Fiction Writing Made Easy

#141. How To Create Believable Monsters With Randy Ellefson

May 07, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 141
#141. How To Create Believable Monsters With Randy Ellefson
Fiction Writing Made Easy
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Fiction Writing Made Easy
#141. How To Create Believable Monsters With Randy Ellefson
May 07, 2024 Episode 141
Savannah Gilbo

“The object itself didn't cause the conflict. The person who made the choice with the object caused the conflict.” - Randy Ellefson

In today’s episode, we’re going to cover something really fun—how to create believable monsters. And I have a special guest joining me today—someone that knows way more about creating monsters than I do. His name is Randy Ellefson, and he is the author of The Art of World Building.  Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[03:48] Randy gives us his definition of a monster, what physical or physiological deformities they may have, and whether they are sentient beings.

[16:05] Randy breaks down the three types of monsters: accidental monsters, monsters by design, and monsters by evolution.

[28:42] Is it more effective to compel readers to keep reading despite knowing the outcome, or to cultivate curiosity that propels the audience to move forward?

[29:15] Randy shares common monster motivations, including a popular one that may lack credibility.

[50:47] The idea of exploring diverse topics and genres can expose writers to new ideas and provide fresh perspectives, even for writers not typically inclined towards fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“The object itself didn't cause the conflict. The person who made the choice with the object caused the conflict.” - Randy Ellefson

In today’s episode, we’re going to cover something really fun—how to create believable monsters. And I have a special guest joining me today—someone that knows way more about creating monsters than I do. His name is Randy Ellefson, and he is the author of The Art of World Building.  Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[03:48] Randy gives us his definition of a monster, what physical or physiological deformities they may have, and whether they are sentient beings.

[16:05] Randy breaks down the three types of monsters: accidental monsters, monsters by design, and monsters by evolution.

[28:42] Is it more effective to compel readers to keep reading despite knowing the outcome, or to cultivate curiosity that propels the audience to move forward?

[29:15] Randy shares common monster motivations, including a popular one that may lack credibility.

[50:47] The idea of exploring diverse topics and genres can expose writers to new ideas and provide fresh perspectives, even for writers not typically inclined towards fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

Speaker 1:

The monsters don't necessarily have to have physical deformities, but they usually do, mostly because we want something where we immediately see it and go, oh my god, it's a monster, you know. But it can also be like a psychological deformity. We don't normally think of psychological stuff as a deformity. We just say, oh, that's messed up or something, or this person's a jerk or something. But you know, something like vampires physically when they're not in their vampiric state. You know, they look, they look fine.

Speaker 2:

They look like you and me. I could be a vampire right now and you would have no idea. Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So, whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, we're going to cover something really fun, and that is how to create believable monsters. Now, even if you're not writing horror or science fiction or fantasy, I want to encourage you to stay put and listen to the episode, because you never know what could spark inspiration for your own story. I think it's super valuable to read outside of the genre you write in, and it can also be equally helpful to learn some of the tricks of the trade of the other genres as well. So, like I said, we're going to talk about monsters, and I have a special guest joining me today someone that knows way more about creating monsters than I do. His name is Randy Ellefson. Randy is the author of the Art of Worldbuilding Books, the creator and host of the accompanying podcast and YouTube channel, and he has a suite of online courses specifically for authors who need to do some worldbuilding. It's called Worldbuilding University, and we will link to all of that in the show notes. Lastly, but certainly not least, he writes epic slash urban fantasy and lit RPG.

Speaker 2:

In our conversation today, you're going to hear us talk about things like what the word monster actually means in terms of storytelling and how this kind of depends on whose perspective you're looking at the monster through. We're going to talk about how monsters are different than animals and species, and he's got some great examples to share on that point. We'll cover the three main ways monsters get created, so three possible origins for you to consider when crafting your own monsters and, finally, why getting inside the mind of your monster and figuring out what's motivating them can help you not only write a believable monster, but brainstorm elements for your plot as well. So it's a really fun jam-packed episode, and I can't wait to share it with you. With that being said, let's go ahead and dive into my conversation with Randy Ellefson. That's all about creating believable monsters. Hi, randy, thank you so much for coming on the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. I'm so excited to have you here today.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for having me on.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm so excited we're going to talk about monsters. But before we get into talking about that, can you, in your own words, tell my listeners who you are and what you do?

Speaker 1:

Sure, I've been writing fantasy fiction since the 80s, on and off, wow and I've also been building worlds ever since then. I've been spending about 30 years building the same planet, because I just like to do a lot of detail with that planet. So I've created you know, pretty much everything in my series of books called the Art of Worldbuilding, which teaches you how to create everything, from life to places and everything else.

Speaker 2:

And there's a whole chapter in one of the books on how to create monsters. Yeah, and literally he's not joking when he says there's everything in there, so we will link to that in the show notes if you want to check it out. But it's a, you know, it's a great way to walk through the exercises, but it also gives you so many ideas just reading it. So it's a very cool book. I love it. I have a copy and, like I said, we'll link to that in the show notes. But okay, so we're talking about monsters, right? How do we define monsters? Or can you give us your definition so we're all on the same page?

Speaker 1:

Sure, you know, typically in history when storytellers have created monsters whether it was for a book or just know an actual local myth they were trying to describe something that was harmful or unnatural or morally objectionable. That's a big one, you know. There are things where people say, okay, we don't like this moral trait. So if you act like that, well you, you know we're going to shun you, the same way we would shun this monster. So the monsters don't necessarily have to have physical deformities, but they usually do, mostly because we want something where we immediately see it and go, oh my God, it's a monster.

Speaker 1:

But it can also be like a psychological deformity. We don't normally think of psychological stuff as a deformity. We just say, oh, that's messed up or something, or this person's a jerk or something, but something like vampires physically, when they're not in their vampiric state. You know, they look, they look fine, they look like you and me. I could be a vampire right now and you would have no idea. But what they do to people is psychologically horrifying, and you know, but they're, they're OK with that. So that's like a psychological deformity.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's cool and you know, sometimes they could look a little different. But you know, current vampires these days are sparkly and pretty sometimes, right? So you know, sometimes it doesn't matter, like you said, what that physical appearance is, but that's a great way to heighten what our monsters are and what they represent as monsters to people that disagree with kind of that moral trait. But others might not disagree with it, right? So are monsters subjective.

Speaker 1:

They can be. And we've seen this a lot with children's stories where, you know, everyone thinks it's a monster but then, like, the hero of the story is like no, it's really a nice guy. He says he's misunderstood. That's actually gotten to the point of being a cliche. I mean, I have my seven-year-old daughter. I read her these books and, sure enough, one of them is just like that. So, yeah, at this point there was a point where that was like an original take. Now everyone was like, oh yeah, we can do that. So that's getting overdone too. Because everything gets overdone, People realize that's a good idea.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and there's a lot of fun ones that exist in current literature and even older literature, so that's a great definition. I love thinking of it that way. You have something in your book about sentience Are monsters sentient or not sentient? Is that a good way to kind of decide if something's a monster or not? Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's not. You know, people often misunderstand what sentient means. It really just means the ability to feel and experience. And what's the other one? I think it's to react to things. So by that definition not only is an animal sentient, but so is a plant because a plant reacts to sunlight, you know.

Speaker 1:

A flower opens up to sunlight. Whenever it rains, it might close up, you know. So the way we tend to use the word sentient, we act like that means it's intelligent. And I can think and you know I can follow this conversation, for example that's not actually what sentient means, so I don't think it's a good way to really distinguish it. I try to use the word sophistication, for example, things like having a society, having a language, having culture.

Speaker 2:

That's really what's missing. With a monster or one of the things, yeah, and I used to say that a monster is something you usually can't reason with in our framework of reasoning, but I know even that's a little squishy because in theory you could reason with. You know, a troll that lives in a cave that wants food. Right, we're gonna. We'll probably talk about motivations and stuff later, but yeah, it's, I like how you defined it a little bit better yeah, it's also used as a monsters.

Speaker 1:

I used as a warning, you know. So then, like we were saying earlier, don't don't do these things, or you know you're gonna. You might turn into this monster, so, um, that's a general thing. They can also be used for foreshadowing. So it's kind of the same idea. But one reason they can be feared is not what they are or what they do, but what they portend. So if you think this monster is going to bring about the end of the world, well then that's why everyone in the village is going to go kill the thing.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, and I worked with an author last year or a couple of years ago at this point. His name's Edward Semble and I'll link to his episode of this podcast in the show notes. But he had a really cool monster. It was more of a group of monsters he created that were basically a manifestation of anxiety and depression and the town that they live in didn't want to acknowledge that anxiety and depression were a thing. So you know that made them I mean, they do terrible things in his story but also it made them more of that monster because of what they represented to the people. It was kind of cool. But I love that you brought up kind of the purpose of monsters, because I think with most things storytelling, we want to have a purpose for why we're putting something in our story. So you know that purpose could be just, to, you know, create something crazy and evoke fear, right. But I love that you said you can also have it represent something that is thematic or kind of, you know, does a lot more than just represents fear.

Speaker 1:

And I think that originally in literature, they always represented something. Since then, we've got things like Dungeons and Dragons and all these games. You're playing a first shooter, you need something to kill. So what do you kill? You kill the monsters, right, you know, in gaming they have there's no history behind them. They don't represent anything. It's just something they aim your gun at.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

So in that sense we've sort of dumbed down what a monster can be, and we can still do that. I mean, if I have my characters going from point A to point B and across the landscape and I just need them to not waltz through there with no problems, okay, maybe I just come up with a monster and I throw it in their way. But as storytellers we can add a lot more to that and make the monster much more interesting by having meaning associated with them.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and even kind of on the most basic side of that scale, where you said, like, maybe I do just need something to throw in my character's way. There's still a lot of stuff you can play with. So, like, does that encounter with the monsters create future consequences that are going to be a big deal, you know? Is there a way to strengthen bonds between people or things like that? So even if for listeners, if they think they're just creating a scenario where it's simple and it's just like an obstacle in between A and Z, there's so much you can do. So I love that point. Okay, so I like that. We were talking about sentience. Now, I know there's always conversation like what is a monster, what a species? What is an animal? What's a creature? What's your take on all that?

Speaker 1:

so I'd like to divide things up. Um. So the first, the comparison I want to do is monsters versus species. Again, you know, of course, we're the typical species example. You know, we have a society, most of us have culture, we have a philosophy, we have written language, sense of history.

Speaker 1:

Monsters typically don't have any of that you know, um, so they, they don't have a language. Or if they do, they have a language because they once were a human or another species and they acquired all that, just like we all do, you know, through education. But see, with a monster they don't have like a. Typically they don't have a society or any of that stuff to teach them that if he originated as a monster, so they're just not going to have that, unless they originated from a species that does have it. So they're typically unsophisticated, and that's one of the reasons why they can be hard to reason with. Now, if they're hungry and you have a giant turkey egg, you can try to hold it up and say something to the next. Okay, I'll give you this if you let me pass but it may not even understand.

Speaker 1:

That's something that simple. They could just see that turkey leg and it's coming straight at you. It wants the turkey leg and it happens to rip off your arm in the process. They can be that unsophisticated.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think you have a point in your book too about how usually you only see like one monster, and I think this speaks to what you're talking about now, yeah, and then we kind of move into the difference between monsters and animals.

Speaker 1:

With the animals, well, you know, they're like thick cats, there's house cats, there's whatever kind of cats. They're not house cats, I'm not sure how to keep all of them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, there's lions and all you know. There are all these different kinds of cats, just from that. But with monsters there's typically only one, and that's part of what we were talking about before. When you want to create something that's an abomination, well there's only one of them. If there are 10,000 of them, well they're commonplace. It's no longer. You know, they might still be monstrous and frightening and all that stuff, but we then stop thinking of it as a monster. Maybe we now think of it as a creature. It might be a really horrible one, and you see this a lot in sci-fi, in particular the aliens movie yeah we still tend to think of it as a monster.

Speaker 1:

But we know, in just that movie, well, it's not a monster, it's really an animal, because we see all the eggs, you know, the face hugger, hugger, as they call it. When it gets, you know, jumps out and, you know, gets on the one guy's face and that's where the one monster that we see in that movie comes from. But the thing is there actually a species or shooting out of species or an animal? So numbers to me has a lot to do with it, but none of this is really a rule, right? You can certainly have hundreds of things that are considered a monster. Vampires are a good example. But with vampires we typically think, okay, there's the master vampire, like dracula, and everyone he bites a certain way turns into another one. So that's how he's creating them. And another point there too is how is?

Speaker 1:

he creating them. He's creating them from humans, so since there are billions of us, he could create billions of vampires.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

And we would call and that's the thing that we would call them vampires. Once there's more of them, we have a name for them, Right Vampires we have zombies.

Speaker 1:

you know, I don't know if in the aliens movie, if there ever was a name for the alien probably not, because by not giving it a name we keep it mysterious, so maybe there isn't. But the reality is there's a whole bunch of them In that universe of the story. Sooner or later somebody would have named it. That's just going to say oh yeah, the monsters from that ship. They may even name it after the ship.

Speaker 2:

If the ship was called.

Speaker 1:

Akira the monsters. Next thing you know they're called Akira. If they're from a planet called Akira, now you call them the Akirans. You know, if there's enough of them, you name it. If there's not, you still call it it. It's not he or she. Even if you can tell the gender, you still think of it as it Right.

Speaker 2:

And so when you're thinking about like creating, let's say you want to have something like a group of vampires, that you do want to be monsters, how would you recommend that listeners go about kind of building them so that they are monsters even though they're in this group? What are your thoughts on that?

Speaker 1:

It kind of depends on how much we want to put into the word monster. You know, again, we can still make them be really horrifying and monstrous without ever necessarily calling them a monster. Another issue there too is you know, let's say I'm on a spaceship and then I crash land somewhere and I'm a ruin there for a long time, and then some alien species comes and they think I'm a monster because I'm hideous to them. You know, maybe they have three heads and I'm a freak because I got one. So sometimes it's perspective. The flip side could also be true.

Speaker 1:

Me, you and a hundred other people could be on a ship. We crash land somewhere and we see something. We only see one of them initially and we think, oh, it's a monster, and as it turns out, it's actually an animal or it's actually a species, and we didn't bother to say, hey, how are you doing? Or we didn't make any attempt to communicate it, maybe it didn't either, and we have no idea that it has society and culture and all that. So some of this is really how it's portrayed or shown. Again, aliens is a good example because you see the one, you do see how there's all these eggs, and so you know there's a bunch of them, but almost the entire movie. You just see the one right.

Speaker 2:

So even though there's more, it still comes across as a monster right, and that's actually part of the fear that it evokes, right is there could be more. There are more. Where are they? Yeah, so that's cool. So that's monsters versus species, and we talked about monsters versus animals right. So now, and we kind of bridged into like how do we even start creating these monsters? So you talk about accidental monsters versus monsters by design. Do you want to go into that a little bit?

Speaker 1:

Sure, yeah. One thing you mentioned before was creature. When I look that up, because I was curious to a creature, actually we really just means animal, so it's just another word for animal. I think in colloquial usage we tend to make it like creature is a little more bizarre than animal, but that's not like a rule.

Speaker 2:

So I just want to touch on that before Almost, like a misunderstood animal or something potentially right, or an animal we don't have information about.

Speaker 2:

Yes, that's true, something that creeps us out basically yes, which again is all dependent on our perspective, and like if we're a native to the world, how long we've been here, and things like that. So in your book, speaking of like creating monsters and how do we start, and things like that, you talk about three kind of origins for monsters. So it could be accidental, they could be monsters by design or by evolution. Do you want to go into those?

Speaker 1:

Sure want to go into those. Sure, you know, evolution is the easy one because typically, like if one, if one of us, god forbid turned into a monster, that would be something where we had adapted in some way. Most likely the adaptation is going to be relatively small, so we might basically look like we still do, but maybe we've got. You know, I'll use a tail as an example. I don't think most of us would see me with a tail and go, oh, you're a monster, but you kind of do get that because you know something. This is sad, but in human history someone born with birth defects was often viewed as a monster. You know they could have had a missing nose or a cleft, you know chin or something, so it can't actually be something that simple. But that's not an evolution thing.

Speaker 1:

Um, but you know anything that where we have evolved, people can look at us like a monster, and the best example of this is the x-men french franchise. It's such a basic part of the whole story where you're either you've got powers like the x-men or you don't, and people who don't are afraid of them and some of them look at them as monsters. Some of them their own family are rejecting them and kicking them out to the other house, you know. But you know these evolution versions. Typically it's about survival.

Speaker 1:

So in order to create one of those, you would have to kind of like like take me, I crash, land on that land and I'm there a certain amount of time. Do I evolve to my new environment and I acquire a tail or whatever environment, and I acquire a tail or whatever. And then then, 40 years later, a rescue ship shows up and they think what's up with you? You know, maybe it was my skin change. You know I could have like reptilian skin now. And of course they're going to take one, look at me and go but look, it's a monster right since I'm the only one, of course, that lends credence to that right so.

Speaker 1:

But you know evolution that typically takes a long time.

Speaker 2:

But that doesn't mean we can't suddenly have that up here, just like in the x-men right right, and do you typically see these types more in like sci-fi stories than fantasy, or do you see them in both?

Speaker 1:

I think it tends to be both. But you know, one thing about fantasy is that the history kind of goes way back. We always talk about there's an ancient civilization, it's 10,000 years old, or the magic is 10,000 years old, because there's this idea that the older the magic is, the more powerful it is. You know, it's somehow ancient is better, but with sci-fi it's the exact opposite. So we tend to see newer stuff. So it can go either way really. I mean, you can decide that the evolution has been going on for 10,000 years in fantasy or you can decide well, it happened very quickly in sci-fi due to relative extremes because that's one of the things about sci-fi People can move from planet to planet so relatively suddenly you are in a very different environment and your body might actually go into overdrive to adapt because otherwise you're, otherwise you're dead. Fantasy you stay in the same planet typically for so long that the evolution tends to be slower right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's super interesting to think about. Okay, so that's monsters by evolution. What? What do we want to talk about next?

Speaker 1:

let's talk about accidents, because that's a fun one okay in in sci-fi and fantasy.

Speaker 1:

We have all sorts of weird forces going around. You know, we've got magic, we've got technological stuff. We were out in space and stuff happens to people. You know, a good example of this that we usually be familiar with is I got from comics the fantastic four. There's four of them out there in space. When they get hit by something I don't know if they called it gamma rays or what it was Right. And it brings up another point. All four of them developed abilities, but they were all different. So we talked before about numbers.

Speaker 1:

Well, in this case you've got four people hit by the same phenomenon in an accident, but you don't end up with four people who have the same exact mutation. They've got four different mutations. So each one of them is still a lone individual and we don't consider them monsters because they're characters, they're people, they have feelings. You know all those things. You know there's still people, but it's still that idea of we could have turned them into monsters. And in fact, one of the characters I forget his name, I think Ben the rock monster. You know he looks his body was transformed into rock and he's like that 24-7. So one of the things you see in the comics or in the movies is people look at him like he's a monster. They run away because he looks like him.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

So again it goes back to appearance. Here's a guy who's still perfectly human on the inside, but he looks like a monster, so everyone's afraid.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, and I think of you know some of the other movies, like you know, the Bruce Banners and the Spider-Man these are, they're created. I mean, they're not monsters, right, they're characters, but it's kind of the same idea that they were. There was an accident and something happened, and I liked one of the points you made in the book is that typically these type of monsters evoke empathy or sympathy from readers because at some point they were human, so you know, or animal, right, so we feel bad for them. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you know, typically, if you're on the receiving end of an accident, you didn't ask for this. It's not like you signed up for it. You know, um, you were busy doing something else and this happened to you. So this can evoke some sympathy for the monster, and I think one of the again we talked about this earlier but one of the reasons, like the fantastic four or the hulk, or we don't consider them monsters because they still have their sophistication and their culture, it's it's their mind that distinguishes them from monsters. Now, if they were all turned into something that really stupid by the, what happened to them? You know the phenomenon that they were exposed to? Well, yeah, then they would become monsters. They would do the equivalent of you hold a particular thinking oh, let's trade, and they rip your arm off to test, you know, because they no longer understand that. So we tend to think of monsters as being kind of dumb.

Speaker 2:

Um, smarter they are, maybe it's not a monster yeah, and that's interesting too, because you did point out in the book that the accidental type of monsters, these are the ones that can have more of that intelligence, uh, just because, like you said, they were human or they were animal or whatever. Uh, so they have all that unless that accident rendered them. You know the opposite. So I think that's a really interesting and cool point. And then you also bring up thinking about kind of the origin of these accidents, so like who or what caused this? Right?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because this can cause the monster to have a beef with whoever did it, if they know who it was. Now, one of the things we all do, unfortunately, is we might cause something ourselves but not take responsibility for that. So, you know, you can have a character who's basically mad at themselves, but they're projecting that onto other people or they're saying, well, I wouldn't have like blue spinner, I wouldn't have done this, you know, or been exposed to that technology, if it hadn't been for the experiments I was doing, and you funded my experiments. So it's actually your fault, you know. So there's all this projection stuff. We all do, um, but you know, when we think about who caused the accident, this is great for giving our characters motivation, which is something we can talk about more. But, you know, because we may want revenge on whoever did it to us right and you know whether that's used in the story or not.

Speaker 2:

It could be. It could be something that's dripped out and causes the reader to feel curious. It could be something we know up front and that's how we understand their motivation or whatever. So I think that's a really interesting thing to think about. If you have a monster who's been created by an accident and then the last one is monsters by design. So talk to me about this one.

Speaker 1:

Sure, you know. There are characters who create a monster on purpose. We think of the mad scientist or the evil wizard, or maybe even a god, you know. Now, if you take someone like Frankenstein, dr Frankenstein, you know people. I always point out, I do this too. We think Frankenstein is the name of the monster. It's actually not. The monster does not have a name, which is one of the things that tends to define monsters right, they don't get a name, you know, yeah I mean, sometimes they do like beowulf yeah um, and I think, oh well, what's?

Speaker 1:

what's the name? Well, we got people from where. See, I always mix up which one?

Speaker 2:

is a monster you know, yeah, no, I get your point though, because, and if anything, it's referred to as frankenstein's monster, so it's like it has, no, no name. You call it that, but yeah, it's Dr Frankenstein.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and there's something about the name Frankenstein that sounds like the name of a monster. Yeah, totally, and movie posters will put it out there as Frankenstein and evil letters and so oh you think, oh, it's the monster, but it's not. But he wasn't trying to create a monster, so that's not quite what I mean by doing it by design.

Speaker 2:

Um what about, like bane and batman, wasn't he kind of created or manipulated to become who he was?

Speaker 1:

yeah, so you know, sometimes we have a someone who wants to do something like create a super warrior. This is really common in, yeah, in sci-fi or comics. Even captain america was. He was supposed to be a super soldier. Now he happens to be a good guy, but he was and he signed up for it, I believe you know. So there are, but these experiments that are supposed to create someone, they they could turn into an accident or but it could be someone's like hey, you know, I actually want a monster, I want something that is terrifying and I'm going to park it outside my, my treasure room right so no one can get in.

Speaker 1:

This is going to kill anybody who tries to get in, unless they're me, because I have this. I have this turkey leg, you know?

Speaker 1:

yeah, I have the holy turkey leg and it recognizes oh if you're holding up that, I'll let you pass, but if not, I'm gonna, you know, repeat a stress. So a monster could be created to protect the creator or to protect a place. It can also be created to terrorize a place. Let's say you've been cast out. You know, you're a wizard, you're a nice guy, but people are afraid of you for whatever reason. You get shunned by society and now you're like you know what? I'm gonna go create a monster, I'm gonna send it into your town and free two people out or kill somebody, you know. So we can't have these characters who do this. If you ever watched the old show hercules from the legendary journeys and xena, a warrior princess, you know there was a character I forget who it was, I'll stop my head. She was the mother of monsters.

Speaker 1:

She was a god she kept creating all these monsters and so, and uh, she hated hercules because he was always killing these monsters. So, these are her children.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

This is someone who's actually creating monsters and she loves her monsters, you know, because she doesn't see them that way, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Which again goes back to that perception thing, which is so fun. But are you familiar with the Sword of Truth series by terry goodkind?

Speaker 1:

yes, but I haven't read that in a very long time okay.

Speaker 2:

So that was like one I used to reread all the time and I think you know there's not a ton of monsters like in the forefront of the main characters necessarily, but I think he does a good or did a good job of like there were monsters in the background, kind of created for war purposes. There were other ones that were created, you know, to do duties within the law, so they could get the truth out of people if they needed to and then convict them of crimes. Then there was also like monsters created that could help us travel. So there's so many things that you could do with this, but I think what's key is really kind of knowing the why. I mean like most things in writing, right, like what's the why, what's the purpose for having it, and I think it's pretty cool.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I think that we can always draw out that. You know, we don't want to tell people right up front. This is why I mean sometimes we do.

Speaker 1:

It really depends on what's going to drive your story. A lot of times, people wanting to know the answer as well as they read on, but sometimes they don't. That's why you can actually, you know, and, like in Murder Mystery, sometimes you drag it out that the butler did it. Other times you tell people chapter one the butler did it and here's the story of what actually happened because there's something other than ignorance driving the reader to keep reading it. So you know when you reveal. It depends on what your driving point is going to be.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I like to talk about this as like what do you want your readers to feel? Do you want them to feel concerned so they read forward and it's kind of like that car crash waiting to happen, we know what's coming, or do you want it to be curiosity that drives them forward and you can play with these, both of them, throughout the story? But yeah, it's all purposeful, ideally.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, the story. But, yeah, it's all purposeful, ideally. Yeah, one of the things that we talked about before about sympathy.

Speaker 2:

That happens with accidents, but it can also happen when a monster was created by design because they didn't ask for this, you know right, especially if if they were kind of taken or if they thought it was one thing, and then it turns out they're being made into a monster. So, yeah, there's a lot of things you can play with within not only this bucket of how to make monsters, but all three of them, which is super cool, and so we talked a little bit earlier about how some of these origins can help us brainstorm motivations. Do you want to talk about that? Because you have a section on it in your book and I thought it was super interesting.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you know, we all want something, including monsters, and one of the basic things a monster may really want is just to be left alone, right you? Know. I mean, if you think about if people are hunting you all the time, you probably don't want anybody coming over, right?

Speaker 2:

right now.

Speaker 1:

So if and you know, even if you're not hunted, but you're just despised every time you show up, or people like throw rocks at you until you run away, and even if they don't follow you like okay, well, I just would rather be alone, you know.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, especially if you don't like the state you're in, right, maybe you're embarrassed to be a monster and you just don't want to be around people, right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you might see all these people doing stuff like oh, I want to fit it in, but they're going to throw rocks at ruxin use right so, um, so that's one.

Speaker 1:

Another one that I think is kind of suspect, but it's very common, is monsters want to hoard treasure. Well, I think this is really suspect because, first of all, if you're a monster, you've been shunned by society. So if I have a bag, if I'm a monster and I have a bag of gold, what am I going to do with that? It's not like I can walk into the market and buy that turkey leg that I want so bad you know, I'm gonna get stoned if I go anywhere near it.

Speaker 1:

So treasure is really for one of the reasons, obviously, is for bartering, and that's denied a monster by the nature of being a monster. Um, now, if it's one of the things we can do is okay. The monster is not too bright and just likes shiny things, so that's why it's it's got this stuff. You know, that's not a bad explanation, but it's kind of a cliched one at this point right, and it's.

Speaker 2:

It's interesting because, as you were saying that, I'm on my brain's kind of going a million miles an hour like what could a monster want to hoard treasure for? And I got to this thought of like well, maybe it wants to hoard treasure because it doesn't want the humans to have it. And I'm like, but is that a sophisticated thought? Like, is it too sophisticated for a monster? So, you know, I can kind of see all these things you're talking about coming into play.

Speaker 1:

Right. I think one of the other things that does make sense is people are carrying a certain amount of gold or wearing their nice golden armor and they come into its lair and it kills them and it doesn't understand the value of any of that and it just leaves it there. So it's not actually hoarding, it's just collecting Right.

Speaker 2:

And then it's kind of guarding its habitat after that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and another good thing for that if it does understand that other people see it as valuable, well, it could leave it there as a lure to trick people to come in, but that's not a motivation so much does like. If wants to eat those people, well then, yes, it will leave it as a lure to bring them in right but the question is how is it going to know that it's valuable?

Speaker 1:

and the answer would be over time, you know, let's say it kills, you know over however many years it kills 20 people and they've left valuable items around and it doesn't know they're valuable. But people come into the cave or whatever, and they see, they see the monster sees people going for that item and they really want it, right. And then you know, and this keeps happening, and then the monster might figure out okay, they want that, maybe I'll bring it deeper into my cave, right, they'll come further and it'll be that much easier for me to kill them so I can eat them right, and I could see this one kind of being important for gaming too, because it's an obstacle, right.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes the obstacles in gaming don't have to have that big why or that explanation, you know, because if you're the protagonist of the game, you're just getting the treasure, so the monster is an obstacle to that.

Speaker 1:

Another big one is food we all got to eat. One of the jokes that I made in the book that I like is what if it's a vegetarian plant? Yeah, it's a salad-eating plant, excuse me, salad-eating monster. It doesn't eat people. Yeah, it's kind of funny, but it doesn't create as much horror, of course, as eating sentient people.

Speaker 1:

I shouldn't use that word again sentient. But when it eats sophisticated species, that's much more horrifying than eating an animal, which to some is more horrifying than eating a plant. So you know, if there's nothing around for it to eat, then, yes, that might be one reason it eats people. But I like to go back to the example of sharks. Sharks sometimes bite people, but it's almost always an accident, or right, they're desperate, or some of them are just too aggressive. Like most bull sharks are very aggressive, but typically they spit us out.

Speaker 1:

The problem is that their their chest bite is lethal for us right but they would rather have a seal, because that's got way more fat and not just, you know, nutrients we're not actually we're not. We're like a cracker compared to a steak. It really doesn't want to eat us.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, which is kind of a good thing to know about your monster too. You know not that you have to spend like 20 years in the world building of your monster, but these little things just help you write a much more rich story.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and another thing about food too, is you, livestock is something. If it's near a village and there's livestock that are unprotected, it's yeah, it's probably going to be eating those. It's sort of a cliche, but it's also so obvious that you know no one's going to complain. Um, but you know those livestock, they're very valuable, especially in something like a fantasy setting. So that monster is going to be, it's going to cause problems, you know, if it wants to just be left alone, but it also wants to eat. Well, when it goes out and eats your cow and then you lose footprints, you're going to go. Hey, you know you're going to go after it because of this, because you don't want it to keep doing it so it can unknowingly bring trouble on its head, or it can be doing it on purpose, if it is a little more sophisticated, knowing you're going to come after it yeah, but why?

Speaker 1:

but why would it do that? You know, like, if you think about sharks, we're, you know we're very dangerous to shark these sharks. We kill way more sharks than sharks kill people, wild animals, and this kind of goes towards monsters. They don't want a big fight. You know, like if you watch a lion chasing antelope, what do they do? They go after the old one and they go after the young ones. They don't go after the big alpha mingle antelope if there is one, because that one's gonna cause them damage right so they're trying.

Speaker 1:

You know they don't have a doctor. They can go see, you know, afterwards. So they have to avoid this stuff to begin with. You know, if we didn't have doctors maybe we wouldn't do some of the stupid things that we do.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, there's an idea for a story World without doctors, right? Okay so?

Speaker 1:

then you wouldn't see some of these suits.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so that we talked about. Let's see, they want to be left alone. So they just kind of want to do their thing, be left alone. Possibly they want to hoard treasure. But you were saying that one's not the strongest, for the reasons you said or they want food for their survival.

Speaker 1:

And then there's two more right. Yes, security is a big one, because we all want to feel safe. You know, sometimes people act like like guys, my guys. Some people act like oh, you know, we don't feel insecure. Guys project this much too. I don't, you know. I don't feel anything. You know I don't feel rejected when a woman says no to me when I ask her. You know it's a bunch of baloney guys can feel the same things that women can feel well monsters too.

Speaker 1:

Monsters might give this impression of being super, you know tough, but one of the things that children's stories get right when they, you know they humanize these monsters or whatever is they show them being vulnerable. Well, monsters can also feel vulnerable, so um, yeah this might be one of the reasons why this is going to be a good reason why it will be hard to find their lair, unless they're using it as a way to get you to come to them so they can kill you right you know, and they're not going to kill you just to kill you.

Speaker 1:

Monsters are going to have some other reason, you know, like you are threatening it or everyone's food, you know right security is a big reason I like that you said the word vulnerable too, because that can vary so much.

Speaker 2:

There's so many degrees of vulnerability. At the simplest, it could be literally their survival is threatened and they feel physically vulnerable, right, and then who knows what degrees you could go to, also being aware of the. You know we don't want to get them make them too intelligent, because then are they.

Speaker 1:

And then the last one is revenge, which we kind of talked about a little bit before, you know, in the case of its origins. So if we want a monster that wants revenge, working on its origins is a great idea, because that can give us the reason for its revenge, and it can also have selective revenge. Let's say humans are really obnoxious to it, but the elves are not, so what does it do? You know, you can use this in a mysterious sort of way, where there's a party of elves and humans out and the monster showed up and it appears to be a targeting the humans, and people will notice afterwards or during it and they, you know, think about. This can be a story thing where they're thinking, okay, why did they go after the humans?

Speaker 2:

and the reason could be well, the humans are the ones who created it yeah, and I like how, with all the stuff you're saying, it's my writer brain instantly is thinking of like, oh, how cool if I know all this stuff or if I at least think through it a little bit. You know, maybe I don't like to plan a ton, but if I at least think through it it gives me a lot of ideas for things that can get in my protagonist way and be meaningful for whatever reason it's meaningful. But I think that it's a cool exercise, whether it's you're getting in your antagonist's head, or if your antagonist is a monster or you have a monster in there. It gives a lot of ideas. So it's very cool.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I recommend people read world building guides, but not just mine, but other ones, because even if you disagree with something, I say well, that just caused you to think of something.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

You can. You can, especially if you work in a. Well, I don't agree with them because of this, because I think this and this and that's what happened instead. Well, you just started having ideas.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, I think that's really cool and I personally like that kind of conversation. You know, when people disagree about things and it's like's my perspective, here's my perspective it just makes us all smarter if we do it respectfully. So, um, speaking of things people could disagree on, I wanted to run five monsters. Are they monsters, are they not monsters? By you to see your thoughts. Is that okay with you?

Speaker 2:

fire away okay, so the first two come from the harry potter world and it's the basilisk and the dementors. Are these monsters? Are they species? Are they animals? What are they?

Speaker 1:

basilisk is a uh well, I was gonna say creature. It is the thing, it's the sort of thing we would typically call a creature, but it is basically an animal. You do only see one in the story, but it's basilisk, is not its name. Like be Beowulf, it's Aescalus is what type of animal it is. So therefore, it's an animal. However, it is used like a monster and it's frightening in the same way that a monster is, because it can do things that you know a typical animal or regular animal can't do.

Speaker 2:

But I would go with animal. Yeah, animal or creature right no-transcript.

Speaker 1:

I can't remember now Were the Dementors created by somebody.

Speaker 2:

I believe they were. I believe they were created to be guards of the prison Azkaban prison.

Speaker 1:

Right, you know that's a tough one, because there are there is more than one of them.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

And there's. There's certainly monstrous, but so I don't remember if I don't think they have things like society, though so I, you know, like culture and all all that, they might have a little bit of uh, what do I call, I'm not sure what word use, but among them they may have like uh, routines that they do or something, or like okay, I'll go this way and you go that way.

Speaker 2:

You know, but there's, I think they're relatively simple yeah so that tends to make me think they're yeah, they're monsters I, I agree with that because I I know they have like no loyalty there's, that's like not a thing. They have no weakness, although there's ways to like ward them off and keep them at bay, but I don't think we ever hear about like someone killing a dementor, you know. So it's really interesting, but I would tend to agree that that's probably more in monster territory, even though there's more of them. So interesting, right. Um, what about pennywise?

Speaker 1:

yes, the famous clown. He's well okay, so he. He certainly seems like an id for most of it and, at the risk of spoiling things, towards the end we find out that he's. You know, he's not a clown, he's. I don't know why, I don't see actually. Well, he's an it. I don't know what to call it he's.

Speaker 2:

I think they describe him as like an ancient cosmic evil. Yeah, that takes the shape of a person.

Speaker 1:

Slash clown right and I think in one of them it looks sort of like. When you saw the lair where it was, it looks sort of like a spider or something.

Speaker 1:

So yeah it certainly gives the impression of being a monster, you know on all ways. The question is where it comes from. Are there more of them? But I think in this case we say, well, we don't really care because we don't ever see that, we just see the one. And because of that and because of it, it's. It is not only physically monstrous, even a clown that may look like human, but it's, it's a hideous clown right, you know it's an extremely creepy clown, right, but it's.

Speaker 1:

But this is a great example of psychologically abnormal. So to me, yeah, it's a monster.

Speaker 2:

Well, and especially when it appears human-like for most of its iterations. But yeah, I would agree, it's a monster, which is really. That's one of those ones that I get asked about a lot if people are writing horror and they're like, but is this a monster? Is this like a normal antagonist person, person like what is it right? Um, so that I'm glad that you said monster. What about in the wheel of time series, the trolics or trolics? I'm not sure how you say that yeah, I'm not sure either.

Speaker 1:

Um, those to me are a species, because there appear to be. You know there are a lot of them, but and they have a name for that. You know it's either an animal or it's a species. So once it's got a name, it tends to move away from monster, but there's a lot of them, I do. My impression is that they do have society they had. They follow orders. Um, they appear to have a language. I don't know if they ever speak or not, but they certainly understand like commands that are given to them.

Speaker 2:

So, to me, them, there are species yeah, I agree with that because I knew they have like tribes and hierarchies within those tribes and they have sigils, which is, you know, interesting. So yeah, they're kind of they're more on that intelligent scale and they're taking proactive, well-thought-out actions, right. So that's more species than typical monster. What about this is kind of similar, but the White Walkers in the song of ice and fire series those are undead, so in a way that's an easy one.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because undead is uh. Well, we don't consider undead monsters really, we call them undead, you know right um. So again, once you have a name that's something of you know that can refer to a whole bunch of them. It's different and you know we have so many different kinds of undead and I think even in that series there's more than one kind of undead.

Speaker 2:

But you know they're still all lumped under the umbrella of general undead yeah, and so that's interesting too because, again, it's kind of perspective and like what the world has going on, because if there was only one white walker that we see and experience who knows what's out there that might classify more as a monster. Right, yeah, okay, cool.

Speaker 1:

I think in the opening scene there's just a few of them, and so they kind of come across a little more as monsters. Yes, but of course we end up finding out and of course they can replicate the same way as Undead usually do. So, yeah, I would go with undead I yeah, I agree.

Speaker 2:

And then we talked about frankenstein's monster already, so I'm gonna pull another example from your book and go off that. I work with a lot of writers who are writing horror and they're like, well, what about a house or something, or like a haunted object? And you talk about the broom in the sorcerer's apprentice, about being just like an? Um, an inanimate or an animated object.

Speaker 1:

Right, right yeah yeah, we, we tend to, because it was this case, a broom. Well, anytime we see it, we can't end up thinking, okay, it's a broom that is now moving on its own. So we, we don't think monster, we think it's a broom that's moving on its own, you know so, uh.

Speaker 1:

So, even if it's like an evil broom and it's, you know, smacking people or something, we, we still think, okay, I have to do something to make it go back to inanimate, you know, we still, we still don't think I gotta kill it right it's you don't kill objects, right, you kill living things. That this has been made animate is not quite the same, so I don't see those as being a monster what about like a haunted house though?

Speaker 2:

because that I mean, I guess, depending on how you write it, it could be haunted by a ghost. And then is that ghost the monster, or the undead right, or like um, what's the? The monkey paw? And all those like is it from goosebumps? Do you remember that?

Speaker 1:

yeah, yeah, I do remember that Every time you make a wish, the finger comes down.

Speaker 2:

I forget what it's from. I don't know what it does, but it's scary. But if you're writing something like that, it feels to me, based on what we've talked about, you're not really writing it like a monster, it's more just something. And the reason I'm asking is because there's a lot of people who have something like the monkey paw and they're like well, that's my antagonist, it causes conflict, and part of me is like is that enough, though?

Speaker 1:

You know, yeah, because is it really causing conflict? I mean, that's one where you make a wish or something. Yeah, it makes it come true, but the object itself didn't cause the conflict. The person who made the choice with the object caused the conflict.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, so it kind of is. It's like none of the things we talked about, right, it's just a thing that's causing problems, but it you know, when I see it in drafts, it's not usually the thing. That is that overarching sense of antagonistic force that's driving the story forward.

Speaker 1:

It's not acting on its own. It's doing something because you made it do something. That would be like saying a gun is the antagonist because I fired it.

Speaker 2:

Right and that's actually a great point, because things like that, even some I don't know, like a haunted forest I'm just thinking of other things that you could say I mean, if you really want to get technical, it's acting on its own because it's trying to survive or whatever, but usually it's more about the person who's either viewing the forest or the object and kind of what they're bringing to it. That ends up creating the fear that they face later.

Speaker 1:

And see the forest, I still think, okay, it's a forest, I know what to call it.

Speaker 2:

Right, sure forests, don't you know? I know, I know what to call it.

Speaker 1:

Right, I mean sure, sure, I forest don't normally do this, but it's a forest that does this Right, it's not. I don't have any idea what this is.

Speaker 2:

It's not really an unknown and it's more the creatures that could be in it and potential monsters that could be in it that you, but I think that's all super interesting, so we're going to link to your book and all your resources. You have a great website with all this information. Any final tips for people who are struggling to create monsters or who want to create a really great monster Anything to leave them with.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I like to always. When I wrote the book series, I always ended every chapter with where do you start? Because I just filled your head with all this information and your head's going to explode. I always say with monsters write down whatever ideas you have now. Just do that first, Probably just so you don't forget it.

Speaker 1:

But any order that you create it in can work. What I would say is habitat really helps us with body creation if we want that habitat to have something to do with their body, especially for something like evolution. And then the origin really helps with the location and its abilities, because if it was created by an accident, well, wherever that accident happened is probably where the monster still is generally. It's also the type of accident will cause its abilities as well. I mean, we can certainly have all sorts of creative license, but probably where the monster is still his generality, it's also the type of accident will cause its abilities as well. I mean, we can certainly have all sorts of creative license, but we use the accident to help think of the abilities, or vice versa. So I would say starting with Habitat and Origin are two of the really good places to get started. I also have a template that you can use to fill out how to create your monster.

Speaker 1:

You can get it for free by joining the newsletter at theyardofworldrunningcom. I just you know you'll get like over 20 world building templates. One of them is the monster template, and I think that comes with explanations on how to fill out each section as well.

Speaker 2:

So we'll link to that and then also, at the time that this recording goes live, we are both going to be participating in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Author Summit. You are one of the co-hosts of it or the co-runners, right, and then I will be guest speaking on one of the days, but do you want to quickly tell people a little bit about that?

Speaker 1:

Sure, we're going to have over 20 speakers and it's focused mostly on fantasy and sci-fi, but we have general storytelling advice as well. A lot of it is free. There are premium passes that you can get and get extra content, such as, for example, I'll be offering one of my courses at a discount during that Awesome.

Speaker 1:

So, and it's going to run for about a week and you know it's something. My co-host has run more of these summits than I have, but she's a romance writer. So she thought, okay, and I actually did, speaking at her romance summit on culture, which is another thing that can really help writers. When she first contacted me I thought why would a romance writer want me to do world building? That's usually sci-fi and fantasy. But she said, well, there's historical romance in the Noho.

Speaker 2:

Ghost Horse To that point, if I can interrupt you quickly, I love that you said we have general topics too, because I personally think it's great for genre writers to go to genre talks or seminars or whatever it is about other genres, because you will get so many ideas and just see things in a different perspective. So even if you're not writing fantasy or sci-fi or even historical fiction, you are totally welcome to come and you should come, and we'll put all the dates and the links to that and everything in the show notes, along with where we can find Randy around the internet and all that. But thank you so much, randy, for being here. I feel like we could geek out about monsters and world building forever.

Speaker 1:

Probably good. Thank you so much for having me on.

Speaker 2:

So that's it for today's episode. Thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help get this podcast in front of more fiction writers. Just like you. As always, I'll be back next week with a brand new episode full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer and craft a story you're proud of. Until then, happy writing.

Creating Believable Monsters
Defining Monsters and Creatures in Literature
Monsters and Species in Sci-Fi
Exploring Monster Motivations in Writing
Monster vs. Creature
Monsters and World Building Discussion