Creatures in Horror: From the Weekly World News’ Batboy to Phosphorescent Alien Goop
By Betty Rocksteady
My first introduction to horrific creatures was in The Weekly World News, that tabloid magazine from the 80s and 90s featuring weirdo cryptids and Fortean phenomenon. My papa always referred to the mag as just “the news,” so as a kid I was convinced all these creatures were completely real. Actually, I’m still notcompletelyconvinced that those strange beings don’t lurk in hidden corners of the earth.
There are a few distinct types of creatures that tend to pop up in genre fiction and I think they all highlight different fears. Secret earthly beings that man just hasn’t stumbled across yet, or ones that are only rumored to exist; like giant alligators or cryptids like Mothman. Then you have science experiments gone wrong, turning what was once a man or another animal into something changed beyond all belief! And of course, my personal favorite is supernatural creatures and/or alien beings. You can really delve into creative madness when you’re working on something horrifying and new.
What all the types of creatures have in common is they let us explore beyond the veil of everyday life. The effects of the being itself are one thing – maybe it’s a hulking cannibalistic man/hippo hybrid or maybe it’s a pile of snail goop in your backyard that gained sentience, or maybe the sky peels back to reveal glistening meat and we’ve all been trapped in the belly of some beast for centuries. What all these monsters really do is change our view of the world. Even once the creature is vanquished (if it can be), how on earth do you go back to your regular life now that you know that some trees have branches that pluck the eyes out from the skulls of unattended children? And if that’s possible, what else is?
I use creatures in a lot of my work. The supernatural/horrific effects of a story are the speculative element, and the speculative element is the fun part. Even though the monster is the hook, the driving plot point, it really ends up being the window dressing you use to force your characters to tell their story, to act, to become something. When I wrote my novella, THE WRITHING SKIES, it was jam-packed with a variety of goopy aliens, from tiny glowing bugs with an intense curiosity about pain to a hungry gaping maw in the sky. Describing them and coming up with their appearance and abilities was the highlight of my brainstorming, but their real purpose was to torture my protagonist, feed on her pain, and bring her transformation to light.
When I’m writing creatures (or anything), I do a lot of brainstorming before putting anything to paper. Your monster needs character work too, even if it’s so utterly inhuman its motivations will always be unknown to your character. It still needs to have an effect on them, and if you can tailor that effect to your character’s emotional journey it’s going to elevate the writing to another level.
I like to think about texture a lot – is its flesh runny and sludgy? Sharp and sandpapery? Sensations like texture, smell and taste are often ignored, but can be so successful at evoking a mood in your story.
There’s so many places to take inspiration from and I love seeing brand new monstrosities formed out of the strange dreamspace of writers instead of relying on the same old tropes and monsters we’ve seen over and over. Get weird. Get gross. Get creepy.
About Betty Rocksteady
Betty Rocksteady writes cosmic sex horror, cat mythos, and surreal, claustrophobic nightmares.
Her debut novella Arachnophile was part of Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Author Series 2015. Like Jagged Teeth and The Writhing Skies were released by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. The Writhing Skies was voted Novella of the Year by This Is Horror Awards 2018.
Her collection In Dreams We Rot from Trepidato Publishing is being released October 2019.