In honour of Halloween, this article focuses on the nasty creatures and monster that can haunt any book.
This time of year, there is only one thing on people’s minds. Vampires, witches and werewolves (oh my). These three ‘monsters’ occupy a large portion of fiction. Most bookshops I’ve been to even have their own vampire section. The epic plight for ‘top spot’ between creatures of the night has raged on for centuries, constantly vied for by shape changing hairy men and those who have waited too long to see the dentist. They’ve become tropes and, like all tropes, people will tire of them when the next big thing sweeps through. What will the next big monster be? This article touches on some of the lesser-known horrors and will help you begin to create your own nightmare. Let’s get straight into it.
The big blue deep is often associated with all manner of horrific and in some cases, quite unique monsters. A large factor behind these scary depths is the fear of the unknown. To this day, we are discovering new animals with amazing abilities (search pistol shrimp and you’ll know what I mean). This is simply due to the size of the oceans. They’re huge; and if you’ve seen a whale, you know these vast bodies of water can house huge creatures as well. Due to the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, there is one sea monster getting a surge in popularity: the humble Kraken. Heralding from Norse mythology, Kraken are squids of tremendous proportions said to be able to tear ships apart and eat them. Remember, monsters don’t have to be huge to be scary—small lakes also house those who wish to feast. The Kelpie is a great example of this. Celtic mythology tells of a water horse that transforms into beautiful women that lure men to their watery grave. The Kelpie also entice children to ride them. Once the child is on its back, their skin would turn sticky and the poor child is unable to escape as the Kelpie returns back to the bottom of its lake.
If you thought staying out of water would keep you safe, I’m afraid you’re dead wrong. Terra firma is also home to a host of horrors waiting to seal your fate. Let’s start with a creature you may recognise, the Dullahan. The name may be unfamiliar, but it is a classic spectre of death. The Dullahan is a headless horse rider that carries it’s own rotting head under arm. Doors and gates open by themselves when a Dullahan approaches. Another great evil to stay away from is the often overlooked Mummy. Losing popularly slightly, the Mummy was once among the most feared monsters. While Mummies were written about as early as 1827, it was the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 that brought the Mummy into the spotlight. Egyptian Mummies are the most famous, but there are a huge number of cultures from all around the world that mummified their dead. It is the simple fear of the dead returning to ‘life’ that has created monsters such as Mummies, Zombies and even Vampires.
I know what you’re thinking. The land and water are both unsafe. Only one place remains to escape to, but if you’re trying to find your salvation in the clouds, you’re mistaken. There are things up there that will rock your world—literally. The Roc is another one of our larger-than-average creatures. Giant birds of prey, Rocs are big enough to carry off a full size elephant in its talons. Other creatures you may find up there among the clouds are the Fae of old. That’s right, the benevolent Faeries we are used to today were not always so innocent. Known for swapping babies with changelings and abducting people, Faeries are feared for their mischief and malice. Folklore is riddled with charms and suggestions on how to keep Faeries away from you and your family. Iron, for example, is like poison to them.
When creating your own monster, the most important thing to decide is how to make your monster is scary. How do they strike fear into the heart of man? There are four main types of fear your monster can use. The first and strongest is the fear of the unknown. Ever been in a dark room with someone not knowing where they were? It’s unusually scary, even if you know the person isn’t going to hurt you. People fear what they don’t know. It’s a natural survival instinct that allows us to be more aware in tense situations. It’s the same with monsters. Put your main character, (we’ll call ours Steve) in a room, and with him is a Dullahan. He’s scared, but we can do better than that. Pick him up and pop him onto a road. It’s late at night and his car was stolen. Steve is having a pretty bad day, and then a slow mist appears. Echoing around him are strange gurgling sounds. He grows nervous. A scream pierces the darkness straight in front of him. Does he continue forward or turn back? Steve fancies himself a brave man, so he walks on. The mist clears unusually fast to reveal his name painted in blood across the road with the two words ‘You’re next.’ I’m sure you can imagine how Steve reacts… The second type is fear of the act. The Fae are a great example here. They may be beautiful to look at, but they steal babies and give them to ogres. The third type is basic visual fear–seeing something that just makes you want to scream. Creatures like zombies and mutants often fall into this category. The last type is compelled fear, or a fear that cannot be explained as normal. Steve has a new manager at work. She looks normal, she acts normal, and she even bought him a coffee, but there is something about her that’s just wrong. Steve’s fear is not rational, but he knows deep down she isn’t human. Creatures like demons can use this type of fear as well. Once you’ve chosen your type of fear, start adding aspects such as location and physical appearance like you would a normal character. Soon, your new creations will scare the life out of all those who dare open the cover.