Last week was about monsters. So is this week.
Why create beasts? Some people think they are vestiges of the days when we lived in caves and the world was full of things that would hunt us and wound-poison-main and then consume us. That may be true, but really when you think about it, the period when we were prey animals was an eye-blink in the flow of human history. Pretty early on we discovered pointed sticks and fire, followed by haute cuisine, and then we became the things giving other animals bad dreams. But we need fear in our lives. It is the juice that generates our best creative moments. So we created gods and demons to respect and fear. Note to Fundamentalist religious people (as if any of you types are reading this), this is the point where you shake your head and in a sad, resigned voice say, “That poor misguided man who wrote this. He is doomed to dwell in the lake of fire for all eternity.” Thanks. You may now go about your business.
Mythological monsters are windows into our understanding of evil. Simple generalizations: Vampires embody our dark fascination with forbidden sex, werewolves explore the idea of the best that dwells within us all, non-intelligent monsters dwell in the dark shadowy regions under our collective childhood beds that we never really got over.
Many works have been written about mundane creatures attacking mankind like gorillas, wolves, lions and tigers and bears (Oh My) as well as dragons, basilisks, sphinxes, and various other made-up (okay, okay – for the believers, we’ll keep calling them mythological) creatures. We have also inflated scary beasts into larger than life versions that are our nightmares writ huge. Godzilla is the latest reboot of this phenomenon. Tell me Jurassic Park is not a version of this genre and I will cry, “Liar!”
Monsters are fun, and easy. all we have to do is select some gruesome base critter with large claws and gnashing teeth and pick from column A an assortment of smells, textures, degrees of sliminess or secretions, pick some elimination methods from column B: cutting, crushing, poisoning, squashing, cocooning, injecting, ingesting (whole – eeew) dissolving or assimilating. Assimilating is interesting. Doppelgangers, The Thing and the Borg all use this method – which deals with destruction of the unique “self” with which we all imbue ourselves. This holds a surreal terror for us, especially the newer generations who have all been told they are “special”. But I digress.
Select a familiar locale (leave Tokyo alone for crying out loud), randomly generate a number of victims, and kill them in interesting and monster specific ways that no one in authority will accept, select a hero type and sketch in his flaws and strengths ensuring a fit with one of your creature’s weaknesses, create some action encounters, discover the requisite weakness, exploit it then use it to kill/dispel/capture/tame the critter and VOILA – monster story complete.
Mythological and Hollywood monsters aside the most fascinating creature we can explore as writers is ourselves. The monsters we create that embody the fears we carry around with us, those things are the manifestation of deep dark recesses of the soul that exist within us all in that place that Frank Herbert described as the place we all fear to look at inside ourselves. These monsters, the real ones like Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy and the made up ones like Hannibal Lector, these people frighten us more than the mythological beast we conjure. The critter-beasts are defeated to provide moral lessons or used to frighten youngsters into compliant behaviour (“Eat your peas or the Yeti will come devour you in your sleep” Gee thanks mom for that one!)
The dark impulses that drive someone to do unspeakable things to strangers or even loved ones is an endless source of fascination that will keep your readers up late into the night reading your “monster” story. We sense that monster lurking within ourselves. It is the source of road-rage, it is generated by powerlessness and fear and anger. The human monsters you create will see their most feared monsters in the mirror. Because to paraphrase Neitzsche, “When you gaze into the eyes of the monster, the monster gazes back!”
That made a cold shiver run down my spine so I am going to stop now.
Don’t. Turn. Out. The. Lights.
Next week: Why the Aliens are NOT going to invade. Ever.