Musings of Monsters

First, I’ll start by letting you all know that I don’t have any news since Sunday on the release date of anything. I have found a narrator for Born a Queen, but I’m not going to announce anything until we’re closer to the end. As much as I’d like to say it’d be out quickly after the release of the book, it probably won’t be out until near the end of December.

Now, on to the titular musings!

When I was primarily a reader, I thought it would be easy to come up with dozens of new and unique monsters, to awe and wow the readers. However, as I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve come to realize that making up something truly new is harder than it sounds, and that describing it in a way that actually explains what it looks like is even more difficult.

I think this is part of why authors often fall back on classic fantasy races and monsters. Even if the exact appearance of a troll or its weaknesses may vary based on a series, most readers have an idea in their mind of what a troll is. They can visualize it, and that helps the writer keep the focus on the story. Similarly, we end up with orcs, goblins, dragons, and myriad other races. I know that for some types of monsters I’ll occasionally check to see if there’s a mythological creature at least similar to what I’m going for before making something up.

This isn’t to say that creating new and unique monsters is to be avoided, far from it! I’m just saying that sometimes having the rare truly unique monster in the story can enhance the mystique of the creature, whereas if they’re all unique it can dampen the impact. As an odd example, I’ve had a couple of people ask me what Reyviss from Spells of Old and Halls of Power is, because she’s nothing like the other creatures people have seen.

In the end, though, sometimes classics are useful. A wolf works. A wolf that’s on fire, or made of fire, works well in some cases. Sometimes taking a monster and twisting their powers slightly to make something different is good, too. Like, say, a troll who can heal from anything so long as they have sunlight, so they hide at night. There are a host of things a writer can do. The question is, how does one balance the sense of an alien world with the magical traits common to fantasy with being familiar enough to relate to?

It’s not an easy question, and I don’t have the answer to it. But it’s one that I frequently muse on.

4 thoughts on “Musings of Monsters

  1. Too true. It’s a bit like cloth, and food, and such. You can either use existing things – usually you’ll “steal” from “exotic” cultures – or you can invent something. But if you invent something you can’t just say “and they were happily eating hiodgjds dressed in their traditional gsigjgdj”. You’ll have to go and bother describe it in a way the reader understands. Or you can not do it, but chances are the reader will be somewhat irked because they might want to know (Diadem from the Stars frequently does this. On one hand, it enhances the “alieness” of the alien cultures. On the other hand, it feels completely random, because you have literally no way to figure out what the author specifically is talking about…)

    So the question needs to be whether it helps the plot and world building in some way or not, I think.

    For your series, well, it’s kind of based on familiar concepts in the sense of dungeons and adventurers/heroes and such. I’d have rather found it odd if the creatures and societies were too outrageously different compared to from where those ideas come from.

    In a general statement though, I have to say that I specifically find the classic “pseudo medieval fantasy” setting uninspired as … anything by now. It’s done so often I can barely even count it as “fantasy” anymore. Likewise, I’m not a fan of scifi series that just transport current society and ideals and such 5000 years in the future and are done with it. I generally prefer settings that are “fantastical” in the truer sense of the word (well, not always, but often).


  2. Indeed, on a lot of what you said. I don’t like throwing in a comment with absolutely no context to make it make sense.

    For fantasy… yeah, simply doing the usual pseudo-medieval is somewhat a cop-out, but if you throw out the reader expectations too much, you’ll irritate them there. It’s something of a balancing act. In my series, the world is steadily building toward a sort of steam tech with magic/mana powering their devices. What’s the phrase… any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology? The reverse of Clark’s Law.

    I try to take the parts of fantasy I enjoy, and meld them with my own ideas. My primary magical world? It has areas that outright defy the laws of physics, because that’s how the world works there. Because that’s how the gods created it to be. This is not Sistina’s world, I might add.

    As I said. A balancing act, and no matter what I do, someone won’t like it. That’s why I write what I want to read.


  3. There’s something to be said for the familiar and mundane. The truly inspired and impressive things I think of aren’t innovations with no precedence or previous iterations. They are novel takes and twists on what is already known. Albert Einstein theorized matter was energy and vice versa, but the nuclear power plant and hydrogen bomb are considerably more impressive feats of creation. They may not have existed without Einstein’s work, but they are not lesser for it.


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