Monday, March 3, 2014

Choosing the Traits of Traditional Monsters

When you write a story about monsters, legends, and myths, you have to decide whether you’ll use the traditional information or not.

Part of your decision will be determined by the choice of magic or reality.  Are your creatures real in the sense they make scientific sense and follow the rules of the real world, or are they magic based so they can break all the laws of science and the real world?

Another part of your decision is whether you embrace all the “facts” about your creature or not.

Take vampires.  Some of the common folklore traits are

  • They are undead humans.
  • Bright sunlight kills them.
  • A stake made of a specific wood will kill them if it goes through their heart.
  • They prey on humans by drinking their blood.
  • They have fangs.
  • They turn into bats or some other creature.
  • Their reflection can’t be seen in a mirror because they have no soul.

In a reality-based story, some of these facts can be worked with.  Vampirism could be a type of blood virus, for example.

Other facts like shape changing won’t work without some serious fudging of science, and the matter of changing mass must be considered.  If a vampire can change into a bat, the bat must weigh the same as the vampire so the bat would need wings as big as a small plane’s to get off the ground.  

And then there are facts that make no sense whatsoever in the real world or a world with magic.  

If a vampire can’t be seen in a mirror because it doesn’t have a soul, does that mean that your clothes, toothbrush, and the wall behind you in the bathroom mirror have souls?  

I don’t think so, either.  

In defense of those who came up with this silly vampire notion, until the last two centuries, most people didn’t have a mirror, and the mirrors that were around were tiny and blurry.  

If you decide to change any of the important facts about your vampire or other creature, you need to give the reader some reason for your decision.  Your vampire can tell his new ladylove that he’s perfectly capable of walking in the sunlight, and the belief that he can’t has been a standard misinformation campaign by vampires for thousands of years so they can walk among humans without discover and can take prey during the day without the prey being aware of the danger.

Whether you use the traditional traits or not, be sure to think very carefully about them so they make sense within the world you have created for your creatures.

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