12.31: What Makes a Good Monster, with Courtney Alameda (link to podcast)
This episode of the Writing Excuses podcast raises questions that we’ll need to consider for our project. Considering our world is full of monsters, this podcast highlights how useful it will be to:
- do more research on our chosen mythology.
- know enough about our monster so that we can subvert expectation.
- research more about symbolism and how the monster relates to our theme.
Notes from the podcast:
What makes a good monster?
“Monsters are the best when they subvert the status quo and remind us that we are not on the top of the food chain.” The Xenomorph from Alien is a great example of this – it’s almost impossible to kill.
Hannibal Lectre is a good example of subverting expectation. His introduction is about how dangerous he is. Then once you descend into the dungeon cell and see him, it’s not what you were expecting, he’s calm and well kept.
The monster is only frightening if it poses a threat to your character or society.
Great monsters surprise, they subvert the status, your expectations. The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth subverts the zombie trope. He is inspired by the tenome, a Japanese monster. The Pale Man is also a metaphor for everything else that is happening in the film. The monster reflects other angles, ideas and themes of the story. When Ophelia takes from the monster, the monster fights back. This is reflected when Ophelia takes from her father. Be cautious with too on-the-nose parallelism.
A knowledge of folklore is necessary for creating great monsters e.g. Japanese folklore, African, European. How do we construct our fears? Find patterns and universal, Jungian fears.
Always look at the monsters’ roles. Consider the monsters’ symbolism within mythology.
Start with asking – what type of things frighten me? e.g. being alone and incapacitated in such a way that something could eat me.
“I like the character to be super competent but I want their super competence to have no effect on the monster… the monster is powerful in another way.”
“The monster targets their weakness.”