When Your Characters are Monsters

Digimon

In most stories, monsters are nothing more than deadly obstacles that have to be overcome to continue on.  They typically don’t have lines, much in the way of personality, or a very long lifespan.  Monsters earn attention by how deadly and scary they are as well as how uniquely powered they are.  They can range from standards like goblins to amazingly strange like the Paura Riders, but they are still nothing more than obstacles for the heroes to defeat.

The exception is usually when a monster is the main villain, but these tend to fall into humanoid categories.  You have your vampires, demons, liches, and other beings that still look rather human.  Even if the final battle is against a true monster, there’s a humanoid somewhere around to be the one who drives more of the action.  For example, in the original ‘Clash of the Titans’, the Kraken was the major threat that had to be defeated to save the princess.  Yet, the action is driven more by Calibos the son of Thetis.  It’s because we connect more with the humanoid villains and the true monsters tend to be written as primal.

Quest of the Brokenhearted posed a problem for me because I couldn’t have too many humanoids.  Kira Grasdon, Roland Gauntlier, and Rayne felt like it should be the limit.  The Shadow Earl is humanoid in appearance even though he’s a demon, so I have to admit that I couldn’t get myself away from the main villain issue.  It was within the supporting cast that I tried to take monsters and flush things out.  Honestly, I don’t think I was nearly as successful as I would have liked.  Princess Cyrena is a harpy and Hyde is a gremlin, which are monster types.  Yet, they act fairly human, which is more than many of the champions can say.  Although, there is one ‘primal’ champion that came out surprisingly human in my opinion.

I found that the best I could do is find a balance between human and monster.  This went beyond the physical and to how they functioned.  These monsters had cultures and habits that worked for their people while demonstrating a sense of civility because they were in a city.  Early on, it felt like they had been tamed, which wasn’t where I wanted to go.  It was more that they had found a way to live that didn’t involve the wilderness and dealing with adventurers.  Lacarsis acted like a haven for the monsters who wished to be more than the savage creatures of Windemere.  The best way I was able to portray this was by having Kira be confused about what she found.  Her social stumbles helped to give me a sense of how these monster characters could function like those who are humanoid.

Of course, I had to limit the types of monsters because some were too difficult to turn into full supporting characters.  Lack of communication ability was an issue, but I think I got through with one who used body language.  It also had to make sense that the monster was more civilized.  Harpies, demons, and gremlins were possible, but anything that was very animalistic in nature was a hard sell.  I wanted Lacarsis to run like a regular city, which meant I needed various roles that requires certain abilities.  Can’t really have a merchant that eats all the customers and make it a come off as a city that maintains any level of law and order.

I do hate that this idea had so many limits, but that is probably my fault.  After all, the main character is still a human, which means I maintained a human perspective.  A story that has all monsters would probably make this shift a greater possibility.  Maybe I’ll try that down the road and this is the first step.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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23 Responses to When Your Characters are Monsters

  1. Monsters are people too! Erm… Well,kinda. 😉

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  2. Interesting, because I’ve done exactly this. Many of my monsters are huge and animalistic in my current project, like the moving reef or the giant jellyfish. The root monsters have a rudimentary language and are part of the pirate crew.

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  3. robbiecheadle says:

    Very interesting, Charles. Giving monsters more human-like characteristics is a great idea.

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  4. Very eye opening post, I don’t think that I had ever realized how few true monsters are found in books, but now that I think about it, nearly ever book I’ve read has had humanoid monsters in it.

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  5. But can the monster-merchant eat shoplifters? It only seems fair.

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  6. I’m reminded of Angel. All heroes were monsters while some villains were humans, which was an interesting twist. Of course, you’d probably have to “monsterize” Kira for something like that to work.

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