Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monsters and Mayhem, Part 1 of 6

from Joe Alterio's Robots and Monsters gallery

So, I'm taking a 6-week course called Monsters and Mayhem at Grub Street, taught by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. (Sophie Powell will also teach in future weeks.) I'm taking the class because:

  1. I love to read sci fi, fantasy, and horror, but I've never tried to write it. Why not?
  2. I want to start writing more magical realism.
  3. I think challenging myself to explore a new genre is a good thing.
So, what have I learned so far? Genre-jumping is hard. The first class assignment was to answer some in-depth questions about "your monster"... but I don't have a work-in-progress with a monster yet. The students around me immediately started writing about dragons and vampires and necromancers who trail ghosts behind them and a leviathan with a 6-chambered heart... and I was just sitting there thinking, dang I am out of my league.

But that's the point of pushing yourself, right? Finally an idea hit me from something my husband and I said years ago about the devil, and I came up with a "monster." I'm still more in the magical realism arena than in true speculative fiction territory, so I'm working with a real animal rather than a fantastical one, but this is still the first time that I've ever tried to get into the head of any character other than a contemporary human. And it's extremely cool. I might even have a short story idea building out of this.

Yesterday was all about character-building. Often writers get caught up in a good character idea and start writing before they've fleshed everything out, and then end up stuck, or worse, end up finishing a book without realizing that they've left out important things like where these characters get their money, how do they eat, and what happened to their families. Here are some questions to consider when creating your characters:
  • Is your monster male/female/both/neither?
  • What are its fears and desires? Is it good, or evil, or in-between?
  • Was it born a monster or become one? If it became one, when? How old is it? Is it mortal or immortal? If immortal, does it age at all?
  • What does it look like? How is it like/unlike a human? What powers does it have? How does its appearance change when it uses those powers or experiences emotion?
  • Housing: it is a posh monster who decorates elaborately, or is it a hole-in-the-ground kind of guy?
  • Does it have any particularly fond or terrible memories about its life before it was a monster, or about being a monster? Does it have parents, a spouse, children, or an unrequited love?
  • When and where does it live now? Our world and time or another?
  • Is it a solitary creature or does it crave company? Who does it like and/or trust? If if prefers groups, what is the hierarchy of that group, what are the rules, what are the consequences of disobeying?
Next week we'll be getting more into monster psychology. Can't wait.

DO YOU WRITE ABOUT MONSTERS? Tell us a little about them.


  1. i do write about monsters. One of my favorites was a hole that kept getting bigger, chasing a woman who was empty inside and devouring the world as it went.

    I'm excited that you want to try magical realism and sci-fi and fantasy!

  2. Good for you in trying this genre. It's not an easy one to write in (are any of them?). I write fantasy and it's still hard some (most) of the time.

    Monsters are fun but I wouldn't call what I write about "monsters". I like to play with normal things that could become terrifying if looked at in a different light. Or villians from ancient myth. My current "monster" would be an ancient god of war. He's nasty and I'm having fun playing with him.

    Good luck with your class! It sounds fabulous!

  3. I like to find monsters in unusual places. I wrote a short story once about an ancient tree that had turned evil.

  4. Oh boy does that class sound gooood. I write about monsters and mayhem and I never let anyone I know read it because they might think I'm a freak.

    When my daughter went to summer camp for the first time a few summers ago, I soothed my lonely heart by writing and sending to her every day, one horror story. I chose a pen name, so she got the stories (sort of - she knew it was me!) from an "unknown" source. She loved it! So did I! It forced me to write a story a day. And someday, I might try to get the stories published.

    The ultimate compliment? When she said the stories scared her and freaked her out so much that every night she couldn't even walk to the bathroom alone (only a few steps away from her cabin!)

    I should have taken that class! Maybe next go round. Have fun with it, Carrie! And thanks for posting all the very useful pointers when considering your characters. Taking notes now....

  5. Ha! You're kind of offering the Cliff's Notes for the class, aren'tcha, good lady?

    Seriously, though, those are things I've certainly never thought about in my own fiction. It's been a while since I've written monsters, but when I finally find a story about one, I'll be sure to remember this advice. Thanks!

  6. DO YOU WRITE ABOUT MONSTERS? Tell us a little about them.


    They are really, really good-looking. I know that's been done before, but everybody loves a cute monster.

    And I love a cute monster who honestly is brain-meltingly evil, and not Mr. Sexypants McBoyfriend in disguise.

    Mwahahahaha! Death to Edward Cullen, I say.

  7. Good stuff to keep in mind when working with character development. Thanks.

    As for me, I haven't written about monster's, but I've drawn a few here and there. I'm do a lot of sketching of things that catch my eye. I think the person coming up with the actual monster is the real artist though.

  8. Sounds like a fun class! I think it would be really challenging to switch genres...I'd have to do a lot of reading in the area I'm trying to switch over to.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  9. Great Post
    I think most of the monsters I have used were closer to crypto animals than anything so I usually study out the nearest animal type-but then when there are people who are monsters then it's really all about the character with teeth.

  10. Someone who was quite good at inventing realistic aliens was Larry Niven.

    But for the ultimate in alien creation, I reckon you want to read an ancient set of short stories by James White under the general title Hospital Station, in which an intergalatcic doctor has to cure various aliens he's never seen before.

  11. "There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby" Scary fairy tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

    Twist your mind up a little. It's like getting drunk, when you shouldn't, without the hangover. Sort of.

  12. I love monsters, I'm definitely a magical realism kind of writer so I try to include monsters that are just a few steps shy of human, and tend to be evil in a very human way. If I'm going to include something really fantastic, like a creature from another dimension I try to make it less evil and more incomprehensable to the heros.

    The nastiest monster I;ve ever made is my current anti hero. He's one of the few characters with no actual magical ability but his worldview and actions make him monstrous.

    Thanks for the blog about this Carrie, and good on you for trying new things.