Michaeline: The Monster’s Transformational Power

Snake-haired lady dressing her hair, while Egyptians look on.

Medusa captures many different transformations of a monster: she was transformed, she transformed others, and according to mythology, she transformed the future of a young hero. She was neither good nor bad. She just was, and paid a price for it. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most frightening, yet thought-provoking, monsters around is the shifter. I’m not just talking about shapeshifters, like were-beasts and mermaids, but also the human monsters who shift their personalities, turning into something they weren’t a few minutes ago.

Perhaps it’s frightening because it can seem awfully close to growth, which is a good thing. But often these personality shifts can fall into an uncanny valley, where we see change, but it’s not quite a character arc. The change may seem too easy, and perhaps it’s scariest when the change happens in blink of an eye – going from calm to rage back to a seeming calm. It’s unexpected and unpredictable.

Horror films often take advantage of the shock that happens when we see a visual explosion of physical change – just think of aliens exploding out of abdomens, or the sudden growth of fangs and claws when the human transforms into a werewolf.

Thrillers take advantage of that more subtle but equally drastic inner change. The physical manifestations of the inner monster may include things being thrown across the room, a sudden change in color, a silence that comes out of nowhere. For the human, change is slow and hard and long-lasting. For a monster, it is sudden, easy, and not always permanent.

Perhaps it goes back to the old idea of finding a balance, or a middle way. No change at all is boring and very hard to write about. Enough change is the ideal. Sudden change is a bit of a trick on the readers, but it’s a very effective trick – and let’s face it, we’ve all known at least one person who is erratic and unpredictable. If fiction is supposed to reflect real life, then I think a sudden change can be realistic. It can go overboard, though – if you change things too much, too rapidly, without a proper foundation, then the reader will toss your book aside.

Monsters, whether human or not, can be a good way to convey change. They can encapsulate the rapidity of societal change (look at Frankenstein). Monsters can highlight the changes that anger brings, like the Incredible Hulk. They can wreak changes in human, just as a Medusa or a basilisk turn unlucky people into stone. And I do want to emphasize that while change is unsettling, it can be for good, or it can be for bad – even in the hand of monsters. I think the Addams family did a lot to promote the acceptance of “weirdos” – the TV show may have been riding the zeitgeist or leading it, but by the time I was watching it as a kid in afternoon re-runs, the idea that monsters could be friendly (just different) was an accepted notion. That was a huge transformation, in and of itself. Something to think about, when I am writing this week.

For more monster thoughts from this month, you can check out the following:

Michaeline: General Monsters (October 1, 2016) link

Michaeline: Monsters and Revenge (October 8, 2016) link

3 thoughts on “Michaeline: The Monster’s Transformational Power

  1. Kay and I went to an excellent talk last RWA called something like “Villains, Deviants and Serial Killers.” One of the speakers was romantic suspense author Karen Rose, and she said that in real life, the most successful monsters wear a pretty face. They are often attractive, persuasive and incredibly hard to unmask, because if they showed the world who they truly were, the game would be up.

    • Oh, that’s a good point! In fiction, we don’t tend to like unmasked monsters. We want less ambiguity and in a lot of genres, justice and karma are really, really important. We want to believe they all slip up and eventually live terrible lives if they are not just monsters but bad — as a warning to others? As a warning to ourselves? I’m not quite sure.

  2. Pingback: Michaeline: What I’ve Learned About Monsters – Eight Ladies Writing

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