The best stories in the cosmic horror genre feature creatures from beyond the stars, from beyond the edges of consciousness. These creatures feature body plans unlike anything on earth, so much so that just looking at them is enough to drive somebody mad. Their minds are equally discombobulating, and their values, wants, and dreams are truly alien to us.
Or at least that is how we as writers hope them to be. Creating something that is truly inscrutable is difficult to do, but it all comes down to how much information is given to the audience. If the creature’s motivations are truly unknowable, then what we do know about them and what they’re trying to do in the story should help tell the story that you’re going for. Let’s take a look at a few ways to balance your eldritch horror between being confusing and being alien.
What Is Their Purpose in the Story?
It can be helpful to start by thinking about what the purpose of the creature is in your story. Is it an ally or an obstacle for your character? Is it both?
The story likely will revolve around the protagonist interacting with the creature, or avoiding it, or coming to realize just what it is. The creature is a mystery to be unraveled by the audience bit by bit.
Gather the important information that your audience should know. You really only need two basic things:
- A physical description
- What it is doing
Even these you can fudge a little. Something that is truly incomprehensible may be beyond physical description, but you can use how your protagonist feels about it to build the scene for the audience. Brief flashes of physical attributes, fangs, eyes, claws, tentacles, can help build a monster in the mind’s eye of your audience.
What it is doing is probably the most important. What physical actions is it taking? Eating a brain? Mind controlling a flock of birds? These things are especially important to your audience’s comprehension of the story. They can also serve to show the personality and character of the being through what actions they choose to do or how they choose to go about them.
How Does Their Presence Affect the Protagonist?
If we cannot see the monster, then we can at least see how they are reflected in the protagonist. The actions the protagonist takes to avoid the monster, or how the protagonist feels when they see the monster can inform as much as describing the monster itself.
What does their presence change in the protagonist? Do they find the strength to turn and face it, or do they keep running terrified that they will be caught and eaten? How must the protagonist change in order to overcome the obstacle that the monster presents?
If the protagonist cannot overcome it and is doomed to be destroyed by them, how do they fight to stay alive despite the overwhelming odds? Use the monster as an opportunity to reveal character.
What do they want?
This question is important for you to know at the very least. Living creatures have basic needs, food, water, and shelter. Cosmic beings may have similar basic needs that must be met, but they may be things that are ephemeral to us, like starlight, prayers, or just organic matter of any kind. They may not need them to survive, but perhaps with enough of it, they can open a portal to have more of their kind join them, or reforge themselves, or ascend to godhood.
As the writer, determine what the motivation is for your creature, why they are there. It can be as simple as a need to feed, or as complex as revenge and a burning hatred for things they cannot control.
These motivations need not be revealed to the audience, but they can serve to give a better cohesion to the story, and a sense of directed intelligence to your monsters.
What about you? What are some of your favorite monsters from the horror genre? What do you think I missed in this article? Comment down below.