rip 1 my own unnatural creature 1


Noël Carroll’s essay, The Nature of Horror, explains in some detail the essential traits of an art-horror monster:

  • it’s an extraordinary being in an otherwise ordinary world;
  • it is both threatening (legitimately dangerous) and impure (physically revolting, inspiring disgust);
  • it is categorically interstitial, contradictory, or incomplete.

The art-horror monster must be extraordinary so that it has the capacity to inspire terror and loathing. It should exist in a world posited as ordinary (though that can be tricky sometimes) so that the “I-as-audience-member” has the opportunity to understand the monster as something at least possible — and imminently analogous to something real and threatening — in their own understanding of reality. Remember that these characteristics enable a particular kind of reading by playing on expectations.

One of the fundamental approaches toward creating a character that is both threatening and impure is to imagine a thing that crosses categories or which fails to fall completely into any particular category: the living-dead; creatures that are polymorphic, able or required to occupy more than one, stable form (werewolves, vampires, Jekyll & Hyde); entities that are incomplete, such as a floating eye, or disembodied hand. Categorical mash-ups, oppositions, and leave-outs are the horror-writer’s stock-in-trade.

Horror stories, including horror monsters, are largely symbolic. Sometimes metaphors in horror are straightforward and easy to decode and sometimes they’re more sophisticated and can obtain multiple valid readings. Still, in art-horror it’s generally helpful to think of the monster as a metaphor for more mundane dreads and anxieties.


This week, I’d like you to consider your inner unnatural creature. Were you by some unfortunate turn of fate transformed into a beast that symbolically represented your greatest strengths and weaknesses, what would that monster be?

For the purpose of this exercise, avoid horror’s usual suspects, especially vampires which, in recent years, have become frequently unrecognizable as monsters and even sometimes appear to be a subtype of elf.

Instead, imagine yourself as some thing that grossly exaggerates your greatest abilities and which has as fatal flaws vulnerabilities that are metaphors for what you think of as a deficit in your own character or person. Describe this creature in detail, but do not connect the dots for your reader — don’t explicitly call out the symbolic references. Instead try to give some clues, based on your creature’s appearance or the function of its abilities or weaknesses, that help the reader to understand what those traits should refer to. As you do this, you yourself are creating a reading or an argument for what that monster is.

Get detailed. Does your creature manifest a grotesque anatomical alteration as a response to anger or hunger? Does your creature lack something that it must feed on? Could that thing, whatever it is, be itself a symbol for something else? Does your creature live in fear of something that it always must watch for? Does it howl in pain because of some loss or longing? Does it hide in plain sight, assuming a shape that allows it to move freely among others? Is it solely nocturnal? Does it eat brains? Must it cook them first or does it prefer a raw preparation? Go wild. Have fun. Just make sure, as much as possible, that every part of your description is necessary, either to understanding the monster’s symbolic significance, or as direct consequences of its extraordinary traits.

Don’t forget to include how your creature preys upon its victims. No cute monsters. No fuzzy growlers that ferociously nuzzle a victims’ ankles. That would be a dog, and a pretty sweet dog at that. Stick to horror, and that means threatening and impure. The monstrous version of yourself should gross people out, or at least have the potential to give a shudder.

Finally, remember that one of the primary points of the very best horror is to entertain, and not simply to shock the audience. Great horror can be shocking, but delivering a shock for its own sake is an easy (and most often lazy) thing to do, and we want to write something that has the ability to invite an audience’s interest on the basis of relevance and a legitimate, valid context.


  • You may describe your creature, but if you wish you can write that description as part of a scene. Either way, be creative, and try to get into the mood.
  • 350 words, minimum.…

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