I’d like to introduce you to the person who has influenced my mindset more than any other individual. While such authors as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells has made a considerable impact on me, no one has had more affect on me than Ivan T. Sanderson.
Ivan T. Sanderson lived a life many people would love to have lived. As a Zoologist, Biologist and Adventurer, he comes across as a combination of Indiana Jones and The Crocodile Hunter. His interests were wide, but he is known for his investigations into special attention to the search for lake monsters, Vile Vortices, sea serpents, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, Yeti, surviving Pteradons, and Sasquatch.
In the late 1940’s, Ivan developed a passion for the Unexplained, his term for all of the creatures and objects that resisted discovery. While continuing to travel the world, he began to hear accounts of animals that weren’t in any biology textbook. This spurred him on to look deeper.
One incident took place in the Amazon. While following the Amazon River, he and several companions watched a creature flying along the river. The distinctly reptilian creature had a wingspan wider than that of the river’s twenty-foot width. From the crest on the back of its head, Sanderson surmised that it had been a Pteranodon, an extinct flying reptile from the Age of Dinosaurs. He and fellow biologist Bernard Heuvelmans conducted an extensive study of the Loch Ness Monster.
His further investigations showed that there were extraordinary creatures out in Nature that Science had not, and would not, recognize as existing. In 1947, Sanderson coined the word “Cryptozoology,” which means the study of unknown animals. That term has been embraced by many researchers who now have a field of study to define their investigations.
He became a regular guest on radio shows such as the Long John NebelShow. His visits were very popular, and his reports had everyone glued to their radios. On one such program, he gave a detailed account of the Flatwoods Monster from 1952. Here is that show, presented on YouTube.
His impact on y life has been huge. My first book by Mr. Sanderson had a title I could not ignore: Abominable Snowmen – Legend Come To Life. I ordered my copy from my local library, and in a few weeks, I received a 2nd edition copy of this famous work. I couldn’t believe my luck. That summer, I read the 700-page book twice. I had chills just thinking that such creatures could be found in almost every one of the United States, as well as all over the world. This book sits proudly on my permanent bookshelf.
Another book came my way from my library a few months later. Actually, there were two books. Things and More Things came as a real surprise to me. I had never even imagined the things I found in these two wonderful books. Both books pulled me into a World of Weird and Wonderful concerns such as Flying Saucers; Telepathic Ants; Rocks that Sing–and Kill; “Abominable Snowmen” in Europe and America; Vile Vortices: Water Monsters; Giant Skulls; Living Dinosaurs; The Minnesota Iceman; Frozen Mammoths; Animal ESP and Odd Space Visitors.
I spent many an hour of my youth in the company of Sanderson’s books. In fact, when the Minnesota Iceman once paid a visit to the Menlo Park Mall for a week, my brother and I spent an hour in line waiting to find out exactly what lay in that block of ice. It took one look for my brother to get out of there as fast as his legs would take him. Me, I spent about ten minutes staring at what appeared to be a dead caveman frozen in a big floor freezer. It’s a sensation that created a curiosity that has never left me, and one that is hard to explain. I owe it all to Ivan T. Sanderson.
I sometimes look at my mind as a warehouse that has been passed through a blender. Can you picture that? Neither can I, but that’s what I see. I have seen so many films and television shows and have read so many books that my mind has split into two distinct warehouses. The first one is filled with filing cabinets. Each cabinet is a genre or a movie franchise. All of the ideas inside any particular cabinet are kept organized in neat folders. The second one is a vortex of swirling data. Nothing is in place, and ideas smash into other ideas.
My Mind Is A Blender
This second warehouse is where the ideas come from. It could be Jurassic Park‘s velociraptors hitting the Martian War Machines from The War of the Worlds. Out of that comes an idea of a squadron of WWII fighter planes “manned” by trained raptors. Weird, yes, but that’s how the process works. Not all of the ideas work well at all, but enough do to keep the vortex at high velocity.
When it comes to creating characters, I take a great deal more care with them than I do a story idea. Stories are made up of characters who are in situations they must get out of somehow. Without characters, you only have situations and challenges without someone to grapple with them. For me, characters come in different layers. Each layer is important, and they are all tied together. One cannot be separated from any of the others.
Each Layer Is Important To The Others
Here are some of the layers I use to create a character. Put as many of these things into your story and give your people’s existence some reality.
Prior Life. Their Back Story in other words.
Friends, Enemies and Relatives.
Eccentricities, Habits and Nits.
Real Life Dialogue, Idioms and Catch Phrases.
Believability, Honor and A Sense Of Humor.
Fears, Beliefs and Superstitions.
Speech Patterns, Tics and Accents.
Goals, Dreams and Ambitions.
Curiosity, Interests and Dislikes.
John Pentgram. He started as a college assignment. I had to write a short story for my Creative Writing Final. The class received the assignment on Day Two of the class. I began to write down ideas, and found they were all terrible.
Then, one evening, I saw an old episode of Get Smart. In it, Maxwell Smart discovered that the enemy spy he had been chasing could not be caught because he’s a vampire. That created a spark in my mind. What if I created a detective who has been bitten by a werewolf? Better yet what if he could control his werewolf urges and use his gift to solve crimes?
The result became Nigh Of Fate, the story all of the other Pentgram stories revolved around. I now have a set of stories that take place before he gets bitten by the werewolf, and a set of stories taking place after he’s been bitten.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Surela of Valtoor. My friend Michael ran a D & D campaign for many years. I couldn’t play but I helped him come up with traps, creatures and impossible situations for his characters. One day, I came up with a character who had influence over cats and gravity. Michael thought I had the potential for a new set of gods and influences they give to mortals.
The next morning, I woke up with an idea about a female thief on a mission to steal a treasure that had never been stolen from an empty town that would not let you leave. I sat down and wrote the name Surela on the paper. Where the name came from I still have no idea. Writing their name down gave me the entire story, including her 5 inch tall, friend Lim and her Entallic horse.
Surela’s entire world revealed itself in the next two stories. With the details of the God Shards clarified, the rest of the world and its history unfolded in the next six months. I wrote with a speed I had never experienced before or since. As a result, I had over 100 pages of background material, from coinage to religions to maps.
The Land Of Variema
Franklin Adams. Suppose the Frankenstein’s monster survived his arctic adventure? Suppose he went west and wound up in Canada? Suppose he became a fur trapper and saved all of his money until he could move to the U.S.? Suppose his scars faded until they were gone, yet he remained un-aging?
Cut to the present day. Adams is a private detective living in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. With over 200 years of knowledge and wisdom, he is used by the Police to help solve crimes they deem unsolvable. No one knows who he really is, until 12-year-old Rochelle Horowitz put the dozens of stray pieces of Adams’ life together. She becomes one of his apprentices and the only one who knows his secret.
Ryan Dacalos. In the year 2227, Ryan is hired to steal the Khurlu, the largest diamond ever found. It is in a secure box on Mars, which is forbidden to any visitors by the Uni-World Council. The money he is offered is too good to pass up and Ryan takes the job. He is immediately set upon by someone who doesn’t want him to get the diamond.
The Khurlu Of Mars
This story all stems from an off-hand remark from my friend Michael. One day, he happened to be talking about the planet Mars. In the middle of the conversation, he said something about the “Great Martian Terra-Form Disaster.” The story instantly hit me.
What if there was a disaster directly caused by efforts to terra-form Mars? What if the governments of the solar system decreed that Mars was now off-limits due to the anticipated destruction of the Martian Eco-system? What if the colonies already established on Mars were given 24 hours to evacuate forever, and some important things were left behind?
All of these details hit me at once, including the character who became Ryan Dacalos, psychic thief and obtainer of lost objects. His friends, Burke and Astra, came later in the day as I wrote down the details as they hit me. These people and the various settings were all in place within the week.
I chose to write the book in the First Person, something I had never done before. That new aspect of writing proved to be no problem for me. I wrote Ryan as if he were actually living the adventure as I wrote it. This gave the story a real immediacy that I liked.
People are just people, and these individuals you have been introduced to are members of their community. They just have jobs that are a lot different than yours or mine.
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 Dictionary.com 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. 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.
Triffids by John Wyndham.
Slime by Joseph Payne Brennan.
The Creature from Frankenstein.
The Weeping Angels from Blink (Doctor Who).
Hob from Quatermass and The Pit.
The Thing From Another World.
The Silicates from “Island of Terror.”
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 JoesWritersClub.com