Wednesday, May 15, 2013

M is for... monsters

Oh, but there are monsters in the world! As storytellers, we can talk about monsters, real and imagined, in safer ways, venturing to the edge of the world and back. We can conjure kraken and werewolves and vampires and ghosts, just as easily as we talk about real life monsters.

Whenever I tell a story with a monster in it, I ask myself:

  • Who really is the monster? Imagine how that poor hungry wolf felt, being denied a meal by those greedy pigs. And maybe Goldilocks is really a story about a home invasion. If my monster is the expected villain, I still try to understand them. Are they simply evil? Are they angry? What's going on?
  • What is the monster's point of view? It can be very interesting, exploring the story from the other side. Telling the story from the monster's POV but letting it remain monstrous is an interesting challenge, one worth exploring if you have the time.
  • Where does the monster belong? Maybe my listeners never need to really see the monster, the threat might be enough.
  • When do I want to reveal the monster? And how terrifying is it once revealed? 
  • Does the monster change as the story progresses? Do I want to build sympathy for it or do I want it to remain terrible?
  • And ultimately, why is the monster there? What would happen if I told the story without the monster in it? Would it still get my point across?
When I tell a story with a real-life monster, I may need to do some internal work to make sure I'm ready to tell it. It doesn't help if my fear of my third grade bully is still making me shake. I need to make the bully terrifying, sure, but I also need to make the bully as real for the audience as the fear is. If the monster is a subtle one - say a problem at work or an intractable situation - then I need to make sure I set it carefully in its context.

There are certainly standard monsters - ghosts, goblins, ghoulies, giants, (and other things that don't start with g) etc - but I also sometimes consider if there might be a hidden monster in a story. If I'm telling Demeter's story, is her grief monstrous? Does it drive her to do terrible things? If I think of the grief as its own monstrous character, how does the story change? What if I'm the monster?

We are surrounded by monsters. We often are monsters. As storytellers, we explore the darkness with narrative as our torch. If you know your monsters inside and out your telling will be richer, more believable and your audience will more willingly venture into the unknown, here-there-be-monsters places with you.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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