making monsters meaningful

In Lonely Lands, my next novel, is a modern-day fantasy/horror piece, so–of course–it will have monsters.  I’ve loved monsters since I was kid back in Phoenix, AZ: one of the local TV stations would broadcast old monster movies (Godzilla, Rodan, Reptilicus, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon) on Saturday mornings, and I was an avid viewer (in addition to the usual cartoons, too).



But what might have been scary back in the 1950’s certainly isn’t so now.  For monsters to scare people (be they movie viewers or book readers), they need to be meaningful.  They have to affect people on a certain level (or levels).

So how and why are some monsters scary?  Because…

  • We don’t know what they are
  • We don’t know what they’ll do
  • We don’t know what they want
  • They look strange
  • They look gross or ugly
  • They make weird noises
  • They move in weird ways
  • They sort of look like people…but not really
  • They want to hurt us/kill us and we don’t know why
  • They want to hurt us/kill us and we don’t know how to stop them
  • They want to hurt us/kill us and we aren’t expecting that
  • They might be crazy
  • They ARE crazy
  • They’re bigger/stronger/faster than us
  • They make us feel powerless

A common theme from that list is that monsters are the unknown.  I think back on movies that really scared me–Halloween (the original), or Alien–and it was because I didn’t know hardly anything about them: they were new, different, terrifying.  The sequels have killed that: the more you know about a monster, the less scary it is.  Until, it loses all power to frighten.

alienSorry, but you’re just not all that anymore.

So that’s why we have to have new monsters, or old monsters reinterpreted (“fast zombies,” for example, made the walking dead scary again–but they won’t be scary forever).  And so, of course, it will be with In Lonely Lands.

Come back soon, and I’ll talk more about how despite all their seeming variety, monsters only come in two types.


Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  He is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. 

Kenton also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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