A lot of things could be construed as monsters. Villains, bullies, people without feelings, pesky insects, inopportune red lights, and even Monday morning. “You’re a monster.” Is thrown about quite a bit in Hollywood films. But the word Monster, at least, in a literary sense, takes the most literal approach possible.
Just look at the word Monstrous. It can mean “nefariously evil” or “incredibly large”. The monster is both of these things, and more. In a better sense, the “big bad monster” has to be just that: large, nefarious, and bent on destruction…of the good guys, of course. What exactly does that look like, though?
In many fairy tales, a dragon is employed as the monster, and often as the main villain throughout the story. This is because monsters are ultimately simple, and can be understood by even the smallest of children. But, as the judicious reader will point out, we have only pointed out some aspects about the monster, and have not yet defined the thing itself.
So, what is it?
As I said, simple. The monster is all muscle, usually no mind worth speaking of, fangs, fur, and a killer instinct. It hides in dark corners and preys on the helpless. It’s terrifying, too. Very strong, very scary, and very non-human. Usually it eats them. And, worst of all, it’s just smart enough to be evil. Very evil.
So there you have it. Sometimes, the monster takes the role of resident head-basher and general bullier for the villain, usually becoming said villain’s most valued henchman. You now have a pretty good idea on what the monster is. However, I think the most important things to know are: that the monster is there (usually) and what a monster is not.
The monster is not always present. When it is, it usually takes the form of a wild beast or demon (take notes, kid, if you want to learn how to summon your own). The monster is anything from the Big Bad Wolf to Tiamat. The monster usually introduces a fear factor to the equation, and element of unknown, anti-human terror.
The monster is not–cannot be–a human or anything human-like. The point of the monster is that it eats humans, partly because it doesn’t know any better and partly because it’s a symbol of evil–strong, absolute, and terrifying. Everything that is opposed to the idea of human existence is embodied in the monster.
The monster cannot be allowed to live. Obviously, the monster doesn’t have moral conscience or a mind worth speaking of, so any kind of reform or redemption is literally impossible. Plus, the monster is supposed to be a symbol of evil. You can’t just imprison the symbol of evil. It must be broken.
The monster is (usually) not the main villain. The villain is the mastermind, the schemer-behind-and-above-it-all. The great orchestrater of plans and hatcher of plots. That’s not what the monster would do. The monster would charge through the front gate and try to make a meal out of the opposing army. No, the monster is usually at the end of the main villain’s chain.
There is never a monster working for the good guys. This would make them morally compromised. The closest you get to this is probably the Dinobots from the 80s Transformers TV show (anyone remember them?). And even they weren’t mindless–merely thick-headed and a little blunt. But they were quite obviously a force for good, keeping them from being actual monsters.
Monsters are never harmless. Danger is a must-have attribute of a scary monster, as they are scary for a reason. It’s not because of their mouthful of fangs or slime-encrusted hair, but the people they’ve killed and the towns they’ve destroyed. Make all the fear that the monster is given warranted.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!