Here’s a lesson I learned early on from Sean, and I’m not even sure it was an intentional one, just a result of the different way we see things: Monsters should be fun.
(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the Smarter Artist Podcast)
When we started writing Yesterday’s Gone back in 2011, we each came up with a core group of survivors of an apocalyptic event that we’d be responsible for during the first season.
We operated independent of each other, not knowing what the other was doing, to truly make it a unique, collaborative start to the series.
However, as I was fine-tuning my group of characters, I emailed him and asked for an idea of what kind of characters he was going to have. I didn’t want to duplicate what he was doing.
So he told me his group and it included a character archetype I had planned to use — a serial killer.
Well, we couldn’t have TWO serial killers, so I changed mine into Ed Keenan, the secret government agent.
His killer was Boricio Wolfe, an over-the-top, almost Tarantino-like crazy bastard. This is nothing at all like the character I would’ve come up with, a brooding dark character with no sense of humor at all.
Good thing that Sean made Boricio, because he has since gone on to become our most popular character ever.
Boricio Wolfe is all id. He does what he wants, when he wants, apologizes for nothing, and is just a force of nature that commands your attention.
He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Ever.
In other words, he’s fun! And, other than the killing stuff, maybe a character a part of us wishes we could be.
If you’ve watched The Walking Dead, he’s a lot like Negan. And, for the record, we came up with Boricio long before Negan was introduced to the comic.
Anyway, the point of this is to say that if you’re writing a monster, whether it be of the human or non-human variety, don’t be afraid to have some fun with him/her/it.When writing a monster, whether it's human or non-human variety, have some fun with it. https://sterlingandstone.net/monsters-should-fun/ Click To Tweet
Obviously, this isn’t blanket advice. There’s some monsters which probably shouldn’t have that sort of lightness to them, and stories where humor isn’t appropriate.
But if you’re writing a thrill-ride escapist sort of story, or even a depressing one that needs a bit of levity, consider making your monster fun.
With Boricio (and Negan), these are guys who are tired of bullshit. Who don’t put up with liars, backstabbers, or the sorts of people that piss us off everyday in real life.
So these characters offer a cathartic release from our own real-world frustrations.
That guy in front of you who has 100 items in the 10-items or less lane?
Haven’t you ever thought of following them into the parking lot and giving them a piece of your mind?
When I see stuff around me that pisses me off, I ask What Would Boricio Do?
Or what would another of our darker characters do?
Well, if it’s Boricio, he’s going to follow the guy to the parking lot and maybe make sure the man never EVER forgets what 10 items or less really means.
And writing that sort of scene is immensely FUN!
Something that readers can relate to.
Someone they almost root for.
One way to inject this sort of fun into your story is to have your monster doing or thinking things you might think if we weren’t polite members of society.
Witty, snappy dialogue or clever action sequences, like maybe your monster forcing the 100 Items or Less shopper eat his entire cart except 10 items, yes even the non-perishables, can be the difference between a heavy/boring monster and a fun one.
Having written Boricio in six books and several short stories, I must admit that it’s fun to receive email from readers which starts off with: “I absolutely hated Boricio from the get-go, but then I fell in love with him.”
Creating a monster that your readers hate to love is an awesome feeling! And it gives you a character that people will definitely remember!
So when you’re creating your own monster, ask what sorts of things would make them fun?
Find things that anger you, things you can go after in some way through this monster.
Or find cliches in other stories that readers are sick of and use the monster to address those cliches in a clever way.
Or simply embrace what a monster would actually be like if they enjoyed doing what they doing.
Put yourself into the mind of a true psychopath, one that enjoys what they do. Play it up, and have fun in that character’s POV.
But don’t make your monster TOO fun!
Unless your monster is your protagonist or the anti-hero type, you can’t make him/her/it more appealing than your actual protagonists.
There’s a fine line you’ll need to walk. Otherwise you’ve got an entirely different sort of story.
You’ll need to ensure that your monster’s goals are in direct opposition to those of your hero, and that we LIKE YOUR HERO and want to see them achieve their goals.
So, how do we get people to hate your fun monster we also want them to love?
This might mean having your monster do something unforgivable that your reader will NOT find fun or funny.
Having them do something horrific to someone we love, think Negan and the baseball bat, will ensure that readers take this monster VERY seriously when we get that showdown you’re working towards.
So even if the reader finds some guilty pleasure in watching the monster take out some people, we don’t want the monster to take out our hero!
Another good example of making monsters fun is James Spader’s character Red Reddington on Blacklist.
He’s a former good guy turned bad, but we get his reasons. Now he’s working with the good guys again, for a very specific reason.
He’s still capable of being a monster and killing people who don’t matter to him, but he’s our monster, because he’s also killing people who are a threat to the protagonist whom we like, Liz.
Though he’s a killer, he’s witty, funny, and clever in a way usually reserved for heroes.
If the writers of Blacklist didn’t make him so much fun, he, and the show, wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
So when you’re writing your next monster, ask yourself if it makes sense to add a bit of levity? To make us love your monster a little?