Are Your Monsters Memorable?

There have been a couple of dark characters in my recent books. Real monsters. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but writing about them was actually a lot of fun.

I’m sure we all think we know about monsters. They lurk in dark corners and come out when everyone is asleep. We see their shadows at the end of a street where the lamps are broken. We feel them watching us, hidden by the gloom.

A lot of people imagine aliens, ogres and demons, but you don’t have to write sci-fi or fantasy to have monsters.

For instance, when people say Stephen King is strictly a horror writer they are totally missing the point (or else they’ve never read anything he’s done). His best stories are not about monsters.

They’re about people.

Take Something Normal and Twist It
As Edgar Allan Poe said, “The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls…”

As authors, we want people talking about our characters long after they’ve read the story. We want those characters seared into our readers’ brains, making our stories unforgettable.

So how do we create characters that leave such lasting marks?

Truly terrifying fictional characters mix the trivial and mundane with the grotesque in a way that both entices and terrifies … and writers have been doing it for a long, long time.

Hesiod, in the Theogony (700BC), took an unusual old woman living alone, replaced her hair with snakes, gave her gaze the power to turn men into stone, and created the horrifying legend of Medusa.

Likewise, Horace (65BC–8BC) wrote down the oral legends about a bull with the torso of a man, living in a maze, with a craving for human flesh … and the Minotaur entered our literature.

In the modern era, an intellectual forensic psychiatrist with a taste for human flesh became the cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lector, in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

To build such great fictional characters, those authors started with an everyday thing, then twisted it and made it memorable by adding something that makes readers almost want to turn away.

Almost … but not quite.

Play On Existing Fears
The good news is, there’s no need to create new fears when there are so many that already exist. We simply need to ask ourselves what are we afraid of? – and build the monster from there.

We usually feel safe in our churches, or in our homes behind locked windows and doors. Yet, secretly, we’re afraid our castle (or our faith) isn’t as strong as we think. Fear comes when there is something in the night that can breach our walls.

When I wrote about the insane Shadow Man in One Way Street, or the evil Micah, in Street Light, I played on this fear by having them attack people in their places of safety.

Show Us Something About Ourselves
We also need to ask ourselves what our characters say about us as a species. The very best monster characters hold up a mirror and reveal something horrible. When they do, they are truly terrifying.

H.G. Wells, in The Time Machine, used his Morlocks to show the terrible nature of social classes. His characters reveal that making some part of our society subservient, as we often do, is more than just a case of rich and poor. It’s a fundamental flaw in the character of our species … that will ultimately lead to our destruction.

Draw on your own experiences to create memorable stories. Twist normal people into outrageous beasts … and in doing so you’ll create characters that will lurk in the dark shadows of your reader’s imagination long after the book is closed.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Blood Lake by R.L. Herron

Blood Lake

by R.L. Herron

Giveaway ends August 31, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.


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3 Responses to “Are Your Monsters Memorable?”

  1. hellojenbug Says:

    Hi Ron,
    I enjoyed your blog. I think many of us are capable of becoming monsters, at least in others eyes, at any time. My mother used to say, “It’s not the dead you need to be afraid of, it’s living people.” One of my most memorable monsters was the outwardly kind store keeper in Stephen King’s “Needful Things.” I still think of that character now and then when I purchase something I can do without.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Herron Says:

      Hi, Susan,
      Thank you. It’s kind of what I meant when I used that quote from Poe: “The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls…”

      Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, but my favorites stories of his have little or nothing to do with “monsters.” Monstrous characters and events, yes. But not so much monsters, as most people think of them. Plus, the man KNOWS how to tell a story, whether you like his subject matter or not.

      One of his quotes (that I like a lot) is telling us the same thing Poe did: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe McCrea Says:

    Hi Ron and Marylou: Perhaps by now you have “heard” of the great time we had at the family reunion. We certainly wished that we could have seen you. Perhaps sometime later. – – -Cheers- – -Kathryn & Joe- – –


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