Pen and Scalpel: What Is A Monster?

Why Monsters? For the past three years, I have been writing stories about monsters of all sorts. My take on them, I hope, is to create creatures that no one has ever seen or a twist on a familiar beastie that creates new connotations for its existence.
What do you like to see in a Monster? Do you like Classical Critters who have been nipping at Mankind’s heels since we hid in caves? Or would you like to meet something that has no name, will not communicate with Us, and will eat you without a second thought?
My work strives to inhabit that territory between the Known and the Never Known. Still, there are those writers who would like to craft a story about a fiend or two and have no idea where to start. Believe me, I’ve been there. Creating Monsters is not easy unless your name is Frankenstein. Take my hand and I’ll help guide you into the Art of Monster Making.
From Hell It Came- 1957
What Is A Monster? From comes this. Any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people, or any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.

That covers a lot of ground. Most of us think something larger than us can be monstrous. In the sense I am talking about, it is something natural, but out of its natural setting. A lion is not seen as unusual in the zoo or on an African plain. But put one in Times Square and you have yourself a monster of a problem.

Ordinary creatures as monsters can make for terrific stories. I recommend the film CRAWL for anyone looking for some thrills. Sure, they are alligators, but they are in someone’s house. And they’re hungry. Monsters? Yes.

A monster can be anything that menaces someone. Even a bird can be menacing, as in THE BIRDS by Daphne Di Maurier. Smaller even are the ants from “Leiningen Versus the Ants” by Carl Stephenson is terrifying because there are about Four Billion of the things in one place. Smaller? Try “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton.

Monsters Are A Vital Part Of Our Human Chronicle. We see ourselves in many of the monsters we encounter. That’s as true for Mr. Hyde as it is for the ten foot long ants in THEM!. Those ants were created by the genius mind of Man, and their eating us is more than we might deserve.

Poor Dr. Frankenstein. His intentions are honorable. He just went a little too far, especially when he sets out to create a mate for his creation. When he freezes to death in the Arctic, the last person he sees is the Creature he sewed together. But the Creature survives to the end of the book! We have a perfect opening for sequels, of which there are at least a dozen good ones.

Put the person in your Monster. Dr. Frankenstein had little humanity. It was his Creature who showed what it is to be Human. If your thing has at least one human-like trait, your reader will identify a bit with it. More traits equal a more human-like entity.

The Creation And Care Of Unique Monsters. How does your thing come to exist? Has it always been here, waiting for an opportunity to strike? Did someone create it, from some new experiment or looking in places where they shouldn’t be looking? Your origin has to be something logical, no matter how strange the result of that exploration or research.

What does It like to eat? Does it run when It sees someone coming? Is It the only one, or is It waiting for the right time and place to reproduce? What does It need to reproduce? Does It want to kill at random, or does It just want to go home? Perhaps It has a name and is angry because they don’t address It by that label.

X, The Unknown
X, The Unknown. 1956 Hammer Films
Bringing Your Monster Out Into The Open. Billy-Bob the Slime has just oozed out of Crater Lake, looking for a mate and a good meal. Nobody knows this because Billy-Bob cannot speak. He can only eat and lust. What’s there to do? If you’re Billy-Bob, you’ll ignore any attempts to set you on fire, blow you up or poison you until you get the two, and only two, things on your mind taken care of.
On the other hand, the Army and the Scientists see a ten-ton pool of red slime come out of the water and eat 100 people who were at the lake’s edge taking pictures of the red goo. Shoot it or blow it up, says the Colonel. Drive it between these two electrodes and fry it, says the Scientist. If that doesn’t work, there’s always a handy atom bomb at the nearby airbase.

Your monster has to make an appearance sometime. Make the reveal count. In “Quatermass And The Pit”, the menace behind everything is Hob, the racial memory of our long-dead Martian Masters. Its appearance over London comes at the very end of the story, but we’ve been anticipating it showing up for the entire time.

It doesn’t have to be a big jump scare. It can be subtle and sneak up on your reader. Those are the best kind of scares, the ones standing next to you until you turn around and see them.

Fighting A Common Enemy And Bringing People Together. When monsters strike, it brings the community together. In “Night of the Cooters” by Howard Waldrop, the Martians land outside of a small Texas town. The townspeople gather together and blow them to Hell.

To bring people together, just add a monster or two. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people. The survivors who can still see in “The Day of the Triffids” number only a few at first. Disparate bands of people eventually gather together and take a stand against the marauding carnivorous plants.

Any good monster will bring out the torches and pitchforks in us. When In Doubt, Just Shoot It was the motto in the 1950s. Their call was right practically every time, but the poor creatures always paid a heavy price despite the fact that often they were innocent. The shark from JAWS followed his instincts and his hunger. When he’s picked on, his lust for vengeance causes him to go after the three men in the boat. The shark could have swum away and eaten somewhere else. If the town had not hired the Sheriff, the Fisherman and the Scientist, the Shark could have eaten a dozen more people.
Create a crisis that brings the common folk to the fight. Among them are where the true heroes lie.
Bringing Out Your Character’s True Nature With A Monster. Danger and adversity will bring out the real person inside of your characters. For every six heroes fighting off a fearsome menace, there’s one coward who runs off with the explosives. Every story needs a balance of good and awful people. Let the coward run away, as long as he gets eaten at the end with the dynamite lit.

A crisis will always reveal heroes. 9/11 is a good example, as is the American Revolution. A monster, by its existence, is crisis personified. As much as Chace Winstead wanted to run away with everyone else, he chose to drive his hot rod filled with nitroglycerin into THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. Alex Rogan could have stayed home on Earth and waited for from Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada to destroy the planet. Instead, he chose to stay and become THE LAST STARFIGHTER.

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas. 1959 VanWick Productions
Metaphors, Monsters And Reality. Monsters don’t always have to be just monsters. They can represent something about us as human beings. Godzilla represented the atom bomb, and it came from Japan, the only country ever hit with atom bombs. The current Zombie craze can be seen as a representation of such diseases as VD or HIV.

The Silicates from “THE ISLAND OF TERROR” are products of renegade cancer research. These entities suck the bones out of any creature, leaving an empty husk behind. While we are being scared to death, we are given a lesson about following the rules and not keeping things a secret.

In reality, these monsters are trying to tell us that there are perils when it comes to being Human. The robots in “WESTWORLD” are Us, right down to their eyes. Where does the person end and where does the robot begin? Will we be able to tell when someone has crossed over from human to non-human? Time will tell, and your story can give us a monster that is very close to ourselves.
What’s Behind Your Door? The very things that make us Human also can tear the Humanity from our souls. Watch out for that monster. It could be your uncle. Man’s cruelty to another man is the fuel that creates real-life monsters. Godzilla, the Silicates and the Frankenstein Monster are warnings to not take any idea too far. One small misstep and the world is overrun by vampires, the Undead or Triffids. When you write a story, choose the doors you open with care. Your job is to scare the reader, and that means picking the door that reads “Do Not Enter. The Dead Are In Here.”
My Favorite Monsters. To round out this piece, let me tell you about my preferred organisms of horror.
  1. Triffids by John Wyndham.
  2. Godzilla.
  3. Slime by Joseph Payne Brennan.
  4. The Creature from Frankenstein.
  5. The Weeping Angels from Blink (Doctor Who).
  6. Hob from Quatermass and The Pit.
  7. The Thing From Another World.
  8. Jaws.
  9. The Silicates from “Island of Terror.”
  10. The Id Monster from “Forbidden Planet.”
Thank you for your time. Always, You can come on by and comment on this or anything else at

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