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Feeding the Monster in Your Story

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Our writing group just completed a read through of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (get more thoughts here http://whatswriteaboutthis.com/what-hooked-me-a-monster-calls-by-patrick-ness-story-inspired-by-siobhan-dowd-who-passed-before-the-completion-of-the-book/. In this award-winning upper middle grade novel, a monster visits a boy in his dreams (or is it?) to deal with a profound problem.

Whether a novel features real monsters (aka…the villain) or a conflict that functions as a monster to the protagonist, it’s important to understand some of the most complex monsters in literature, and how your own writing or reading group can benefit from understanding what drives them.

Dracula – The sophisticated monster

We all have enjoyed a good James Bond villain. No matter how evil, how sociopathic, there is always something just a little bit charming and erudite that makes this type of “monster” worthy of our heroic opponent. In children and young adult literature, this might qualify as the President Snow (Hunger Games) or other such villains who stay one step of the protagonist, forcing our hero to move out of his or her comfort zone and rise to a higher level.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – The misunderstood monster

Some of the best villains are those for whom we feel a certain empathy. People in bad circumstances can either become better versions of themselves, or react to the unfair situation and let it eat away their soul. In Frankenstein, the monster is rejected by its maker and ostracized for its ugliness. This leads to violence and the murder of innocents. We abhor the monster, even as a sort of forced empathy grows from his struggle. A misunderstood monster who changes for the better might be thought of as Beast in Beauty and the Beast. An excellent YA spinoff for that particular story is Alex Finn’s Beastly.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe insidious monster

Sometimes, you just really want a bad guy. An evil-to-the-bone, maniacal-laughing type of bad guy. Sure, in some cases it might feel a bit “Scooby Doo,” but when you want the audience to really hate someone, then bring on the full out, shameless, laugh-in-your-face-as-he-wields-an-ax bad dude. Timeless villains like Voldemort and Batman’s Joker seem to do the trick here. Sometimes we get a little bit of a melancholy backstory, but usually nothing so significant as to merit the actions of this type of brazen villain.

Of course, these three aren’t the only types of successful villains. So next time you’re reading or working on a manuscript, spend some time thinking about the villain, apart from the protagonist’s goals and objectives. How do you see the antagonist? How does the protagonist see this particular character?

I often find, when I make an attempt to understand where someone is coming from, that a lot more things make sense.

In stories…and in real life. 🙂

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