The Making of a Monster: From Dragons to Lady Gaga


Remember when I said that villains represent the socially unacceptable? Monsters are the epitome of the socially unacceptable, engaging in such rude acts as eating people, stealing gold, and worse, lookin’ weird. But of course, being socially unacceptable is in many ways a human construction: one person’s monster is another’s with a cause. Once you understand what your monster says about your story, and where it fits into society, you can give your monster everything it needs to help you emphasize your point.Makingamonster

In times of uncertainty, when we’re fighting for survival, people yearn for simpler times, when evil is evil and good is good, and monsters are giant evil dragons who eat people. Who wants to wrestle with moral ambiguity in their fantasy when it’s haunting them in reality? A dragon with bad halitosis who kills for funsies is about as black-and-white as it gets. Almost no one will question your slaying something so unquestionably vile. From this tradition stems the tale of the monster Grendel in Beowulf, the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, and the nearly inconsequential dragon Siegfried defeats in the Nibelungenlied.

But when we aren’t fighting for survival, monsters have been deftly transformed into tools to question society’s rules for defining what is monstrous. Lady Gaga’s little monsters, for instance,  represent the willingness to break societal rules in order to embrace new values.

When you sit down to make a new monster, there are many things you need to consider. Like how many people you have to eat to qualify as “irredeemable,” and whether the phrase “needlelike teeth” is overused. Because fundamentally, monsters are just like any other character, hero or villain. In order to write them well, you need to understand their motivations, figure out where they’re coming from, and identify with them.

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In this case, I think the old the-book-is-better-than-the-movie issue is wrong.

Posted by: Excel 2010 Online Courses | Tuesday November 8, 2011 at 2:09 AM

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