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Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction

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Monsters are more than things that go bump in the night... Monsters are lurking in the woods, beneath the waves, and within our favorite books, films, and games--and there are good reasons why they appear so often. Monsters are manifestations of our fears and symbols of our society--not to mention they're a lot of fun--but each should serve a purpose and enhance the themes Monsters are more than things that go bump in the night... Monsters are lurking in the woods, beneath the waves, and within our favorite books, films, and games--and there are good reasons why they appear so often. Monsters are manifestations of our fears and symbols of our society--not to mention they're a lot of fun--but each should serve a purpose and enhance the themes and tension in your fiction. In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable--and terrifying. You'll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up. Writing Monsters includes: In-depth discussions of where monsters come from, what they symbolize, and how to best portray them in fiction Informative overviews of famous monsters, archetypes, and legendary creatures A Monster Creation Form to help you create your monster from scratch An annotated version of H.P. Lovecraft's chilling story "The Unnamable" Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or horror, your vampires, ghouls, aliens, and trolls need to be both compelling and meaningful. With Writing Monsters, you can craft creatures that will wreak havoc in your stories and haunt your readers' imaginations--and nightmares.


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Monsters are more than things that go bump in the night... Monsters are lurking in the woods, beneath the waves, and within our favorite books, films, and games--and there are good reasons why they appear so often. Monsters are manifestations of our fears and symbols of our society--not to mention they're a lot of fun--but each should serve a purpose and enhance the themes Monsters are more than things that go bump in the night... Monsters are lurking in the woods, beneath the waves, and within our favorite books, films, and games--and there are good reasons why they appear so often. Monsters are manifestations of our fears and symbols of our society--not to mention they're a lot of fun--but each should serve a purpose and enhance the themes and tension in your fiction. In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable--and terrifying. You'll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up. Writing Monsters includes: In-depth discussions of where monsters come from, what they symbolize, and how to best portray them in fiction Informative overviews of famous monsters, archetypes, and legendary creatures A Monster Creation Form to help you create your monster from scratch An annotated version of H.P. Lovecraft's chilling story "The Unnamable" Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or horror, your vampires, ghouls, aliens, and trolls need to be both compelling and meaningful. With Writing Monsters, you can craft creatures that will wreak havoc in your stories and haunt your readers' imaginations--and nightmares.

30 review for Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Sheldon

    The perfectly organised chapters are the real heroes of this book. What makes a monster scary? See chapter 2. Cliche versus archetype? See chapter 21. And so on. Yes, I've written and published monster stories, but I'd love to sit down and chat over a few wines with Philip Athans because he knows his stuff inside and out. The perfectly organised chapters are the real heroes of this book. What makes a monster scary? See chapter 2. Cliche versus archetype? See chapter 21. And so on. Yes, I've written and published monster stories, but I'd love to sit down and chat over a few wines with Philip Athans because he knows his stuff inside and out.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nic

    I didn't learn a lot that was new to me here, but I like the organization of the book and the examples it uses. I didn't learn a lot that was new to me here, but I like the organization of the book and the examples it uses.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lukasz

    The book offers great summary of monsters we know from literature and movies. It tries to explain what makes them terrifying. There's plenty of good advice for aspiring authors, and a nice monster creation worksheet. Even though I'm not an author I spent good time reading the book. Longer review will, probably, come in the future. The book offers great summary of monsters we know from literature and movies. It tries to explain what makes them terrifying. There's plenty of good advice for aspiring authors, and a nice monster creation worksheet. Even though I'm not an author I spent good time reading the book. Longer review will, probably, come in the future.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    This book not only provides useful tips to create monsters, but author Philip Athans delves into why and how monsters are important in fiction. He also discusses how to effectively weave them throughout a story, and offers techniques to ramp up the fear factor. Athans provides numerous examples by authors, but refers most often to H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most prolific monster creators in fiction. Although I knew the name, I wasn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s work, but Athans’s comments and the s This book not only provides useful tips to create monsters, but author Philip Athans delves into why and how monsters are important in fiction. He also discusses how to effectively weave them throughout a story, and offers techniques to ramp up the fear factor. Athans provides numerous examples by authors, but refers most often to H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most prolific monster creators in fiction. Although I knew the name, I wasn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s work, but Athans’s comments and the short story posted at the end of the book peaked my interest. Writing Monsters is a well-organized quick read, and yes, it has an index. Anyone writing horror, fantasy, or science fiction should add this book to their library of resources. It’s an excellent guide.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Stammers

    This review and others cane be found on my blog alongside other kinds of posts: http://wordsaremymedicine.blogspot.co... I had read an article by Philip Athans on Writer's Digest about writing monsters (an article I cannot seem to find now) over a year ago. The article finished with a promotion of his latest book: the title I am about to review. So when I saw this book on the shelf in Foyles [you can read about my trip to Foyles in an earlier blog post titled "In Fear of Storm Frank"], I felt the This review and others cane be found on my blog alongside other kinds of posts: http://wordsaremymedicine.blogspot.co... I had read an article by Philip Athans on Writer's Digest about writing monsters (an article I cannot seem to find now) over a year ago. The article finished with a promotion of his latest book: the title I am about to review. So when I saw this book on the shelf in Foyles [you can read about my trip to Foyles in an earlier blog post titled "In Fear of Storm Frank"], I felt the need to buy it. I must say, this was well worth the impulse purchase. Philip Athans provides an in-depth guide into what makes monsters scary, how you can make your monsters scary, what to think about when creating them, what to consider when writing them, etc. I have no doubt that Athans provides you with everything you need to know to create the horrors that will have your readers shivering in the summer sun. This is a book to keep on the book shelf near your writing space for a quick reference. Sections are clearly labelled for quick access so you can flick through to whatever section you need at any given moment. I read this book from cover to cover, and whilst I'd recommed doing so on an initial read through, it isn't necessary if you're looking for specific information. For example, if you're just looking for advice on how you actually write a monster, then the final third of this book might be all you need. Athans provides an invaluable monster creation form at the beginning of the book. It's simple and easy and gives you more or less everything you need in constructing horrific beasts. This is perfect for new writers who want some guidance, but can also be a checklist for experienced writers to ensure they've thought about everything they need to before introducing the creature to the tale they're telling. Even if you don't want to get bogged down in the details and actually fill out a form every time you think of a monster, it gives you all the key things to consider before writing. As with any "how-to" book, Athans offers plenty of examples throughout. He goes through the tropes from vampires to zombies, offering the good examples as well as the bad. He draws from fantasy, science fiction, and horror. He doesn't limit himself to literature, either; he takes examples from films, video games, and even Dungeons & Dragons. However, the number one author he likes to use more than anyone else, and he even includes a short story from him right at the end, is the master of monsters: H. P. Lovecraft. You couldn't talk about writing monsters and not discuss the man who gave birth to countless nightmares, and examples from his work fit in perfectly. However, whilst there were a number of examples from Stephen King and others, it came across that Athans expressed favoritism towards Lovecraft. If you see some indented text on the page, you would be safe on betting it'll be him. For Lovecraft fans, this may be the icing on the cake. Until now, I hadn't ready any Lovecraft, but the small snippets and the short story at the end have not encouraged me to look into his work. You might feel differently, but I got bored of the Lovecraft examples towards the end and the short story didn't have much effect on me, either. Maybe I was having an off day or maybe Lovecraft just isn't for me. Overall, this is a useful book to keep close for guidance. It's perfect for new writers but could also be useful for those with experience. RATING: 4.5/5

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emmy

    I haven't written much lately (much to the chagrin of my writer's circle back in undergrad), and honestly, I would not think of myself as a writer anymore. I picked up this book to read purely for interest in the topic, not because I thought it would help me write, but I was very impressed by how well it read. It was a fascinating book that I had trouble putting down, and to be honest, it actually made me want to write again! The use of excerpts from other books was a huge boon for this book, as I haven't written much lately (much to the chagrin of my writer's circle back in undergrad), and honestly, I would not think of myself as a writer anymore. I picked up this book to read purely for interest in the topic, not because I thought it would help me write, but I was very impressed by how well it read. It was a fascinating book that I had trouble putting down, and to be honest, it actually made me want to write again! The use of excerpts from other books was a huge boon for this book, as it provided us with examples that popped off the page. Plus, it showed just how much Philip Athans knows about this genre of writing. And might I add it gave me a ton of books I should be adding to my "To-Read" list? If you're a writer, this is the book for you. But, if you're a dedicated reader of horror, science-fiction, or fantasy, then this is also the book for you. It allows the former to learn how to craft their own monsters, and for the latter, it's a glimpse into the "behind-the-scenes" of how some of your favorite baddies came about. Super-informative and fun!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neuravinci

    Apparently monsters are just as important as characters as your protagonist. I’ve learned a ton and enjoyed Athens’ humor and voice. Mast-read even if your book doesn’t contain many-or any- monsters.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alicen Martinez

    Entertaining with useful tips on how to create a monster and portray the environment and feeling you want your readers to experience.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    Broken into three sections and twenty chapters, Writing Monsters is a short but thorough overview of what monsters are, what makes them scary, and how we can effectively write them. Each chapter is short and to the point, and the author uses a lot of examples, making the book easy to read and understand.

  10. 4 out of 5

    J.C. Pillard

    I love a good book about monsters, and this primer on writing them is no exception. Athans's book does an amazing job walking you through the basics of monster writing, using literary excerpts to illustrate various concepts and foreground discussion of the monstrous in literature. I both read and write a lot of fantasy, so it was fascinating to hear about the differences between genres and their use of monsters. Perhaps my favorite sections of the book were those in which Athans discussed the use I love a good book about monsters, and this primer on writing them is no exception. Athans's book does an amazing job walking you through the basics of monster writing, using literary excerpts to illustrate various concepts and foreground discussion of the monstrous in literature. I both read and write a lot of fantasy, so it was fascinating to hear about the differences between genres and their use of monsters. Perhaps my favorite sections of the book were those in which Athans discussed the use of monsters for purposes other than terrorizing heroes; as allegory or symbols. You may be thinking, why of course monsters are more than monstrous, Julia. Don't you know this after reading Frankenstein far too often? Why yes, of course I do! But I enjoyed seeing how different writers use monsters, and also how you can use the symbol or allegory itself to inform the construction of the monstrous creature. Overall, a solid examination and a good resources for any makers of monsters.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Beck

    Athans has a lot of very good points and ideas, writing about monsters is something I have always liked and he does a very job providing basic information. Beginning writers who have never taken a creative writing workshop could use this book to great influence. People who have written a lot, and have had classes about the subject will find some of the information repetitive. Though one thing Athans does really well is providing awesome examples of other writers doing what he is talking about. A Athans has a lot of very good points and ideas, writing about monsters is something I have always liked and he does a very job providing basic information. Beginning writers who have never taken a creative writing workshop could use this book to great influence. People who have written a lot, and have had classes about the subject will find some of the information repetitive. Though one thing Athans does really well is providing awesome examples of other writers doing what he is talking about. Also, the Monster Creation Form in the front of the book is completely worth the price in itself. The form definitely gets a writer thinking about understanding everything about your monster, even of some or most of the information doesn't make it on to the actual pages.

  12. 5 out of 5

    A.M. Bochnak

    This book is a great summary of monsters that have been written in the past. This book offers some good advice and things to think about, but doesn't offer a lot of practical tools to actually write monsters, which is the title of the book. It does give a monster creation worksheet which covers three pages. Hardly the need for a full length book. There are a few do's and don'ts but it's mostly excerpts from other people's work. Not my favorite how to approach and not a tool. This book is a great summary of monsters that have been written in the past. This book offers some good advice and things to think about, but doesn't offer a lot of practical tools to actually write monsters, which is the title of the book. It does give a monster creation worksheet which covers three pages. Hardly the need for a full length book. There are a few do's and don'ts but it's mostly excerpts from other people's work. Not my favorite how to approach and not a tool.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Philip Athans has created a comprehensive tool for the new and experienced writer. Writing Monsters reminds us of tools we're already familiar with and shows us how we can use them to create different effects and monsters. I'll definitely be going back to reference this book as I continue to write. Philip Athans has created a comprehensive tool for the new and experienced writer. Writing Monsters reminds us of tools we're already familiar with and shows us how we can use them to create different effects and monsters. I'll definitely be going back to reference this book as I continue to write.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Scott Haworth

    Very well organized and well argued. Too much emphasis on HP Lovecraft, a little Lovecraft goes a long way and this was overkill. I got the sense the author came up slightly short on word count so he threw in a Lovecraft vocabulary list. But this will be useful to anyone who wants to write about vampires, zombies, dragons, or anything monstrous and made up.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Martin Christopher

    A solid introduction for newcomers to the field of creating monsters. People with experience in the subject might also find a few interesting new thoughts.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    This was okay. It was more of a workbook, and also seemed like it was written for folks who don't have a strong background in or exposure to literary monsters. This was okay. It was more of a workbook, and also seemed like it was written for folks who don't have a strong background in or exposure to literary monsters.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A useful compendium for anyone who wants to write about things that go bump in the night.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emmanuel

    I purchased Writing Monsters by Philip Athans to help me through a little sticky point in the second draft of my current novel and while it focuses on monsters; it is nonetheless another brilliant book for writers and one I can see going back to over and over. Philip starts by leveling the field and properly defining what a good monster is; what makes them scary, where they come from and how to define them as a monster or a villain (or both). Then he continues by encouraging us to describe their I purchased Writing Monsters by Philip Athans to help me through a little sticky point in the second draft of my current novel and while it focuses on monsters; it is nonetheless another brilliant book for writers and one I can see going back to over and over. Philip starts by leveling the field and properly defining what a good monster is; what makes them scary, where they come from and how to define them as a monster or a villain (or both). Then he continues by encouraging us to describe their attributes, digging deep into creating three-dimensional creatures with skill descriptions that resemble a Dungeon & Dragons scoring system. I really enjoyed printing the monster creation form and going through each question to develop (or re-develop) the main villain of my story. He proceeds with an amazing section on how to write them properly on the page using the appropriate reveal, leveraging your five senses and some tricks to make them scarier and less cliché (ex.: don’t use vampires, werewolves or write them in a whole new perspective). And if that wasn’t enough, in the appendices you have tons of resources to continue your journey on monster writing. These sections include novel and movie references, and even a style guide to help you write better monsters on the page. I cherished the never-ending stream of examples from popular monsters in movies or novels such as Alien, Jaws and HP Lovecraft novels; which were used to solidify arguments made and strengthen their practice (ex.: Isolate your characters for some alone time with your monsters - Cabin in the woods like). I especially enjoyed learning some historical tidbits, for example, I didn’t know Zombies originated from Haitian folklore. In fact, it was where George Romero, in Night of the living dead, got his idea of the modern zombie from — the living dead as we know it today. There is a lot to think about in Writing Monsters when creating your next Cthulhu or Xenomorph, and it’ll benefit everyone with producing original, well-developed monsters and how to properly introduce them into your story. I highly recommend this book to any writers of the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Hirsch

    Not only is it difficult to do something new with such familiar monsters as the werewolf, the vampire, or the zombie, but even the analysis of these outre beings is getting to be old hat. Do you need another armchair Freudian to explain to you what childbirth has to do with the chest-burster in "Alien" or the link between the vampire and eroticism? Stephen King covered this ground pretty well in "Danse Macabre," a comprehensive and accessible study of the history and meaning of the horror genre Not only is it difficult to do something new with such familiar monsters as the werewolf, the vampire, or the zombie, but even the analysis of these outre beings is getting to be old hat. Do you need another armchair Freudian to explain to you what childbirth has to do with the chest-burster in "Alien" or the link between the vampire and eroticism? Stephen King covered this ground pretty well in "Danse Macabre," a comprehensive and accessible study of the history and meaning of the horror genre and how artists use that genre to explain and cope with the horrors that cannot be contained on the page or the screen. "Writing Monsters" is an excellent book due less to novel psychological insights than on account of the practical information on offer, and the wide range of opinions given in the pages of the book from a bunch of different practitioners in the field. The book raises some interesting questions about the differences between monsters and villains relating to sentience and intent, and also deals with where the definition between monster and animal starts to blur. The author's insight here: that our inability to identify something, even if it's mundane, might make an animal a monster until we can manage to get it where we can see it. The difference between the Leviathan of the Bible and a Baleen whale probably didn't matter a heck of a lot to anyone who found themselves on the open waters in a small craft a couple centuries before Linnaeus got his taxonomic groove on. Examples of successful monsters cited in the book are well-picked and diverse, ranging from the "baby" in "Eraserhead" to literal natural disasters. There are no photos or illustrations, but since this book is about using your imagination, the omission is an apt and welcome one. A story by the great eldritch titan Howard Phillips Lovecraft is included at the tail end of the book, followed by several resource-rich appendices. Recommended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joy Pixley

    This is a wonderful book about how to think about and develop the monsters for your science fiction, fantasy, or horror stories. There are countless books out there that list and describe monsters. This is much more useful, because it talks about monsters conceptually – what role do the monsters play in your story and what specifically makes them scary and dangerous? The last section is also very useful, as it deals with how to introduce and describe your monsters for maximum impact. Athans uses This is a wonderful book about how to think about and develop the monsters for your science fiction, fantasy, or horror stories. There are countless books out there that list and describe monsters. This is much more useful, because it talks about monsters conceptually – what role do the monsters play in your story and what specifically makes them scary and dangerous? The last section is also very useful, as it deals with how to introduce and describe your monsters for maximum impact. Athans uses a wide range of examples to help illustrate the issues, from Alien to Jaws to scary little creepy crawlies, with a great deal of Lovecraft in between. I appreciated the variety: not just the lone huge monster (like Godzilla) but packs of monsters, swarms of insects and tiny invasive species monsters, and monsters that are agents of the antagonist (think: the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys). This book got me to think about the monsters in my world at a deeper level, and inspired ideas for monsters that I hadn't imagined. I'll keep going back to this book over and over as I think up new monsters for future stories. I highly recommend this to any SFFH writer!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Writing Monsters is an amazing tool for those looking to craft monsters. There really isn't much else to say about it. You get introduced to the Monster Creation Form, which is a great way to build a monster and then use as you are writing your story. Then the majority of the book takes you through the form, with lots of examples. It is a little heavy on HP Lovecraft, which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint of his writing. But, there are plenty of other examples to see how other aut Writing Monsters is an amazing tool for those looking to craft monsters. There really isn't much else to say about it. You get introduced to the Monster Creation Form, which is a great way to build a monster and then use as you are writing your story. Then the majority of the book takes you through the form, with lots of examples. It is a little heavy on HP Lovecraft, which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint of his writing. But, there are plenty of other examples to see how other authors have created memorable monsters in their stories. It's definitely worth picking up and having on your desk as you write, just to use as reference if you get lost in your story, or are not sure if what you are doing is working.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Moroni Loveridge

    Writing Monsters helped improve my techniques as a fantasy writer, and gave me more insight on what monsters actually are. Philip Athans definitely brought together a fantastic book compiling tons of other author's works together as examples and guides. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in placing a monster or such likeness anywhere in a manuscript, fantastic information and wonderful thoughts and suggestions. Writing Monsters helped improve my techniques as a fantasy writer, and gave me more insight on what monsters actually are. Philip Athans definitely brought together a fantastic book compiling tons of other author's works together as examples and guides. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in placing a monster or such likeness anywhere in a manuscript, fantastic information and wonderful thoughts and suggestions.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Deck

    Absolutely useful and inspirational for those of us who like to incorporate horrible beasties into our stories, drawing lessons and techniques from various media and a number of masterful storytellers. The author perhaps leans too heavily on Lovecraft throughout, but old Howard’s influences on the art of monster-making cannot be denied. Thanks to my friend, the skillful author K.M. Doherty, for recommending this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jorge Villarruel

    This book is not supposed to be of great help for those experienced writers out there. You're not supposed to need any help altogether. This book is for those writers who accept the don't know everything there is to know, those who aknowledge they sometimes need a little help to put an idea to work. This book is not supposed to be of great help for those experienced writers out there. You're not supposed to need any help altogether. This book is for those writers who accept the don't know everything there is to know, those who aknowledge they sometimes need a little help to put an idea to work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shyla Colt

    This is a fantastic look at monsters. What they are, where they come from, why they belong in your book. It really makes you stop and iron out the details of not only your monster but the universe you decide to put them in. I highly recommend this as reading before you plot. It really enriches the development process.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    I liked this book. It was exactly what I was looking for - something to breakdown how to write about monsters in a believable manner. Lots of helpful hints on how to create a monster for whatever story you might want to tell. I thought the author went a little over the top with all the references to and quotes from Lovecraft, but it didn't turn me away from the book. I liked this book. It was exactly what I was looking for - something to breakdown how to write about monsters in a believable manner. Lots of helpful hints on how to create a monster for whatever story you might want to tell. I thought the author went a little over the top with all the references to and quotes from Lovecraft, but it didn't turn me away from the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    JB

    A very useful workbook to help writers craft consistent and deliberate monsters. Even as a TTRPG player, I found the "stat your monster" section a bit lacking context or why that helps, but many observations and questions as to why the creatures that scare us, scare us, have been helpful in the work I'm writing now! I'm sure I'll return to this one. A very useful workbook to help writers craft consistent and deliberate monsters. Even as a TTRPG player, I found the "stat your monster" section a bit lacking context or why that helps, but many observations and questions as to why the creatures that scare us, scare us, have been helpful in the work I'm writing now! I'm sure I'll return to this one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Great starter for creature building Great advice on how to build your monsters, even if they are the same vampire or werewolves of yore. There's a lot to develop beyond the scope of how scary it is, and this book will help you figure out the why. Great starter for creature building Great advice on how to build your monsters, even if they are the same vampire or werewolves of yore. There's a lot to develop beyond the scope of how scary it is, and this book will help you figure out the why.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Every horror, fantasy, and sci-fi writer should have this in their library. Athans has compiled some awesome information in crafting monsters who are believable and scary. I can’t wait to use what I learned in this book to create my own!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This book helped me to think about monsters in different ways. Some of it is practical advice (an unseen monster is always scarier) and some of it was based upon the significance of monsters to our culture.

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