Monstrous Originality

It is difficult to create an original monster, and a big part of this involves getting there first, regardless of your approach. Fantasy is a distortion of reality because even the most creative among us draw from past experience. We simply must have starting material to work with. Take the giant Ohmu from the landmark manga comic, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. Hayao Miyazaki said that he used “roll up bugs” as a reference (readers might be more familiar with the term, “pill bugs”). Make them bigger… add some extra appendages and multiple eyes that change from blue to red when the creatures are enraged… and presto: a compelling monster and a good example of some of the following methods.

One common distortion of reality is simply to take something common and make it bigger. King Kong was “just” a gorilla, but he was a really big one. In addition, the dinosaurs with which he did battle were relatively novel in 1933 when RKO Pictures released the film (directed by Merrian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). The giant ants in Them (1954; directed by Gordon Douglas) are another example. They were numerous, intimidatingly over-sized, entirely threatening, and forming a colony in the Los Angeles sewer system.

Another distortion of reality in fantasy monsters is the combination of different body parts from different species. Of course, this practice hails back to the ancient religions and mythologies of such places as Assyria, Egypt, Palestine, and Greece, but a striking example from the movies is Godzilla (Gojira), the popular Toho creation from 1954 (director: Ishiro Honda). He featured the body of a tyrannosaurus with the dorsal plates of a stegosaurus, and his memorable appearance has aged very well. Throw in his atomic breath, and you have perhaps the most iconic movie monster ever. Not bad for a rubber suit worn by an actor.

Finally, you can try to design something very different. Cloverfield (2008; directed by Matt Reeves) did a pretty good job of this. Who among those of us who write monster stories wouldn’t want to create something truly unique? Thus inspired, I have tried to do something original with the monsters in Jacob Leviathan, the first of my stories in a new trilogy, The Dogwood Legacy (available now through Amazon). Despite my aspirations and personal satisfaction with the result, it will be up to my readers to decide if I have succeeded. I will write more about the trilogy in future blogs.

Coming next: another way to get more story mileage out of a monster.