Turning fear into inspiration

After Within's release people asked me what inspired some of the new creatures I created for the book. Simply put, I craved something new. I also figured that if I had grown weary of the same old monsters, ie: dragons, orcs, etc, that others had as well. One creature was particularly inspired however, as it drew on some of my own personal fears. When I first wrote Dombrangr into Within, it was a much different story, with a different title. I created a character that represented something personal, but possessed very little in unique, or well defined qualities. He was rather ambiguous, little more than a literary smudge yet to take proper shape. Much like the book as a whole actually. At one point, I forced myself to stop writing. I gave what I had written to a friend, and asked for an honest critique. His valuable feedback helped to narrow my focus, while broadening my vision of the story at the same time. At that point I sat down and wrote what would eventually become the first 5 chapters of the book. If you have read the book already, you know that it follows 3 siblings, Eisa, Luca, and Hunter as they venture into the wilds. The monster that I introduce in this segment of the story, or Dombrangr, as he is referred in the old tongue, is a more personalized vision of my own childhood nightmare.

When I was young, I watched the Ridley Scott masterpiece, Alien. Now when I say that I was young, I was perhaps a bit too young, but that fact alone didn't hold me back. The xenomorph in Alien terrified me, and for good reason. It is a chest-bursting, acid blooded, skull-piercing proboscis wielding nasty with a hunter/super-predator mentality. It was single minded, brutal, and horribly efficient at what it did. It inspired Ash, the crew's synthetic to label it the "perfect organism." To me, the alien represented terror, and by terror, I mean that thing that resides somewhere between our waking consciousness and the foggy realm of our dreams. Something both believable, and unbelievable, that regardless of our age or maturity, still frightens us. Objects of terror grow with us. It may be an irrational, emotional response, but it is one that we do not always have control over, no matter how hard we try and best it. So the alien became a thing of both fascination and fear.

For me, the alien represented a departure from the idea of mindless beasts, and instead depicted a creature that was both savage, and calculating. I had nightmares of the creature from Alien for many years, because it represented something that I couldn't simply hide from. Its nature played on my fear of helplessness, no, worse, of being hunted. It became the primary inspiration for the first monster I created. Dombrang may not resemble the hive - worker, horror as HR Giger's science fiction mainstay was, but instead was created with that blend of cunning and brutality which made the alien so terrifying. I wanted to create a monster that readers could visualize stalking, hunting, and plotting in the nooks and crannies we are only too willing, or desperate to avoid. One which would consider, instead of just react, making it less animal and more individual. But also a creature which is driven by purpose, and in its own way, reason. Talk about adding depth to a monster. This is a beast that forces us to consider the intelligence, and sometimes complicated motivations in play behind the savagery. Although I can't speak for everyone, but when something possessing the tools to kill efficiently is also equipped to comprehend and problem solve, that makes for a pretty frightening combination. With all of the above in mind, I thought I would share how I originally pitched Dombrangr.

Imagine coming face to face with a four armed creature roughly the shape and dimensions of a 600 lb silverback gorilla. It has the elongated head of a reptile, with the toothy maw of a crocodile. It is staring at you, or at least you think it is, because it has no discernible pupils. Its flesh changes in the dark, camouflaging it with the shadows. And its eyes glow. It doesn’t kill you, but revels in the opportunity to showcase its lethal nature. You curse its savagery, and it mocks you, parroting back your words. You suddenly feel very small. Like a mouse, trapped by a very bored cat.
He is slightly more cute and cuddly, and somewhat less "insect" than the xenomorph in  Alien . But he is still not something that I would want stalking me through a dark building!

He is slightly more cute and cuddly, and somewhat less "insect" than the xenomorph in Alien. But he is still not something that I would want stalking me through a dark building!

I had nothing to go on but my mental sketchbook, but when concept artist Suzanne Helmigh sent back the preliminary artwork, I felt like a parent holding a child for the first time (in a macabre kind of way). With that said, I won't be hanging any Dombrangr posters above my bed anytime soon.

And there you have it. My original moment of inspiration, my pitch, the artists realization, and the final product. It really is amazing how the creative process works. Now you know what inspired my  monster, well at least one of them, I haven't written the post about the bardaqs, gnarls, or death fishers yet. Those are still to come!

What monster of fiction or film frightens you most, and why?  Also, if you have, or would like to write your own fantasy or science fiction story, where would you look for inspiration when creating your own monster?  

Thanks for reading.