Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Anatomy of a Monster

Creating monsters, whether for stories, or in real life, takes some work. Especially in real life. It's not as simple as swapping human bits with animal bits, or digging up dead body parts and reanimating them in a lightning storm, or sprinkling glitter all over your skin and talking in a low voice, or changing your name to Larry.

Trust me. These things don't work. If they did, you'd be reading a blog written by a glittery penguin with the head of an ostrich, and Mark Twain's eyebrows. Also, I would be called Larry, and as I am clearly not called Larry, but E.J., it is clear that these things don't work. Not alone anyway.

If your goal is simply to create something for your story characters, or your bored friends, to hunt on a deserted island, boarding school, or starship, then by all means, hunt the glittery penguin. The penguin's motivation is simple: it's very hungry and Mark Twain's eyebrows have given it ideas about the fine quality of human meat. It must die. Cut it off from the glitter supply that's made Mark Twain's eyebrows sentient, and you've got an ending.

But lately, it seems, glittery penguins are beginning to get the cold shoulder in most mediums, particularly books.

Monsters have become not just something to kill, but something to understand, something to root for. In many instances, monsters have become the new hero by conquering their dark nature and rising to the story challenge.

Characters like Professor Lupin and Hagrid in Harry Potter, or the Cullen family in Twilight, or Rauschtlot in Return to Exile (yes, I just referenced my own book) are perfect examples. These types of characters represent a dramatic and encouraging shift in the way we tell stories. Thinking in terms of us versus them and good versus evil has led to some of the worst behaviors and wars in history.

Nearly everyone is good in their own mind, and if they're good, then those who oppose them must be evil. When both sides see themselves as right and good, war, in all its shapes and forms, is the inevitable outcome. And when I say war, I'm talking about everything from heated arguments between individuals to conflicts between nations. That's not to say that there aren't good and bad things--because there are--but good and bad people are a different matter entirely.

The best monsters are not creatures of external horror, but of internal complexity. Give them terrible urges and needs. Give them reasons to be better than they are. Show them struggling against their natures. In other words, make them like us. Because in the end, none of us are human.

We are all monsters.


Dave Butler said...

Yes, make them at least as complex as Edward. He's a glittery vampire who wants to mate with his food, a character about whom Freud would have a lot to say. Go, Jacob!

Oh, wait... did Jacob already lose?

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