you're so adept at storytelling.

    It's been great to discover you through this blog hop and I hope to stay in touch!

    1. Thank you *blush*.

      I have enjoyed reading your posts as well - combining two blog hops today, very slickly done *claps* - and, indeed, let's make an effort to stay in touch. :) The strange person called @thwax who just followed you on twitter was me :)

  3. I agree that some imagination goes a long way when creating monsters. :-)

  4. Great post. Very in depth and informative.

    1. Thank you. Good to have met you through MMM. I look forward to reading your posts and your book reviews on GoodReads in the future :)


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