It is our pleasure to introduce Zoe Smith-Holladay, a 12 year-old creative writing major at the Denver School of the Arts and a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Zoe is founder & author of kidsanimalstation.com, an animal blog that she started when she was eight. In Spring 2016, Smith-Holladay’s first fictional piece of prose “No Man’s Land” was published in literary magazine Calling Upon Calliope. Her second published work, “Ode to James Baldwin,” appeared in African Voices, http://africanvoices.com/avblog/ode-to-james-baldwin/
Her favorite genres to read and write are historical fiction, comedy, and fantasy. When she grows up, she wants to be a geneticist and would like to find a way to combine her passion for creative writing and science.
The following book review was published on her blog on January 15, 2017. We are reprinting it here with Zoe's and her mother's permission.
Writing Monsters By Philip Athans
Book Reviewed by Zoe Smith-Holladay
Recently, I read a book called Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans, a head-to-toe guide on how to write monsters and creatures in stories. As a lot of my constant readers know, I love to write, and it ended up being a very helpful book for the novel I’m working on. Everyone can think of at least one monster from classic fiction; creatures such as Frankenstein and zombies come to mind. Many writers have tried (and failed) to create the next great, popular monster, and this is a helpful guide to do exactly that. In this review, I’ll go into more detail, telling you things this book is good for, and some things you will learn about without spoiling it completely. You may be wondering what this has to do with animals, but what is and what isn’t a monster is in the eye of the beholder, just ask all those who read Cujo by Stephen King.
Useful Structural Features
There are a few features of this book that make it particularly appealing to anyone trying to create a good monster. For one, it had a ‘monster creation form’ at the front of it, that you can fill out as you go. This monster creation form is helpful for thinking about your own monster, and can answer some really difficult questions, or raise some that you hadn’t even thought of. I was having immense trouble creating my monster until I filled out this form. Another feature is that it has examples of monster creations from writers such as Frank Herbert and H.P. Lovecraft. “Learn from the best,” that’s what they say, and, in this book, you can do just that! Writing Monsters also has little side features about things such as monster archetypes, like the werewolf and the alien, and blurbs about monsters that exist in real life, like sharks. These features make the book more entertaining and thought-provoking for the reader.
This book also offers up a very interesting perspective. While it is indeed a non-fiction book about how to write, it isn’t all just writing facts, it also talks about what monsters and their creation really mean, and where, in our minds, monsters actually come from. There are a lot of spots in the book that will make you ponder about your monster and what it says about not only humanity, but you yourself. It’s funny to think about how some of our most well-known monsters reflect on humanity, not only in the story itself, but in real life. For example, I never thought about how Zombie books are more about the people and their response to them than it is about the Zombies themselves (although eating brains is pretty gnarly). Another example of monster movies saying something about humanity is the fact that there are lots of monster books and movies with monsters that are actually human, such as The Shining and Friday the 13th (not that I’ve seen any of those movies).
I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’re going old school with the photos.
Throughout the book, you are constantly bombarded with questions about what your creature is, what motivates them, and their abilities. It’s really thought provoking for a budding author to read because it makes you question what you are writing about. Some parts of the book tackle subjects that you may have not even thought about in your writing. For example, it helped me realize what my monster symbolized for my main character. (no spoilers, you are gonna have to read my book!) As expected, there are some parts that are run-of-the-mill writing advice classics, such as “show don’t tell”, and “use all the senses,” but, in the end, you come away with lots of new insights. In addition, the insights are not only about your characters and the monsters themselves, but what you want them to be, and what you want them to reflect about your story. You also get to think about what you want your readers to feel when they read your book — whether you want it to capture the specific reader’s darkest fears, or something broader that everyone can relate to being afraid of.
All in all, this is an excellent read, not only for entertainment, but if you’re searching for a good how-to guide for writing about monsters. If you want a link to buy the book, here’s that: Writing Monsters on Amazon. I haven’t been able to find any book like it. It is surely a good book, overall.