This is a continuation of previous blogs I did about creating enemies.
To start, let's look at some of the most conventional/accepted meanings of the word monster in English. Thank you Dictionary.Com
- A legendary animal combining features of animal and human form or having the forms of various animals in combination. Example, Centaur, Griffon Sphinx
- Any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.
- Any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.
- A person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc.
- Any animal or thing huge in size.
- Anything unnatural or monstrous.
Interesting thing, the word monster, I recently learned it came from the same root word as demonstra, Monstre, which in Latin means 'to warn/teach' (I'm not sure which).
What does it all mean?
Now let's look at the Japanese word for monster, Kaiju, coming from the words Kai, meaning strange and Ju, meaning beast, strange beast. That seems to encapsulate most of the definitions I listed above, in a rather vague way. So let's ask a question, what makes a Kaiju, a...well a monster?
Rules of Kaiju
Now, not all Kaiju are Godzilla size terrors, those are a subcategory that is often used interchangable with the word Kaiju, which is Daikaiju, Dai meaning great or big, basically big monster, which we translate to mean giant monsters.
Now, not all Kaiju follow the same category, Kaiju can be split into three main types of Kaiju.
- Kaiju: Basically a monster, they don't have to be massive, but they are an animal, and they don't play by normal animal rules (abilities), which in some cases is just their existence.
- Kaijin: Human like/sized/shaped terrors, or creatures. While not always sentient, in most cases they are, there is also Seijin (sentient aliens), which often fall into this category, but not always. The name means 'strange person/people', and while it is often used to mean phantom, it can also mean stranger, mutant or someone who is just not normal.
- Daikaiju: Which most of us here use in our fiction. These are kaiju, whose size dwarf humans and often are comparable in mass to a building.
Now all of these, have their own little rules, but for the sake of not righting a book on a single page, let's look at what all of them have in common, the rules of a making a good kaiju.
- They are strange: Now a cat is not a kaiju, unless they stand on their hind legs and can talk. Sometimes the strangeness is just that, sometimes it's their size, and often times it is what makes people afraid of them. People are inherently terrified of the unknown, that is perhaps the oldest and most basic emotion we have, it is why we latch on to familiarity and seem to like being comlacent. Anything that threatens that right, ability for us to be complacent, most often receives our fear and hate.
- They are not easily defeated/stop: What makes a good monster piece, is a monster, that isn't easily defeated, with Daikaiju this translates to 'the military weapons cannot stop them', you know that rule that Godzilla 98 broke and gained condamnation from the Kaiju fandom at large, but I digress. This applies to horror movies, as well, the monster is seemingly invincible except for one or a few weaknesses, often the source of their power, their needed food/fuel. Or something else.
Relevance to plot
Now, all of this is great, and it is at this point one can assume you understand what a Kaiju is, now we are going to talk about plot relevance.
Here we are going to seperate the mediocore monster of the week Kaiju, with the truly great Kaiju, and the main difference is plot relevance.
Now, this doesn't mean that the monster is the central focus of the plot, far from it. A great monster could appear only at the end of the show and still be great.
A kaiju's relevance to a plot, ties back into what I said about the word Monster's root, Monstre, to teach/warn. All the great monsters are metaphors, expressions, encapsulations or examples of a lesson to be learned, or an idea to explore.
Godzilla, at his beginning and his best, was an allegory for Nuclear holocaust, pretty heavy stuff. In GMK he basically represented the past a country was trying to forget.
The wolfman, represented the hidden beast in men's hearts.
Dracula encapsulated evil and temptation.
Biolante, a terribly underused Kaiju, represented the abuse of genetic engineering, what happens when man plays god.
The point is, the best Kaiju, represent something, often something relevant to the moral of the plot, it could be as simple as a simple tragedy in ones past, or as deep (often times pretentious) as 'man's inhumanity towards man'. This often translates, to their powers and origins.
For example, say the moral of the story is mankind's abandonment of traditions and traditional values. Then we have a monster that is supernatural and attacks modern people, because they are destroying historical sites.
With the Labors of Heracles, many of the monsters he faced represented, the fury of nature, or one or more negative aspect of human nature.
The best monsters, the best Kaiju have layers to them, on one level they are an animal, on another they represent something to us the reader and on another, maybe something different to a character in the story.
Now I say all of this, but I do recognize that quality takes time, something not everyone has, that's why we just come up with creatures for our heroes to beat up and little more, most of the time. I just hope that you will create a few more, that are a little bit more mermorable now.