Monsters are everywhere. They reside in movies, books, video games, and inside minds itching to be creative. Monsters are seen on the smaller scale, such as the ever popular zombie or vampire in modern culture, to the large scale, colossal creatures from movies such as Pacific Rim, Godzilla, and King Kong.
Monsters can vary widely in what makes them scary and threatening, such as the mysterious circumstances of Frankenstein’s monster to the sheer power and resilience of the Kaiju (“giant monster” in Japanese) in the movies stated above. As a fiction writer, my creativity may wander in all directions as I search to find inspiration for monsters in my own story.
As I write science fiction, I have used multiple different kinds of inspirations and sources to design my own beasts, as have other writers. I have cycled through a couple of creatures I have decided not to use in my novel, but have spent hours researching the attributes of the ones I will be using. My own monsters rely on the cold truth of what they are – deformed human experiments, now twisted into animalistic and terrifying creatures that have lost their minds and control over their bodies. Their human will is taken away, to be replaced by the carnage-seeking, predatory instinct of their new forms, ones that prey upon the innocent and strike fear into those that oppose them.
An example: what traits of a large cat beast evoke fear in a human being? When you stand in front of a lion or a tiger at the zoo, you see these traits up close – the massive canine teeth protruding out of the cat’s mouth, the elongated claws stemming from the paws, and the size of the animal itself. If you watch a documentary of the creature hunting, you see the speed, agility, and power of the cat as it chases and catches prey. Though humans are not primary victims for these creatures, we still fear the animal because of its predatory nature and attributes.
Though a normal animal, the big cat has inspired me to design my own monster similar to a lion or a tiger, but one much more terrifying. When building monsters to use in stories, I feel it is best to begin with something we are already familiar with, and ever since childhood we have learned just how strong the lion and the tiger are.
Credit: Close-Up of a Tiger Growling by Claudio Gennari
Beginning with the very skeletal structure of a tiger, my first monster came into being: the Hunter. With the slim but agile body frame of the cat, I built upon its anatomy, giving the creature grey, cold, and hairless skin to present it as a human experiment gone wrong. As the person is twisted into this creature, the tailbone lengthens and becomes a scythe, the hands and feet twist into silver claws, and the human face morphs into the skull of a big cat, remaining fleshless as saber fangs protrude from the skull. Now resigned to all fours, the victim loses their human mind, forced to become a slave to the monster’s willpower and savage hunting instinct.
But despite creating a new creature, I did not abandon what originally strikes fear into us; the teeth, claws, size, agility, and power of an apex predator. To build a monster, I believe you have to start with something very familiar. Something we think of when a person says “strong, scary animal”.
What do you think creates a memorable creature? What sorts of traits and attributes do you think of when someone says the word “monster”? And how would you design a beast meant to strike fear into the hearts of those reading a book or watching a movie? Sound off in the comments!