The animals that once ruled the world posed a constant threat to us as a growing species, and so to keep us safe our minds developed a fear of the wild beasts, and with that fear came a great tool for writers to exploit. And that tool is the horrific beasts of fiction and nightmares, designed specifically to give the reader the chills and keep them up at night trying to discern the true intentions of that laundry pile. And that’s exactly why we’re here on this fine Spooktober day, to bring to you the gift of knowledge. Oh, you wanted candy? Too bad, you’re getting knowledge. The knowledge of how to create and use monsters in the horror genre. And so let’s get right int—Oh shoot the Dardrinaks are back, every single time we talk about monsters this happens, well before we get torn to bits, let’s start the article (you won’t get that reference unless you’ve seen our previous monster creation article, click here if you want to see that).
This article is a part of the All The Writing Spooktober Event, to learn more click here.
Getting an Idea
The first part of any creative task is getting an idea for it, finding the concept that needs to be shaped for use in a narrative. It all seems so easy at first, or at least it sounds that way, but if you don’t have a concept already prepped and ready for use then prepare yourself for the storm that is designing a whole new species of creature. Just ask Sblakam, one of our writers, who’s writing a novel with almost a whole cast of unique monsters, so he has to sink a lot of time into planning each one out so they work in his world. And so to help both you and our dear friend, Klabslam, we have devised a few ways that could help get Ol’ noggin running again. Ol’ noggin is the name of the collective hamster who runs our human minds as he runs, but occasionally he gets lazy and needs a kick start.
Our favorite way to get started is taking a dive through the fantastic world of monster concept art. Because there’s already some amazing stuff out there just waiting for you to view it, you just need to type “scary/horror monster/creature (concept) art” or just “monster/creature (concept) art” into Google, and bada-bing bada-boom, cool monster art. You may also see some of this awesome artwork throughout this article, you’re welcome by the way. However we do not want you to steal from these talented artists, however, what we do want you to do is draw inspiration from them. Like taking specific elements such as taking horns from one creature then combining it with the red eyes of another, and then as you continue gathering up all these ideas you may end up with a beautiful Frankenstein-esque creature. This idea generation method may not work for some people though as they believe it clouds up their creative thought process, and that’s fine, what works for you, works for you. But this method is very quick as you can just scroll through and look at the near-infinite supply of epic art, however, this quickness can turn into a time-consuming void of looking at cool art, so don’t fall victim to that.
Another method we use is that of conceptualization. But what do we mean by conceptualization? We mean the taking of concepts like emotions, fears, taboos, or any sort of human psychology thing, and then using that to create your scary monster. One example we can think of with this method being used is that of the dementors in Harry Potter. J.K Rowling claims that when she was coming up with the dementors she wanted to represent the concept of depression through them, and so she did, by literally making them the happiness sucking followers of Voldemort. So what we suggest doing is getting together a list of your own fears, your own worries, and other common phobias and fears. Then using this list you will create the literal monster of your, and everyone else’s, nightmares.
And this idea can work even better if your story has a central theme because with a theme you have somewhere to draw upon for the emotions, fears, and taboos. And without a theme, making a monster based purely on concept could come across more like, “Yeah, a monster based on that sound styrofoam makes would be cool,” which is less effective because it doesn’t add anything to the story other than the pain that is the sound that styrofoam makes. So to summarize, take already existent concepts of the human psyche, and then use them to create your monsters.
This type of idea generation is also really useful in the genre of horror because of how it pokes at psychology and the human mind, which we don’t like very much. So by making a whole idea gathering scheme out of it you can create some true horrors.
And the last one we’re going to mention, which should also be the most commonly known, is the idea of brainstorming. You know the concept taught to us in the 4th grade, it comes back, except this time it should be more fun because you’re doing it of your own volition. But if you forgot brainstorming then we’ll summarize it real quick. Brainstorming is when you have a think fest on any specific object or idea, and as you think of stuff pertaining to that thing you write it down so as to look back at it. In our case, the object of our think fest is scary monsters, and what you should be writing down are scary monster concepts. Here’s a quick example.
- Cheese wielding buffalo
- Legless turkey
- Imagine a lobster but it’s bigger
- A monster that makes the sound of styrofoam
- The internet reincarnated as a monster
See, it’s simple, those 5 ideas only took us about 30 seconds to write down (and you can trust that number because we didn’t time it at all). Our point though is that it’s quick, but quickness doesn’t always translate into quality. But we’re not looking for quality at first, we’re just looking for ideas. But then comes the vibe (quality) check, taking only the ones that most vibe with what you’re currently writing, like for us we would do:
- The internet reincarnated as a monster
- Cheese wielding buffalo
And you should do the same to your list. But don’t delete the bad ideas entirely, because you never know when a legless turkey may come in useful. And once you’ve got the concepts you want to do down you can finally start working on the monster creation process.
Creating Your Monster
Once you’ve got the monster concept in your head you can finally begin molding your creature into the being you want them to be, both physically and story-wise. And the first part is discovering where the fear of your monster emanates from. You need this before you can actually design a creature because without it you’ll have a cool looking monster that doesn’t really add much to the audiences overall enjoyment/terror.
Fear Based on The Unknown
If you have a creature based on the fear of the unknown it’s best to keep it in the shadows, only telling the reader of the great pain it has caused others, thus building up an idea in the reader’s head of the terrible thing lurking in the shadows. But you should never provide a detailed look at the monster, only brief visions, like a dark fur coat racing by, or, as we most commonly see, a pair of evil eyes glaring from the void. The way this works is that it allows the reader’s mind to run free and imagine the monster for themselves, and whatever they’re imagining is probably far worse than anything you could’ve created. And that’s not a diss on your writing, it’s just more likely because the person will be personalizing the beast to their fears. One of the upsides to this type of creature is that it doesn’t require much design work on your part, but it does require the ability to write a creature well without revealing too much info, which can be hard because you don’t want to seem vague for no reason. Being blatantly vague makes the reader feel like your withholding information (which you are, but you don’t want them to know that), you need to do it discreetly and work the mystery into the story.
Fear Based on Ugliness and Brutishness
If the fear is supposed to come from the things like sheer ugliness and power then we suggest taking a lot of time in the designing process, so that you can get it just right. And this can be really tricky if you’re not good at descriptions, so we suggest creating multiple drafts describing the monster in all its glory. Another thing that contributes to this is word choice, without the proper word choice the monster can come across as mildly unfortunate in the facial region, rather than the desired outcome of wanting your reader to feel chills as they read the description. Another thing to add is the true intentions of this monster, ugly monsters are often put into two categories, Nice and Savage. The Nice category can be used to show how looks aren’t everything, an example of this is Shrek, but it wasn’t done well because Shrek is one very handsome Ogre. We don’t suggest using this type of monster a lot in horror novels, as it can distract the reader from the whole terror thing. What we see most often is the Savage beast who wants to gore, bite, mar, and kill, making the last thing your character sees is it’s ugly maw. This category draws a lot off of the idea that people don’t like to feel physically weaker than something, so by making the monster brutish and capable of killing you drives up the tension and stakes of a story, keeping a reader on the edge of their seat, which is exactly what you want in a horror story.
Psychological Based Fear
Fear emanating from psychology can be tricky because you have to be able to talk about the human mind without being too preachy or proseful. But if you manage to balance the scales just right it can make the reader question their minds, their whole existence, and that aforementioned pile of clothes (what is it hiding?). while also allowing them zero sleep, because the monsters you’ve described may not be real, but the concepts they represent sure are. To do this you need to get the idea of the monster embodying some deeper meaning across to the reader without it being too obvious. It should be findable on a second time through, but for the first time, it should be subtle almost subconscious so that your brain can stow it away and realize what it means later. One way to build up the idea of symbolism is by appearance. For example, if you want to show off the idea of nature being evil you can make your creature a dark twisted tree, that hunts lost people and devours their soul, you know, fun stuff like that. Another way you can develop this idea more fully is through a magic system that is based on the concept at hand. Like a creature being able to control, distort, and destroy time could be a great analogy for the precious time we have on Earth, and could be used to bring across the theme of your story, something like “Spend your time wisely,” in this case. And one trend we see with these conceptual monsters is a more sleek design, with flowing shapes, showing something that almost seems divine in nature, adding to the feeling of “This being is greater than me, and doesn’t care what happens,” which applies more to cosmic horror, but it can be used in any genre of horror (check out our post on cosmic horror, by clicking here) But we also see some really rough creatures that bring up thoughts of ancient ruins and arcane rituals. Both adding something unique to how a reader may view the story. The physical details can’t always fill in everything so often it comes down to mysticism to fill in the rest of the puzzle for us.
Also relating to mystical powers, whether or not you choose to explain the abilities of your creature can have different effects on the story. Like as we mentioned previously with the fear of the unknown, and how it allows the mind to wander, the same concept applies here. When a reader is left to wonder where a creature is getting its powers, it could wander towards satanic cults, or a great god looking down upon us, the mind could literally go anywhere, like the Cosmic Sloth. But if you do give an explanation it can show more of a story that flows around that magic system, where otherwise it was just an element to a larger whole.
Those last few paragraphs showed a few ways you can start physically designing creatures, like using a lack of detail, or an overabundance of detail to draw eyes and minds toward something. Or adding cool themes like the divine or the arcane to invoke different emotions and thoughts. But we didn’t supply any way of solidifying these creatures, into, well, actual creatures.
Sketching it Out
Something that we always advocate for is drawing a rough concept art of your creature, even if you’re a bad drawer, but if you don’t want to that’s fine with us. But if you do decide to sketch things out it can provide you with a visual model of your creature that can be used for descriptions or possibly cover art if needs be. After you have this visual model you can move onto the more wordy side of things, you know, where most of the writing happens.
Description drafts are when you set aside a place to try and write descriptions for something. And with monsters, we suggest doing as many as you can, because creatures that don’t exist are often very hard to explain. Especially if they are placed in an entirely new world, with new rules, new laws, and new races. Because you need to find out how to describe them in the terms of that world, like if you have a creature with wings, and that world doesn’t have winged birds or insects, how would you describe them then? So a bit of practice won’t hurt in the slightest. But one addition that needs to be made that is specific to horror is that of using details that are more than physical, they also bring up the emotion of fear. And that can supply an extra challenge, but that’s why you gotta do multiple, to find out what works and what doesn’t. And once you’re done with these drafts you can use them for future references, like the drawing except less visual, and a little bit more applicable.
Implementing Your Monster
After you’ve developed an idea, and then molded that idea into a monster you’re finally ready to start implementing your beast, allowing them to wreak havoc upon whoever you will them to. But how do you do that properly? The first question you’re going to have to ask yourself is “What role do they play in the story?” and this is very important to understand, because knowing whether the monster is the main driver of conflict or just a side trial can give you an estimate on how much detail you may need. A basic rule of thumb is that the more important something is, the more you should explain it, and the same applies here. But if you have a recurring species of monster it would be wise to provide something solid that the reader can latch onto whenever you bring the beasts back up.
It is very important in writing to not just plop things into a story just because you think it’s cool, but we find that a lot of times, despite our love for them, monsters just don’t add much to the story. Monsters should be a little bit more than a small trial that adds to the already huge pile of issues for your protagonist, it should instead be used to say something about the world, the characters, or the story. So what we want you to think about is what your creature is adding, other than the cool factor, to your overall narrative. Some examples could be that your monster shows off a corrupt world, or maybe it shows how characters deal with their fears, or it could show a rising power in the enemy’s forces. It doesn’t matter, there just needs to be some logical reason for it to be there. All we ask of you, is to give us meaningful and cool monsters, that’s all we want, is it really that hard.
Monsters, if used right, can be used to create a sense of fear that a psycho killer could not. Because of this monsters can be very useful for creating terror through the natural elements of a world, but monsters can also be a double-edged sword with their capabilities to embody concepts that our minds may not like that much. But all in all monsters are just awesome and a great way to show skill as a writer, because if you can effectively translate the gory beast of your mind onto the page and still have it be really cool, you’re pretty skilled. And hopefully, with today’s article, we helped you move a little bit closer to that level of skill. We hope you enjoyed, now go have a nice time of existence before the Dardrinaks get you.