To me, the monster is the most important aspect of the horror novel. It’s what your protagonist is fighting or fleeing. It gives your novel pace and conflict. But how many times have you picked up a book, invested yourself in the story, only to reach the monster and think… Eh.
When the monster of a novel isn’t scary, it can really rip the reader out of the story. Sometimes it can even make the whole thing humourous. It’s hard to take something like demonic worms seriously, for example.
I am by no means an expert, but I would say there are two ways to ensure your creature scares the pants off of people. These are the concept and the application.
Thinking up a monster is the part I find the hardest. I have an almost unnatural desire to make sure my creature is “original”. When I first started writing horror, I had to make each monster from scratch. There are fun ways to do this – finding something that scares you and exaggerating it, sketching out strange shadow people with exaggerated features. But you don’t need an original monster to have a scary story, you just need a twist. There are plenty of zombie stories, and we all know the tropes. So what happens when the zombies are smart? Or fast? What if the virus only infects children? Find a trope and twist it.
I am of the opinion that anything can be made scary, if you write about it in just the right way. In my head, the “right way” is by using just a handful of features when it comes to describing the monster. This lets the reader fill in the gaps and create their own monster. I’ll use theexample of demonic worms.
The worms were six feet long, with glowing red eyes and a wide mouth filled with teeth. As they slithered they left a trail of dark red liquid.
When you just describe the creature all out, it can lose its mystery.
Something rustled in the darkness, wet and slow. Jane turned in time to see a large shadow disappear around the corner. A shadow too large to be anything good. She froze. Something glittered in front of her in the moonlight, a thick black liquid. No, not black. A deep, dark red. Blood.
Here I’ve removed some of the details and put them into a scene. At no point have I described the appearance of the creature, but hopefully I have provided the reader with enough details to build their own picture.
These are only my thoughts, based on many disappointing monster reveals in books and movies, as well as my own experience. You don’t want to know how many people have told me my short film was good “until the monster appeared”!
If you’re interested in reading about my latest monster, you can preorder my novel The Log House here via Unbound Books.
What’s your favourite horror monster? Let me know in the comments!