September 20, 2019, 05:35:47 PM

Author Topic: Here there be Monsters  (Read 14419 times)

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #15 on: November 05, 2014, 10:09:48 PM »
In the Witcher stories I've been reading so far, monsters are never actually the prime problem and source of the trouble. Instead the monsters usually appear as the result of human actions and represent losing control of the plans they have set into motion.
Which is why Geralt usually solves the current crysis by talking things out with the humans instead of stabbing the monster with his silver sword.

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2015, 04:17:51 PM »
I found this piece on describing monsters, which I think is quite interesting to think about.

The art of describing a monster

Offline JMack

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2015, 04:29:50 PM »
I found this piece on describing monsters, which I think is quite interesting to think about.

The art of describing a monster
Very interesting read. Thanks, @Yora
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Offline Skip

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #18 on: March 07, 2015, 10:37:00 PM »
What's a monster?  For me, pretty much any non-humanoid qualifies, even if they aren't scary. But it sounds like for others here, "monster" is by definition "scary monster".

I've wrestled with the terminology in my own writing and have settled upon "creature" as a substitute for "non-humanoid". The leaves "monster" free for my characters to use to refer to something more horrific than, say, a centaur.

But I include things like dragons as monsters/creatures, so I don't see any real dip in the frequency. That said, I'm aware I do not read much recent fantasy, so perhaps I'm completely missing the trend.
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Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #19 on: March 08, 2015, 04:54:12 PM »
I've kept thinking about monsters a lot the last couple of months and made what I consider a pretty important observation. Great monsters are never about their looks, they are always about their behaviors. Add as many teeth, tentacles, slime and blood as you want, it won't make your monster more interesting.
There are dozens of monster books for roleplaying games  that have 200 monsters or more each (though lots of overlap with dragons, goblins, giants, and so on) and they almost always come with a picture for each creature. But I noticed that very often these pictures give you a good at the monsters body, they usually make the monster boring. Almost always the same posing and snarling. All the really great ilustrations of monsters show the creature in a situation, interacting with its environment and often in some fight with the heroes. Monsters posing in front of a white background really don't tell you anything about what the creature does and in what situations the heroes might encounter them.
Going to movies and videogames, visual design certainly matters, but when the heroes encounter them they are not memorable and exciting because of the way they look, but because of how they behave. Sure, the alien and the predator have a really great unique visual style, but if the heroes would just accidentally run into them comming around a corner, they would still be boring. But they don't just stand guard at a door or walk down a corridor at a leisurely stroll. The alien crawls on walls and ceilings. It can be very silent and appears to have no problem in the dark. It crawls through small spaces to sneak up from almost any possible direction and then it strikes quickly and can be gone again before anyone can get a look at it. That mouth and that tail and the acid blood are neat, but not what this monster is about. The creature from The Thing is absolutely terrifying as a huge mass of flesh, tentacles, and teeth covered in blood and slime crushing anything beneath it and being unharmed by bullets or blades. But that is not what makes the creature so horrifying. It really is all about its ability to take the form of any person or animal it devoured and to act pretty normal as long as it does not have to talk. It mingles with the group to observe and learn, and take out people one by one when an opportunity presents itself.

And I say all good monsters are like that. A disturbing appearance is nice, but does not really matter much, especially in literature where readers don't actively visualize everything the entire time. Even the special abilities don't matter nearly as much as how it uses them. The alien can survive in space and has acid blood, which are interesting powers, but don't really matter much by themselves.
Just think about zombies! They are possibly the most boring looking monsters imaginable with no special powers at all. When they get scary, it's all about the way they behave. Appearing in large hordes searching for people to eat alive and always creating more of them. That's the spooky part.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #20 on: March 09, 2015, 12:34:41 AM »
Yeah I definitely agree with that. Actually that was one of the things that disappointed me in the Riyria books, the ghazel (goblins) were essentially people who were particularly bloodthirsty, ugly (with pointy teeth and stuff), and walked in a skittery and unnatural way. They were built up through several books into being an absolute terror, but they were very anticlimactic. Not to mention it annoyed me that their appearance was described twice, in successive books, using the exact same paragraph that could well have been copied and pasted from one book to another  :-\
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Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #21 on: March 09, 2015, 01:22:14 PM »
What's a monster?  For me, pretty much any non-humanoid qualifies, even if they aren't scary. But it sounds like for others here, "monster" is by definition "scary monster".

I've wrestled with the terminology in my own writing and have settled upon "creature" as a substitute for "non-humanoid". The leaves "monster" free for my characters to use to refer to something more horrific than, say, a centaur.
The more I've been thinking about it, the more it appears to be quite important to me.

Monster does not equal monster.
I think the concepts I am thinking in are "people", "beasts", and "supernatural". A fictional animal is a very different thing from a demon or spirit. And I think it's quite important to make the distinction between them very clear with a strong contrast, even though in traditional mythology the line can be quite blurry with for example no difference being made between an ordinary fox or the servants of the god of agriculture, or black cats being creatures of the devil. But I think for modern fiction it's better to have a sharp contrast between them if you want the supernatural monsters to appear truly horrifying and terrible. If you want to go for a world that always feels strange and dreamlike, there probably isn't any real distinction between the two. But if you want to have a world that is usually normal but with occasional encounters with the supernatural, you need the contrast. Otherwise all the supernatural monsters lose their unnatural and otherworldly feel very quickly. Dragons and chimeras being a good example. Either make them natural or unnatural, but I really would avoid putting them somewhere inbetween.

A method I am considering to maintain the contrast is to use clearly separate vocabularies. If you describe a fictional but ordinary domesticated animal, use normal language and don't have your character be amazed at their sight or even giving it a lot of attention. Maybe even forgett about them for a time and only mention them later in passing.
In contrast to that, I would avoid scenes where the protagonist descends into some evil lair and is like "Oh look, a handful of zombies. How inconvenient." *hack hack*, next scene. It's not the reader who decides what is normal and what is horrifying, it's the protagonist who tells us how a person should react to them.

Offline silvijanus

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #22 on: March 09, 2015, 01:54:41 PM »
There is a show in a local museum about folklore "monsters", witches, striggas etc. I might go check it out to see what they say. Anyway...
I think monster should evoke fear. Or it's just ugly (and strong). Primary, for stories purpose it should evoke fear.

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #23 on: March 10, 2015, 03:35:24 PM »
Quote
“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

– HP Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
I think here the master himself really nails it down what makes a creepy monster. It breaks the rules.

Breaking the rules is a vital part of horror in general. If you want to create a feeling of dread in any kind of medium, it is necessary that the audience and the protagonist do not know the rules by which the hostile presence works. Tigers, sharks, and rhinoceroses are scary, but they behave according to pretty clear rules of which we have at least a basic understanding. We understand what they want, we understand what they do, we understand what can hurt them, and with a bit of informing yourself in advance, we also have some ideas how we can avoid encountering them and how to get away from them when we do. They are the "fixed laws of Nature" that protect us. Being hunted by a tiger in the jungle at night is terrifying, but there is nothing inherently horifying about tigers.
When we don't know the rules, things get supernaturally scary. Because we have no idea what to expect, and therefore no way to tell if any action we can take will save us or only make things worse.

It's not limited only to horror stories though. All supernatural beings work that way. Take Gladriel from the Fellowship of the Ring movie for example. She looks completely normal and is clearly an ally, but she is creepy the entire time. Even compared to the other ancient elven nobles, she's on a completely different level. Some things about her are off and there is no way to tell in what other ways she is different from normal people and to what extend. She could be anything, clearly has the power to do almost anything she wants to, and there is no way to predict how she would react to anything people around here are doing. She doesn't have to do or say anything hostile, just by hinting that she doesn't opperate under the normal rules nothing about her is certain anymore and everything a possibility. And there are plenty of possible terrible things you couldn't see coming and avoid before it's already too late.

Offline silvijanus

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #24 on: March 10, 2015, 05:26:33 PM »
Good post, Yora. You have a good point with Galadriel, she is kind off scary. Galadriel and Black riders are more scary then giant lake monster near entrance to mines of Moria. It's worth thinking about... some authors, sometimes throw in creatures and monsters to a reader in a way: "oh look what a cool thing I came up with (in my world building)". And it doesn't make any effect. It's more tiresome (suspending disbelief thing) then scary and it can feel sufficient in a story. And once reader starts to roll eyes, your on thin ice...
Existence of monster should: a) serve the story, b) evoke fear. If not, just skip it...

Sorry if I'm missing the overall point, I still haven't had time to read the whole topic. Just my two dimes on monster theme.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2015, 06:00:51 PM by silvijanus »

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #25 on: March 10, 2015, 06:21:43 PM »
Someone wrote a long series of articles examinizing The Lord of The Rings chapter by chapter and comparing details with the Silmarilion and he had really a lot to say about Galadriel. Considering all the details Tolkien wrote about her, she was no nature loving saint but a truly terrible person. She was always just a step away from turning out like Saruman. And she knew it, which is her one saving grace.
Spoiler for Hiden:
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?
It's pretty huge, but great reading for those interested in it. (Start at the bottom)

And yeah, in contrast to that you have a big tentacle monster that wants to eat you. Run away from the water and it probably can't follow, hack at it with your sword and you probably hurt it. Yet the creepiest part about it is that you don't really get to see what it is. It doesn't leave the pool and nobody sees what's below the surface. The tentacles are easily understood and dealt with, but the mystery comes from not knowing what else there is on the other end.

The ringwraiths are freaking scary when they first show up. They still show up later too, but by then we have a pretty good idea what they are and what they want. And while it's challenging, Merry and Eowen try to fight one and it actually works much better than expected. By that time, they are just some evil boss dudes.

Offline JMack

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #26 on: March 10, 2015, 07:21:02 PM »
I just want to say that this thread, the worldbuilding one and others that you have started, @Yora, are really interesting and helpful as I think about my WIP. So, karma to you (even if you don't believe in it particularly ;-)
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
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Offline Nora

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #27 on: March 17, 2015, 11:40:54 AM »
Hearing how you love monsters it reminded me of a cool sketch by a French comic artist. It's been translated on his English blog check it out :

http://english.bouletcorp.com/2015/01/12/monsters/

 :P
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Offline JMack

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #28 on: March 17, 2015, 04:19:24 PM »
Hearing how you love monsters it reminded me of a cool sketch by a French comic artist. It's been translated on his English blog check it out :

http://english.bouletcorp.com/2015/01/12/monsters/

 :P
Awesome. For some reason, site was blocked at work. I had to pull it up on my phone.
But awesome.  :)
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #29 on: March 17, 2015, 04:30:24 PM »
Hearing how you love monsters it reminded me of a cool sketch by a French comic artist. It's been translated on his English blog check it out :

http://english.bouletcorp.com/2015/01/12/monsters/

 :P
Haha nice! That's actually one of the fundamental principles of our world... humans aren't special. Every other species is just as likely to have magical powers as humans are. One of the main characters is a woodpecker who has powerful sorcery skills  8)

I actually always wondered about that in the ROTE as well - do Witted non-humans bond to other Witted non-humans? Or is it just any random non-human always bonds to a human? Don't see how/why that could be the case  ???
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.