7 Tips to Writing Humanoid Monster Protagonists: Even the Undead Can Have Heart

iZombie

Not many people try to write a story with a monster as the hero.  Well, you see it for kids a lot.  Paranormal romance enjoys this too, but it rarely happens when you get into the more action-oriented genres.  You might be afraid that people won’t like that you’ve made your monsters into heroes instead of leaving them as destructive beasts.  Well, there are some ways to go about doing this with minimal stress.

  1. Forget what people will say or do.  Write the story.  Edit the story.  Publish the story.  Promote the story.  Answer the questions and stick to your guns because this is what felt right.  If you want the hero to be a crime-solving harpy who lost her wings to a mystical poacher then go for it.
  2. Spend more time focusing on how the monster is human than how they are bestial.  The latter is expected and every outburst will be a strike against the attempt to humanize them.  Show that this character isn’t any different than their ‘normal’ counterparts.  Give them hobbies, favorite human foods, a oddly human home, and whatever else brings the point across that they aren’t simply waiting for the real hero to show up for a fight.
  3. This isn’t to say that the entire species that you’re working with have to be taken away from their monstrous roots.  Your hero can be an outlier of their people, so they don’t belong to either world.  Having the true monsters around to remind the audience about how these creatures should be can help strengthen the characterization of the hero.  It acts as a useful contrast.  Less wordy than having humans repeatedly talk about how they expect the monster to operate.  Yes, we know giants are famous for eating people, but some of them might have gone Vegan.
  4. Develop and gradually introduce a history of the world that would explain why this monster is a good guy.  It doesn’t even have to be a gradual or deep explanation if that’s simply how your world works.  Maybe vampires have always been around and made a treaty with humankind during the Middle Ages.  Werewolves could be an ancient off-shoot of homo sapiens that lived in isolation until recently.  What if zombies exist to give people one last chance to finish their business on Earth?  No matter what, this explanation will help draw people away from the standard usage of the monster that you’re trying to project as a hero.
  5. Research your chosen monsters to see if there are tidbits of info that can be used to give them quirks or help with the humanization.  Legends and myths change over time, so you can find some contradicting stuff.  For example, vampires were only weakened by the sun until Hollywood had it that they got destroyed.  This weakens can be taken in place of destruction and used to explain how vampires stayed hidden for so long.  During the day, they were nothing more than pale, strange humans, so they have been in society the whole time.
  6. If you’re on the fence about having this character stay a hero then you can take the easy way out.  Have it that there is a spell or artifact forcing them to act against their monstrous nature.  Make sure to include a supporting character who can take over as the protagonist if you decide things would work better with the monster going back to their origins.  Although, if you’re going to set this up in the first place then maybe you weren’t interested in a monstrous protagonist to begin with.
  7. Buy War of Nytefall to see what I did . . . This isn’t a tip?  Fine, I’ll make a real one that will blow the others out of the water.  Humans in fiction and reality are built by their relationships or lack thereof.  To have your monster be relatable, you need them to have friends, enemies, and everything in the middle.  It could be difficult for them to do this, which means you write them as having difficulty connecting to those who are not in their species.  This means they are looking at humans as more than prey and are trying to create a normal life.  If you go the same route as me and have all the characters be monsters then you just have them act like humans.  Give them lovers, best friends, partners, and rivals in the same way you would do so for non-monster casts.

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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25 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Humanoid Monster Protagonists: Even the Undead Can Have Heart

  1. I loved iZombie. Such a quirky twist on the monster. It tells me there is a lot of room in some of these tired old monsters. We just need a fresh spin on it. I’m really enjoying these posts.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Besides your series, I couldn’t help thinking of series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files where humans coexist with other creatures. Also Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion where the hero is a zombie. There’s also the movie Bright where a human teamed up with an orc.

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  3. IZombie is great. Some stories have characters who fight their demons. Afterall, 🐷 pig blood does not quench the thirst of a vampire. A few bags from the blood bank help a lot. I like those stories. Anyway, glad to see that you are encouraging writers to humanize monster characters. Have a wonderful evening!

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  4. Excellent advice, Charles.

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  5. A thorough and interesting post, Charles. —- Suzanne

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  6. V.M.Sang says:

    An interesting post. I must think about having a ‘monster’ as protagonist.

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  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog with 7 Tips to Writing Humanoid Monster Protagonists: Even the Undead Can Have Heart

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  8. Staci Troilo says:

    These are great. Especially 1, 4, and 7.

    I know Frankenstein’s monster isn’t the hero of Mary Shelley’s novel, but I always felt so bad for him. She did a great job of making me care for the monster. Then he went nuts and started murdering people. 😱 But until then, he just wanted to be loved, and that touched my heart.

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  9. You’re throwing around some pretty great ideas just there. The wingless harpy and zombies with unfinished business immediately made me think “That could work!”

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  10. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  11. Jaq says:

    When I wrote my goblin series, I put a lot of thought into how goblins are the same or different from humans, but started with why are they always at odds with humans? That one answered itself pretty quickly. But the idea was to write from the goblins’ point of view, to understand their motivations and how their society would differ from ours because of circumstances.

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