One of the hardest parts of writing creature fiction is coming up with original ideas. It doesn’t matter whether your monsters are located in the physical or spirit realm—making frightening entities that people haven’t already seen is tough. From things that mimic every form of insect, to gigantic, shapeless alien blobs, it probably exists out there somewhere.
There’s nothing wrong with creating a new story featuring classic monsters. As a long-time zombie fan, I know I’ll never get sick of reading or watching that genre. But if you’re like me, and you’re looking to create an original cast of horrifying creatures for your next book or film, you’re going to need to think outside the box to make your monsters different.
Monster Concepts: More than Just Design
It’s natural to start out by focusing on the physical design of your monsters, which is important. However, it’s often the other details about a monster that make it unique.
Some questions to ask:
- Why do your monsters do what they do?
Are they on a non-discriminatory path of destruction or going after certain entities? Is there a sentiment behind their actions, such as revenge, or are they driven by something more primal, like hunger? Are they individual entities capable of making their own decisions. Or, are they mindless drones?
- Where are your monsters from?
There are many places that monsters can originate from. Outer space. A giant crack in the ground. A gateway to hell. A scientific experiment gone wrong. If you’re looking for innovative possibilities for your monsters, consider giving them a unique origin. Any of the things I just listed still have new possibilities within them.
For example, aliens don’t necessarily need the “conquer and steal resources” motivation you see in a lot of stories. Is there another reason they are here? Think outside the box.
- How Do They Communicate?
Communication is another big factor that sets monsters apart. Look at the difference between the Anne Rice vampires and those found in the 30 Days of Night comics. The former are eloquent, well-spoken, and glamorous beings. They can go unnoticed or even pass as human in the right situation. The latter vampires are much more monstrous, and while they can also communicate, it comes off in a different way.
Another example: That iconic scene in the original Independence Day when the alien manipulates Dr. Okun’s vocal chords to communicate. That was a good example of using communication in an innovative way. Since the aliens did not communicate to mankind throughout most of the story, it made that scene even more powerful.
Finding Inspiration: Monster Legends
I’ve always loved reading about monster lore from around the world. Everyone knows about Bigfoot and Chupacabra, so I did some research and came up with three less-popular monsters to provide you some inspiration.
The Manticore is a creature from Persian mythology that seems to have a lot of variations. The general features include the head of a human with a lion-like body, the tail of a scorpion and rows of razor-sharp teeth. Legend has it that the Manticore uses its
venomous tail to paralyze its victims before devouring them whole. Some describe the tail as something that can shoot venomous spikes at enemies as well as function as a stabbing device.
The Manticore story dates way back to a dude named Ctesias, who was a Greek historian in 5th century BC. His detailed descriptions of the creature inspired Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder to include it in his book Naturalis Historia, which was super popular throughout the Middle Ages. According to Pliny the Elder, the Manticore could also mimic human speech—which ups the creepy factor by a lot if you ask me. I’ve always loved monsters that could lure people out into the dark woods by mimicking human voices. So wicked!
- Hungry Ghost (Preta)
The legend of Hungry Ghosts, also known as Preta in Sanskrit, originates from ancient India. It is believed that pretas are spiritual entities stuck in a hellish existence in which they feel a constant level of insatiable hunger, often for something disgusting, such as decaying flesh.
They have mummified skin, swollen bellies, and thin limbs due to starvation. Their necks are slender, and their mouths are too small to eat normally. Some pretas are said to be able to eat but not gain fullness and others can’t eat at all due to their deformed mouths. They must endure this terrible suffering due to acts of cruelty or betrayal that they may have carried out in past lives.
- Mongolian Death Worm
I was happy to discover a monster I’d never heard of. Then I realized the Mongolian Death Worm is such a well-known thing that Sean Patrick Flannery made a movie about it in 2010.
Legend has it that the worms, which hide out in the most isolated regions of the Gobi desert, are between two and five feet long and can kill a human via touch with its poisonous skin. It can also shoot corrosive venom from its mouth and electrocute victims from a distance.
In 1920, the Mongolian Death Worm was featured in the book On the Trail of Ancient Man by Roy Chapman Andrews. He described it as “so poisonous that merely touching it means instant death.” How he developed this theory is unclear, and unfortunately, no one has gathered any real evidence of the Mongolian Death Worm’s existence. Nonetheless, many locals stand by the legend.
Check out BEYOND MY DYING MIND, a time-travel fantasy novella.