- It’s different from anything we’ve seen before.
- It’s an incongruous synthesis of various creatures, unsettling in themselves.
- It’s shown in great detail.
- It’s abilities, like its appearance, is an incongruous synthesis of various other creatures’ capabilities.
- Its life cycle parodies human reproduction processes.
Writers of horror stories can employ some of these same principles in designing the monsters that are to appear in their narratives. For example, we can use other organisms’ senses to envision how the monster experiences its environment--how it sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches.
Let’s take the lowly housefly, for example. It sees the world very differently than people do. According to “The Compound Eye,” a fly’s eye is compound, consisting of thousands of clusters of photoreceptor cells and pigment cells, complete with lens and cornea, known as ommatidia. In effect, each cluster is a miniature eye. Each eye sends a single "picture element" to the fly’s brain. The fly sees a "mosaic image" made up of "a pattern of light and dark dots like the halftone illustrations" in comic books or "newspaper illustrations." The fly’s eyes are excellent "motion detectors": one after another, in succession, the eyes "turn on and off" as the fly tracks moving objects. The resulting "flicker effect" enables the fly to see moving objects more easily than stationary ones. If your monster has a compound eye, it will see much as the housefly sees. Describing what the monster sees will make it seem strange to your reader, increasing its fright factor.
According to “Amazing Animal Senses,“ bats use their radar sense (echolocation) to locate prey (and obstacles), but they can also discern other animals’ body heat from a distance of 16 centimeters. The same article supplies a wealth of other information about insects' and animals' astonishing senses that can help horror writers create eerie and disturbing monsters. Describing how a monster “sees” heat, probably as patterns of red, orange, yellow, white, and blue or green splotches, will make the creature appear strange to readers and, therefore, more frightening. Butterflies taste with their feet; if your monster does likewise, it will be bizarre and disturbing. Not only do honeybees have compound eyes consisting of 5,500 ommatidia each, but they are also equipped with an iron oxide ring inside their abdomens that enables them to detect magnetic fields, which they use to navigate. Bees also taste with chemo receptors (essentially, taste buds) on their jaws, forelegs, and antennae. If your monster’s vision is sharp enough to see prey at a distance of 15,000 feet, it’s as sharp-eyed as the vulture. Chameleon’s eyes (like those of the seahorse) move independently of one another, allowing the lizard to see in two directions at the same time. Catfish can taste about 100 times better than humans. Spiders don’t just have eight legs; many of them have eight eyes as well, enabling them to see much more than people. We could go on and on, but the point is that nature shows us how to create monstrous monsters: simply describe what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The result will scare readers half to death.
Alternatively, feel free to create monsters that have no parallel in nature, such as Giger’s xenomorph. Scientists (and science fiction and horror writers) have done just this, speculating as to how organisms might have evolved in adaptation to environments very different than Earth’s. As “Alternative biochemistry” points out, some of their speculations replace the life-supporting carbon atom with the silicon atom, the nitrogen atom, the phosphorous atom, or with such surprising elements as arsenic, chlorine, and sulfur, and have posited ammonia, hydrogen fluoride, methanol, and other chemicals as alternative solvents to water, and, as “Extraterrestrial life” observes, within our own solar system, besides Earth, Saturn, Titan, Venus, Jupiter, Europa, and comets have been proposed as potential habitats for alien life forms such as ammonia-based, floating animals and various types of bacterial or microbial life. The National Geographic’s Internet article “Flying Whales, Other Aliens Theorized by Scientists” explains why scientists believe that life is likely on other planets; their concepts include winged, lizard-like “caped stalkers flying through a pagoda forest.” If you want help in creating your monster, you might refer to the SETI Institute’s primer on how to create imaginary extraterrestrial life, “How Might Life Evolve on Other Worlds.” It includes helpful tips and a handy, dandy chart by which to keep track of the creature’s features, including (and these are the actual labels used in the primer):
- Kind of skin
- Number of openings
- Long or other
- Hard parts
- Hard outside parts
- Feeding cells
- Moving around
- Sensing vibrations
- Chemical senses
- Number of eyes
- Plant eater
- Defensive structures
- Poison as a defense
- Defensive behaviors
- Sexual reproduction
Creators can use a dice as a stand-in for nature, fate, or God to determine, for example, body type, shape, dimensions, and features.
Of course, the giant ameba-like monster in The Blob is always a possibility as well. Simple, but effective.