At last it can be revealed in all its glory: my upcoming book from Writer’s Digest: Writing Monsters. Picking up where The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction left off, at least in the case of monsters, this book goes much deeper into the what, why, and most importantly how of creating monsters for horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Look for lots of examples, especially from monster master H.P. Lovecraft, and a generous sprinkling of words of wisdom and advice from the likes of Alan Dean Foster, David Drake, and other knowledgeable and talented authors and editors.

Here’s what the cover looks like. I dig it!

Coming in August 2014!

Coming in August 2014!

So how about a little sneak peek?

Can a dragon breathe fire with every breath? Or does it have to recharge in some way? Does it have to eat something to recharge? Dragons are pretend, so I don’t know the answer to those questions. The answer can be anything you like—anything that serves your story—but remember, consistency is king, so if that dragon discharges a torrent of fire eight breaths in row in Chapter Six then can barely manage two in Chapter Twenty, what’s changed?

Likewise if the monster is “really strong,” how strong is “really” strong? If it’s “really smart,” how smart is “really” smart? You don’t have to be exact, but you should be descriptive and clear about these traits, if only for yourself. Is it so intelligent that it qualifies as a villain (or hero) instead? Or if it can fly, how high and how fast can it fly, and does it have limitations? H.P. Lovecraft determined a sort of limit to a monster’s ability to fly in “The Whisperer in Darkness”:

The things come from another planet, being able to live in interstellar space and fly through it on clumsy, powerful wings which have a way of resisting the aether but which are too poor at steering to be of much use in helping them about on earth.

 The creatures can fly well in space, it seems, using their powerful yet clumsy wings, but they seem less apt at flying in Earth’s atmosphere. Again, this is an example of a limitation more than a weakness.

And in the previous example from Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time,” we learn something of the limits of the monster’s senses: “For example, their senses did not include that of sight; their mental world being a strange, non-visual pattern of impressions.” Can your monster see in the dark? Can it smell blood like a shark? Limiting a monster’s senses can give your characters a chance for survival, but apply these limitations carefully and try to balance them with other abilities. Consider the Tyrannosaur in Jurassic Park. It can’t see its victims if they don’t move, but can it smell them? Can it hear them? Your monster may possess some, none, or all of the five senses and/or some other sense entirely. Some animals like bats and whales have natural sonar. A shark’s lateral line can detect electrical impulses in water. It’s hard for us to imagine what that might feel like, but no one ever said writing monster was going to be easy!

 This one was a blast to write—I loves me them there monsters!


—Philip Athans



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Michael A. Espinoza says:

    So excited for this book! I really want to read it, along with its predecessor. Unfortunately, being blind, I depend on all my books being available on an accessible book site, so hopefully the powers that be will have your books available there that I might one day enjoy them. In the meantime, I am really loving your blog.

  2. grfrazier says:

    Congrats on the new book. I’m sure it will be received well by those in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi community.

  3. Candy Korman says:

    Looking forward to the book!

  4. Salamander says:

    I loved The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction and even had it signed by R.A. Salvatore. I look forward to getting your own signature as well. Even more so, I look forward to the release of your new book, especially since I often times have difficulty coming up with plausible monsters.

    I can assure you that I’ll be purchasing this guide as soon as it is released and I’ll even be getting a nice 30% discount on top of it. Working in a bookstore has it’s advantages.

  5. This book looks really cool. Ok, that was my fandom reaction. Now for the serious writer in me…this book looks really cool.

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