Need a Monster? Make an Animal Gigantic

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One of the most common ways to come up with a monster is to simply go large.  These are traditionally called ‘dire’ beasts, which simply means these are animals that are bigger than normal.  They also tend to be more aggressive and may have additional weapons like spikes.  Although, you start moving away from the simpler stuff once you begin changing the best.  So, why is this so common?

Put simply: It’s easy!  Fantasy authors are juggling a lot when it comes to writing.  They have magic systems, colorful characters, non-human races, designing cultures, and everything else that goes into world-building from scratch.  Monsters are a fun aspect of it, but the temptation to occasionally go with a large beast is strong.  If the battle isn’t with a plot central threat and acts only as an encounter to direct the heroes somewhere, you’re going to make things easy on yourself.  Hence, you take an animal and increase its size until you’re satisfied.

You don’t have to overthink this concept either even though restraint might be necessary in some situations.  For example, have a dire blue whale is fairly extreme.  That’s already the biggest animal on Earth, so why go bigger?  Makes more sense to have a blue whale-sized dolphin or just modify the whale to be a new creature.  This means that you do have to put some thought into these beasts.  They are ripe for shifting into the realm of absurdity and reveal some level of laziness.

Of course, the key reason people may be highly critical of these beasts is that there is a trend to analyze monsters.  Many readers try to figure out how realistic it is that such creatures would exist.  Dragons get a lot of attention due to their size requiring a lot of food and bigger wings that they are depicted with.  Yes, science can step in and ruin the fun of fantasy.  It’s easier to do with giant animals because we have them in the real world and they aren’t seen as magical.  Have a mouse the size of a mountain?  People will question the structure of its lungs, the sturdiness of their bones, and whatever else they can pull from real mouse physiology.  You’ll also have people pointing out that it’s basically a giant rat with the true confidence of someone who is wrong.

These questions are frustrating, but some of them do pay to consider.  The larger the animal, the more food it will need.  This becomes very sticky when you go with an herbivore.  We are used to carnivores going long periods without food or with very little food.  Herbivores need to eat more often, so a group of dire ones could swiftly wipe out a forest.  You would need a dire predator to take on the prey animals, which leads the way towards creating a full ecosystem of giant beasts.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it undoes an author’s desire to toss in an easy creation and move on.

Now, I’ll admit that I might be overreacting here.  People might not question these creatures or an author can ignore the situation.  Just say that magic is part of it and walk away.  Still, the more that you use this trick, the greater the chance that you may have to delve a little further into their existence.  This could be triggered by your own curiosity on why there are so many large beasts roaming around.  It would be strange for that to be so common.

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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18 Responses to Need a Monster? Make an Animal Gigantic

  1. L. Marie says:

    I guess that’s why Godzilla, King Kong, Pacific Rim, Anaconda, and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and all of their incarnations are so much fun. 😄Well, that and actors like Lorenzo Lamas! 😄

    You raised some interesting points about how much they eat and other logistics. There are so many books about dragons and what they eat. (I am especially thinking of The Last Dragon, graphic novel by Jane Yolen.)


    • I wonder if Anaconda counts since it’s a real animal. Jaws and The Meg would fall into it.


      • L. Marie says:

        They seemed to make it bigger for the movie. I saw this on a website: “First of all, while anacondas are extremely long, the longest one measured was only 33 feet. That’s not exactly tiny. It’s actually taller than most of the movie screens the film was originally projected onto. However, it’s a far cry from the 40-foot size purported during the opening crawl of the film.”


      • You’re right. They did the same with Jaws too. I was definitely wrong there then.


  2. Oloriel says:

    Thank you for this , Charles! In one of the World of Warcraft expansions, there was a lot of dire beasts, and it had never occurred to me that this is the reason that they are dire – I always assumed and as a non native speaker, they are dire, huge and hostile because we, in this case the players, are hunting them. There was never an explanation provided for why the animals are so big and different for us, but I guess every native speaker just did not need one.


    • So, I got curious about the use of the word ‘dire’ for animals like this. The word itself is apparently from the Lation word ‘dirus’, which means threatening and fearful. It got attached to large animals after being used in the 1850’s to name an extinct North American wolf the ‘dire wolf’. Oddest thing is that the dire wolves weren’t any bigger than modern gray wolves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oloriel says:

        I can see that, and the word “dire” was heard by me the first time precisely in the dire wolf context, and it is why my mind chose to connect it with the definition of : ” the same animal, but it is aggressive and manic because it is threatened”. At the same time, I did not ever see it used in the same context, but including the fact that the animal is considerably larger than its non-dire counterpart. Definitely interesting, and now I too am curious as to when and where did the descriptor start including the size.


      • It looks like the ‘dire beast’ thing really started with Dungeons & Dragons. It may have been used a few times in various fantasy books for dire wolves. Yet, it was when they made the ‘dire beast’ category in D&D that it may have really taken off in the genre. Seems the animals are also more prehistoric in appearance at times.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My guess is, the more often such a beast appears, or the longer it’s “on screen,” the more questions there will be about real-world viability. That said, I did have a giant badger in The Tower in the Mist, and also extraordinarily large eels, wasps and salamanders in other books. I was looking for something impressive that lived in an enchanted forest, and making a commonplace animal huge seemed like a fun approach. The giant badger is something many readers find memorable, anyway.


  4. V.M.Sang says:

    A post with food for thought. Interesting about gigantic herbivores and predators. My mind immediately jumped to dinosaurs. There were huge animals in both categories, so huge animals worked in the real world for millennia. Far longer than the age of mammals.


    • The bigger dinosaurs tended to be herbivores too. I read long ago that it was possible due to the higher amount of oxygen in the atmosphere and there being more plantlife.

      Liked by 1 person

      • V.M.Sang says:

        Interesting about the higher oxygen content of the atmosphere. If that’s necessary, we should consider the effect on the adventurers. Lower oxygen decreases performance. And if athletes train at lower oxygen levels, such as altitude, their bodies adapt by, amongst other things, increasing the number of red blood cells. When returning to ‘normal’ levels, the increased oxygen carrying capacity gives them an advantage.
        So would the adventures in a high oxygen atmosphere be quicker, stronger etc than normal? Or if everyone is the same, I don’t suppose it’d make much difference, except in times takes to do things.


      • If there would be an effect on adventurers. I would think any humans in such a world would have evolved to handle that environment.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I glanced upon this in a recent post. I’m kind of in a monster creation phase right now. I had a mermaid speak to the Lanternfish crew once. She surfaced beside the ship, towering over the entire ship as she spoke. At least it wasn’t the same old thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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