Bad monsters written well

Discussion in 'Writing' started by RedMage, Sep 21, 2012.

  1. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    As I have talked about on other threads around here, I am currently working on expanding a Halloween-themed novella into a full novel. The project was not going well for a while but now things are really taking off. So now I find myself in the position of having characters whose personalities and backstories I can explore more deeply. One of the things I am worried about, however, is that I have several monster characters (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, other spirits, etc.) but I am not read too many horror or other stories that feature these kind of supernatural beings. Most of my knowledge and feelings about them have been picked up through pop culture of my generation--the last 20 yrs or so.

    I know I do not want Twilight type creatures. I want more of the classical, scary, mean monsters who are different from humans, both in terms of physical needs and how they think and feel. They are of different races from humans, not just different nationalities or skin color. So I wonder if anyone has any recommendations for me? Both in terms of books to read and movies/tv shows to see and in terms of just how to make my monster/supernatural characters different from the human characters.
     
  2. starman03

    starman03 Registered User

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    This is an interesting topic, and one that I have come across in my own work.

    I completely understand about the need to move away from massively overused cliches and stereotypes that have been done (usually very badly) a thousand times before. I think the main thing, especially that worked for me, is to try and understand the motivations and driving forces behind each of these characters. Trying to think about their own psychology and their perceptions of the world, and demonstrating what matters to them.
    For example, when the werewolf is in their human form, how do they cope psychologically with what they do on a full moon? Does it consume their every waking thought, or can they calmly deal with it? Similarly, I think the personalities of the ghosts or spirits would be influenced by the lives they led and how they died. For example, although the person may have been very nice in the land of the living, perhaps the manner or untimely nature of their death means that they are now very bitter in the afterlife.

    I hope this helps you in some way, and isn't just a load of old tosh! :D
     
  3. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    It's been some years since I read the Harry Potter books, but it seemed that Rowling did any extraordinarily good job. Maybe some of the Potter Freaks on the board can fill in some of the details.

    Nearly Headless (was it Nick?) as a ghost.

    Sirius Black as a werewolf.

    Moaning Myrtle as a ghost.

    The Death Eaters as... Death Eaters (really, The Damned.)

    Personal characteristics of their human personalities set the molds for their "monster" existences. It was their very-human souls that made them interesting. Simple claws and teeth wouldn't have carried.

    Good luck -- WB
     
  4. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Oh my, well that's a lot of horror to catch up on. Off bat, I'd suggest you check out 30 Days of Night, either the graphic novel or the movie. You probably also want to check out the works of Brian Keene and Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and the horror threads in the Fantasy and Horror forum for recs. Tim Lebbon's duology Dusk and Dawn might be useful.
     
  5. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Oh, dear heavens, don't read Tim Lebbon unless you want nightmares. That man can write horror FAR TOO WELL for my tastes. (I just got goosebumps thinking of his White short story - shudder.)

    Also, don't forget the classics. I just re-read Frankenstein and I was blown away by the persistent theme of friendship. The movies and subsequent pop culture just kind of stresses this monster thing, but the original story dealt with friendship, the pursuit of knowledge, etc. far more than what a casual viewer might think.
     
  6. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    Hmm, maybe I should have said that I am not actually intending this to be a horror story? Because I'm not. ;) However, that doesn't mean I shouldn't check out horror stories, movies, etc. So keep the rec's coming! I hope to begin looking into them after Halloween or, even sometime in mid-October.

    I would like to have the monsters be more realistic than cutesy. KatG, you've discussed this story with me, though it was a year ago and more. It is very much aof a YA tale, though I am aiming for it to be enjoyed by adults as well. TMSO read the novella version that I am expanding and called it "darkly sweet" (or something like that).

    My strongest influences include the tv show Supernatural, the feelings and imagery of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood series, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Underworld, the movie Casper from the early/mid '90s with Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman. I listen to music as I write and, with a few exceptions, my playlist for this story is composed almost entirely of the Norwegian band Sirenia. I also enjoy the band The Birthday Massacre for this story as well. My newest influence is Tim Burton's movie Dark Shadows released this last spring. I had never heard of the soap opera it was based on until the movie came out, and I still have not seen any episodes and I'm not sure I want to. Still, everything about the movie spoke to my me and I will probably be watching it weekly after the DVD comes out.

    @WB--I have read the Harry Potter books. In my story, instead of creating a hidden world within our own, the magical people and creatures created their own, separate world to which they fled over a thousand years ago. Which explains why there are stories of vampires, werewolves, spirits and, even, some of the old gods such as Selene, the Roman goddess of the moon. So the world and society that one of my MC's and the monsters are comign from has developed separately from our for centuries. Vampires often live in families (a la Underworld, though smaller groups as they don't make their own, synthetic blood and do have to drink living people for sustenance--aka situation of supply and demand and human communities that are or were in the past used treated like cattle by the vampires). Further, the were-creatures are living in individual communities and are strongly clannish because they are so different from others. So, in the case of those characters, they aren't dealing with issues of changing except when they can't change for one reason or another--which is touched upon a couple of times in different ways in the stories I have planned. Returning to Harry Potter, I of course want my world and characters to be different. For one thing, the magic is not based on speaking Latin-sounding words to cast spells.

    Oh, and yes, I do plan on reading Stoker's Dracula and Shelley's Frankenstein. Those are musts for sure!
     
  7. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Oh, that one! The dark fantasy tale at Halloween. Did you decide to make it YA after all or dark fantasy for the adult market? I thought you'd already worked out your vampire.
     
  8. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    Well, I think it is like TMSO had said in the Query Letter thread. It is pretty much for a general audience but will probably be marketed toward YA if it ever gets that far. Which is ok. A lot of adults read YA and when I was a kid I was reading YA stuff long before I was in the age bracket and I didn't feel it was too over my head.

    As for the vampire, yes I did figure him out. However, I am now EXPANDING the story to a full novel size. A couple of months ago I was still uncertain how I was going to do it and now I'm right around page 50 and I still haven't reached Part 2 of the story's 3 parts yet. (Yay!) But I have also vastly expanded what I am doing with the story beyond just the 1 book. I now have a 4 book series for these characters, at least a 3 book series with other characters set several generations earlier than the current book, as well as a number of other stories/possible series set in the same world/s (parallel world created with magic is in play here). So lots of stuff. The current series deals a lot with monsters of the vampire, werewolf, Frankenstein's monster variety. The series set generations earlier has faeries, demons (from Hell), boogeymen, elves, unicorns, dragons, etc. All of which are creatures that my witch girl from the current, modern day series (the one I am currently writing) knows nothing about because she's from the parallel world where the vampires, werewolves, etc. are at. Something else happened to the classical creatures and that's what is discovered in the previous series. I have an idea for a further series with the modern day characters where the two different paradigms begin to interact. I'm thinking a huge war because, previously, it was war that caused the creation of the parallel world and another war the disappearance of the classical creatures. In short, I'm doing a lot more and all the monsters are going to get a lot more page time. So I'm trying to make them the best I can.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2012
  9. kshRox

    kshRox Registered User

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    Anne Rice's take on vampires, especially the Old World rural vampires.
    Blood and Chocolate is a movie about werewolves with an interesting take.

    There is another movie with James Spader and Jack Nicholson called "Wolf".
    Great movie which I think also has a greate spin on werewolves.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2012
  10. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Alright, well then I'd actually suggest some other sorts of novels. I'd say read The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle if you haven't before, pretty much anything by Patricia McKillip, Holly Black's Tithe, the Snow White, Blood Red anthology series edited by Ellen Datlow, The Witcher Saga series by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, Michael Moorcock's Elric stories, the Chronicle of Amber books by Roger Zelazny, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series, and the Johannes Cabal the Necromancer series by Jonathan L. Howard. These are all going to offer you different things. And Ray Bradbury's horror and dark fantasy stories -- Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc. -- might be useful. Also maybe Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2012
  11. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    So I am reading and understanding that list and how it can help me, KatG. But (and I'm just curious) why do you recommend those over, say, your previous suggestions?
     
  12. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Because you're writing a dark fantasy, not a horror novel. Because you're doing stories that focus on creatures and on multiple dimensions that are built around those creatures. Because you are looking for something more Mythago Wood like than the straight noir suspense of a lot of contemporary fantasy. Each of the books offers different aspects that might be helpful to you regarding those elements. Some are YA and some are written for the adult market. That doesn't mean the horror ones won't be useful. These are just some other books that might be useful. Folklorist fantasy writers, monster hunter stories and multiverse stories are probably going to be of the most use to you.
     
  13. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    Thanks! I had understood those titles you gave to be exactly what you just said they were. And yes, it is a dark, contemporary fantasy rather than horror. I want to have some horror elements (the dark in the "dark fantasy") but it is very much a fantasy at its core. And no, noir suspense sounds like crime fiction and makes me think too much of all the urban fantasies out there. I really think there should be more to the urban fantasy market than detective stories and, while I know there must be some out there, I just don't see much of any. So I'm writing something that, for me, feels like it fits the hole I am seeing in the market.

    Thanks for the rec's. I haven't read any of them and I'm not familiar with anything more than their titles and authors' names. I'll defnitely have to look into all of them.
     
  14. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    As a general guide to fantastical creatures, what I personally look for is that the characters thinks of themselves as normal and everyone else as weird -- too many fantasy creatures still seem to point out the differences they have relative to humans, when it seems to me it would probably be the other way around. This bugs me especially for creatures that have always been the way they are. Humans that end up as weres or lycanthropes or whathaveyou will have a the split personality/inner turmoil thing going on, no doubt, and compare their fantasy-creature-self to normal humans and their human-self. But for anything that simply is the way it is, then its own experience of the world is normal for it. I think you can come up with any kind of plausible backstory for any type of creature if you start from an unapologetic standpoint that adopts the creatures' reality, their perspective.

    I don't know that a lot of backreading is strictly necessary if you are inventing your own backstories and want to make your creature different from the norm -- just do what seems right. But, if it serves your purpose to use the more common understanding of these creature, then for a good crash course in their most common attributes and typically imagined societies I'd just pick up a copy of the D&D Monster Manual.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  15. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    But then they might be too "cute." :) (No, I love D&D manuals. Excellent myth material, accuracy not necessary.)

    It's not that the reading will help him invent. I find that spreading the net helps authors revise their views about what is out there and what authors can do with their own stuff. And that tends to help them invent on their own and solve issues.
     
  16. PeteMC

    PeteMC @PeteMC666

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    If you're writing a YA-ish dark fantasy and are interested in monsters I'd highly recommend you read Joseph Delaney's "Spook" series (they were sold as "The Wardstone Chronicles" in the States I think).
     
  17. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    Great ideas, both of you. I do want my creatures to be separate, different, and individual to my tale. But, I also want them to be recognizable to readers as what they are, and to be so beyond just their physical appearance. So I think reading more about others' takes on them will do just what KatG says and it will broaden my understanding of society's concept and understanding of the creatures I plan to use while also showing me what else may be possible.

    However, I agree most with your statement Fung Koo. In so many of the fantasy stories that I read, whether they have a other species in them such as elves, vampires, were's, dwarves, etc. or just different races of humans, ie western and eastern europeans, asians, africans, etc. the perspective is always from that of the normal human---aka. the author's target audience. Making my creatures think they are normal and all others are weird feels like sheer brilliance. Really, why would you see yourself through another's lens? Men don't think of themselves through the eyes of a woman (not when it comes to social, political, moral issues). Why would a faerie say "I am weird because I don't do this, think about this, or I have this and not that". It wouldn't. It would not even cross its mind unless it was having a deep, philosophical discussion with a member of a different species and it was consciously putting itself in the other's mindset. Utter brilliance. Ideas are already popping into my head.

    Awesome! Thanks, Pete! I looked this up on my phone today at work. The first book seems a little simpler than what I like to read, by which I mean young (it is YA you said). But it doesn't seem too young or simple! It's on the list. Thanks!
     
  18. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    I would strongly, strongly, strongly advise reading Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman.

    Bradbury: "Homecoming", "Uncle Einar" and any of "the Family" stories. They were collected in From the Dust Returned; I don't know how much he tinkered with them from their original forms, though I've heard he did do revisions. Also, besides Something This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree. At least some stories from The October Country would be good, too, like "Homecoming" and "The Man Upstairs."

    Neil Gaiman: Coraline; The Graveyard Book



    Randy M.
     
  19. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Did we do those ones for the reading list? :) Try Mary Gentle's Grunts, Stan Nicholls' Orcs, and Ari Marmell's Goblin Corps, which I just finished. While these are all satiric, they would probably be useful to you. Also Markus Heitz's Dwarves series. There are innumerable contemporary fantasy novels in which the protagonist is a vampire, fairie or half-fairie, werewolf, etc. Lots of YA does this too. Ben Horton's Monster Republic might be good.
     
  20. RedMage

    RedMage There is no tomorrow

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    KatG--I have no idea if the reading list you gave me had any books like the ones I am thinking of. I have heard of many of the authors, thanks largely to sffworld, and some of the titles you gave. But I've not read any of them yet. I was speaking more in general terms. And it does make sense that monstrous, non-human characters would see themselves through the lens of a human because, well, their creator, the author, is a human. Not an excuse for it, just an explanation.

    What did you think of Marmell's Goblin Corps, by the way? I've seen it on the shelves at the bookstores. I've also seen Orcs and the Dwarves series. And I keep looking for Mary Gentle's name because I at least want to take a look at her ASH: A Secret History, but in none of the numerous different book retailers I've gone to in my city can I even find her name! Yes, that's why Amazon is great. But sometimes I want to look at a page in the middle of the book, one I choose, and not what Amazon has scanned and is willing to show me.

    Anyways, back on topic. I did pick up the first in Delaney's series from the library today. I recently moved so that helped force me to get a new library card (yay!). Haven't started it yet as I'm still working on finishing up my re-read of Holdstock's Mythago Wood before Halloween. Still have about 70 pages or so to go. Hope to have it done by tomorrow night, then I can start the Delaney on Monday. I'm looking forward to it!