The Limits to Using Monsters as Heroes

Hotel Transylvania

There’s always a temptation to push a monster character to the edge and let them dance around there.  How violent can they be before the audience feels that they have gone too far?  What about going in the opposite direction where their monster side is almost superficial?  As I’ve stated before, a lot of this comes down to balancing the two sides of the character.  You also need to factor in genre because a lot of gore can work in action or horror, but not really in romance or children books.  So, let’s examine the two extremes since that’s where the risk is:

Too Much Monster

This is one that I worry about when it comes to Clyde in War of Nytefall.  I need to keep him close to the edge because he has the monstrous rage, which the other Dawn Fangs didn’t inherit.  There are times I need him to be violent and cut loose to remind the audience that he is a monster.  The gore comes into play here since he’s hand-to-hand and tears people apart.  Clyde can tear through an army if he decides that he doesn’t want to use any self-control.  He doesn’t go into a blind frenzy, but he releases enough that he can be terrifying without losing the one thing that keeps him ‘human’.

And that’s the key.  There’s a cap on Clyde because he wants a challenge from his fights, so he won’t really cut loose.  His outbursts are rare and fairly controlled after the initial charge, which prevents him from going full monster.  If he did then it would be difficult to draw the audience back into believing that he can work with humans or even his own kind.  That idea of the monster being able to hold back their worst instincts is necessary to maintaining interest in their story.  Once they go over that edge, it’s really hard to bring them back.  Even if you do, people will always be waiting for it to happen again and that creates distance between the character and the readers.

Too Little Monster

Sometimes an author might focus so much on the human side of a hero that they’ll almost completely eliminate the monster side.  This isn’t as jarring and violent as having them be an agent of destruction, but it brings up some interesting questions.  For example, why bother having them be a monster in the first place if they have no problem interacting with humans?  This can be undone by having them be an outcast and including members of their species who are monstrous.  Yet, people might wonder how this hero even fits into their birth world since they’re far too human.  You really do need some kind of dangerous edge to these characters or it feels like a barely thought out gimmick.

Another issue that can stem from this is if you have some ‘monster hater’ characters turn up.  These are the ones who refuse to believe the hero isn’t out to eat humans and go out of their way to be antagonistic.  If the hero is acting so human that you forget their a monster then you would start to wonder why these other characters are so suspicious.  The whole subplot can feel forced because there is too much evidence to prove that this monster isn’t a threat to people.

Summing Up

Honestly, the only reason I did this section was because I didn’t want people thinking I was continuing the last one.  All of this comes down to what you want as an author and what works for the story.  You’re always going to have people that think you didn’t go far enough or went too far.  It’s the nature of the beast in regards to working with beasts as heroes.  These characters have a lot of pre-existing lore and preconceived notions to break through, so they won’t always hit their marks.  Even Dracula has his haters who say he isn’t a good example of a vampire.  So, just do your best and stay true to the character you’re creating.

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 The Limits to Using Monsters as Heroes

  1. Lore makes a fantastic point. Changing it can be risky, but rewarding if it comes out well. Zombies were boring up until someone decided to make them into a viral concept that spread to the general population. Prior to that, they were just shuffling undead. Change the lore at our own risk, but the rewards can be huge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great points and good advice about keeping the edge to the character. People criticized Stephenie Meyer for Twilight, but one thing she did right is keep the tension up. Yes, Edward was a sparkly vampire. I’m not debating people’s right to hate this character. But he always knew that he desired human blood, which made it risky to be around Bella. I couldn’t help thinking about that as I read your post.

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  3. Hellboy is a monster, but also a hero in his own way, Charles.
    Same could be said of The Hulk, Angel, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frankenstein’s Monster (who has no name), etc.
    Besides which, in many cases, it’s humans that tend to be more deserving of the name Monster…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed the post. Don’t do monsters but it doesn’t mean I won’t start.

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  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from the Legends of Windemere blog on The Limits to Using Monsters as Heroes

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  6. V.M.Sang says:

    Thanks for pointing out the dangers of using monsters as heroes. I just realised I have one in a work I’m just starting. But she doesn’t realise what she is as she is in human form and has been brought up in a human family. I need to go and give her a side she doesn’t fully understand. At the moment there’s nothing to indicate she’s not as other humans.
    Thank you for making me realise that. It will make the story so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As you mention, the genre is a major factor. Each has its own expectations that will throw the reader if not met. Taking your example of vampires, the traditional vampire can definitely have that uncontrolled blood lust, yet with Urban Fantasy you definitely think of them with brooding sex-appeal rather than blood lust. (Which I never understood, but we all seek what fits our needs.)

    There are a lot of kids’ books with vampire characters, though. I mean middle-grade and younger, where the vampire characters basically are normal kids but they might have to keep the non-vampire characters away from their vampire parents, or it might be stated the vampires are able to survive on all blood, not just human. So then the vampire is more of a human with interesting quirks — maybe they are naturally awake at night and have a hard time getting to school during the day — and aren’t really monstrous at all. That might seem like a cheap-out to older readers, but it works for the intended audience.

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    • I never understood why urban vampires seem to be more horn dog than blood-sucker. It is an odd change, but I guess it works for the genre. The mention of kids’ books reminds me of an old movie that I think was called ‘The Little Vampire’. I never saw it, but it was rented out a lot when I worked in a rental store.

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  8. Staci Troilo says:

    Great post, Charles. But I think the most important thing is your very last line. Stay true to the character you’re creating.

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