October 29 – November 4: “How do you create creepy, but believable characters?”

This week we turn our attention to characters, creepy characters and how to keep them believable. Join ITW Members Vincent Zandri, Brett Talley, M.R. Gott, Michaelbrent Collings, R. Thomas Riley, W.D. Gagliani, Rick Reed, JG Faherty, Douglas Wynne, Ania Ahlborn, John Grover and Christian Riley for this can’t-miss discussion!

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John Grover is a fiction author residing in Massachusetts. He completed a creative writing course at Boston’s Fisher College and is a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. Some of his more recent credits include stories in Best New Werewolf Tales Vol 1 by Books of the Dead Press, The Epitaphs Anthology by The New England Horror Writers, The Northern Haunts Anthology by Shroud Publishing, and The Zombology Series by Library of the Living Dead Press. He is the author several collections including the recently released Creatures and Crypts for Amazon Kindle as well as various chapbooks, anthologies, and more. Please visit his website or his Facebook page.

Vincent Zandri is a photojournalist, world traveler, and the author of more than thirteen books from publishers such as Delacorte Press, Dell, Thomas & Mercer, and more. An Amazon Number 1 International Bestseller, many of his novels have entered into their second and third editions. He also has new novels, novellas, and shorts coming from StoneGate Ink/ StoneHouse Ink, as well as from his own label, Bear Media.

Born in Ciechanów, Poland, Ania Ahlborn is also the author of the supernatural thriller SEED, and is currently working on her third novel. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Mexico, enjoys gourmet cooking, baking, drawing, traveling, movies, and exploring the darkest depths of the human (and sometimes inhuman) condition. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and two dogs.

Brett J. Talley is the Bram Stoker Nominated author of That Which Should Not Be and The Void. A native of the South, Brett received a philosophy and history degree from the University of Alabama before moving to witch-haunted Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. He seeks out the mysterious and the unknown and believes that the light can always triumph over the darkness, no matter how black the night may be.

R. Thomas Riley is the author of the short story collection THE MONSTER WITHIN IDEA (2009-2011) published by Hugo Nominated Apex Publications and re-released as a Kindle exclusive in 2011. IF GOD DOESN’T SHOW (co-written with John Grover) was published by Permuted Press and Audible.com, July 2012. DIAPHANOUS (co-written with Roy C. Booth) is available now. THE DAY LUFBERRY WON IT ALL was adapted to short film by Frosty Moon Omnimedia in 2010.

M.R. Gott, the author of the novel WHERE THE DEAD FEAR TO TREAD which was called ” frantic, horrific, brutal, and without doubt the darkest thing I have read in years. Maybe in my life, by She Never Slept and “one of the most disturbing and atmospheric things I’ve read in a long while,” by Dana Fredsti author of Plague Town. Aside from writing, M.R. enjoys strong coffee, dark beer, red wine, and fading light.

W.D. Gagliani is the author of the horror thriller WOLF’S TRAP (Samhain Publishing), a past Bram Stoker Award nominee, as well as WOLF’S GAMBIT and WOLF’S BLUFF (47North), WOLF’S EDGE (Samhain), the upcoming WOLF’S CUT (Samhain), the hard-noir thriller SAVAGE NIGHTS (Tarkus Press), the collection SHADOWPLAYS, as well as MYSTERIES & MAYHEM (Tarkus Press, w/ David Benton). Gagliani is also the author of various short stories published in many anthologies, plus numerous book reviews, articles, and interviews. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild. He lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Rick R. Reed is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a two-time EPIC eBook Award winner. His work has caught the attention of Unzipped magazine, “The Stephen King of gay horror,”; Lambda Literary, “A writer that doesn’t disappoint,”; and Dark Scribe magazine, “an established brand—perhaps the most reliable contemporary author for thrillers that cross over between the gay fiction market and speculative fiction.” He lives in Seattle. To learn more about Rick and his various titles, please visit his website and his blog.

A lifelong resident of New York’s highly haunted Hudson Valley region, JG Faherty grew up amid Revolutionary War graveyards, haunted roads, and woods filled with ghostly apparitions. His varied professional career includes working as a resume writer, laboratory manager, accident scene photographer, zoo keeper, scientist, and salesman. He began writing fiction in 2001, and his short stories, poetry, and articles- have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.

Michaelbrent Collings is a bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter. His last two horror novels, APPARITION and THE HAUNTED, have spent months on Amazon’s horror and supernatural horror bestseller lists; and BARRICADE, for which he wrote the screenplay, was released on DVD/BluRay throughout North America in September of 2012. He hopes someday to develop superpowers, or at the very least a cool robot arm. You can follow him on Facebook and in so doing you will guarantee your safety when the Glorious Revolution/Zombie Apocalypse/Fall of Western Civilization begins.

With forty story acceptances in less than two years, as well as a recent “Honorable Mention” at L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, Christian Riley sees no end to his addiction to writing. His stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Midwest Literary Magazine, Short Story.Me, Bete Noire, The Absent Willow Review, Underground Voices, Residential Aliens, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and the widely acclaimed anthology from The Horror Zine, A Feast of Frights. You can reach him at chakalives@gmail.com, or at his rather static blog; frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com

Douglas Wynne is no stranger to dark places; he honed his storytelling craft as a frontman in basements and bars during Boston’s 90′s‐era underground rock scene. Originally from Long Island, he attended Berklee College of Music, followed by a stint as a recording engineer in Woodstock, New York before returning to Massachusetts, where he currently resides with his wife and son. THE DEVIL OF ECHO LAKE is his first novel.

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17 Comments
  1. Creepy but believable? The key seems to be right there in the question. For me a villain is only truly creepy when he is presented as a credible and authentic human being I can relate to on some level. Creepy characters need to have cares and concerns outside of just doing evil. More than anything, they need MOTIVE. And the motive should be somewhat justified according to the character’s own value system and backstory.

    When I encounter a bad character who isn’t all bad, it gets under my skin a lot more than a purely malevolent figure. If I can see that the character is capable of enjoying ordinary things like food or music… if, even better, I can see that he is capable of love or compassion within certain narrow parameters, then it can be even more devastating to see the cold hearted ruthlessness beyond those boundaries. That’s what scares me most about real killers, and it’s what scares me in fictional villains because it suggests that we might all have the potential within us to do horrible things coexisting with out better natures.

  2. Ah yes, the creepy villain! We need one badly in horror, don’t we? Reiterating the great point Douglas with which he started us off, our “bad guy” (who can be any gender) needs to be credible, and one way to achieve that is to make him not all evil. Evil people see the world differently (I imagine!) and don’t see themselves as evil. They think they’re right, but their view is skewed. An evil (creepy) character who nevertheless is moved by an animal’s plight, or the state of poverty, or some other issue… this character would gain credibility. And, by extension, would seem all the more evil when switching persona and committing the evil deed(s). However, it can be said that there are times you may want to break that rule. In horror and thrillers, sometimes we want an antagonist so diabolical that there is no visible “good side” to his personality. The serial killer in my novel Wolf’s Trap is one such monster, one who is miswired and who luxuriates in the evils he commits. Although he is a tortured soul nevertheless, he barely ever elicits sympathy. In that novel, I think it works because he needs to be larger than life. In Wolf’s Edge, the antagonist is almost on the level of a Bond villain… definitely a bit stereotypical, but if you’re going for that operatic level, then it may work. Unless you’re aiming for such over the top characters, though, then it’s best to stick to credible. I’ve been known to turn my supposed protagonist into an evil character by the end of a story, so it’s definitely a formula you can play with… as always, you can stick to rules, bend them, or break them — depending on the result you want to achieve. And whether your readers will buy it. It’s best to check with early readers to be sure.

  3. For me, one of the most annoying things that can happen while reading a book or short story (or watching a movie, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms) is getting jarred out of the story because the writer got a simple fact incredibly wrong. It can happen in any genre, and deal with any piece of information, but since this thread is about creating believable monsters, we’re going to deal with biology – primarily, anatomy, physiology, and ecology.

    Let’s face it, you don’t want your book to read like a second-rate SyFy movie, do you? Well, with a little effort and attention to detail, it won’t.

    What kind of detail am I talking about? Here’s a perfect example: Your monster is a 70-foot anaconda who’s been swallowing villagers like M&Ms. The hero faces off against it. It rears up, opens its mouth, and…roars. Or growls. Or bellows. The sound doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the only sound a snake can make is a hiss (okay, they can make a kind of burping noise when vomiting or eating, but I don’t think a writer would use that). A 30-second Google search would turn that up.

    Now, you might be wondering at this point when I’m going to get to teach you the ins and outs of researching monsters – how to utilize anatomy and science to invent something that’s scary, dangerous, and unnatural, yet still believable. Well, the time has come.

    First of all, anyone who intends to write something where they’ll need to talk about local ecology (for example, if you’re lost in the woods, you better not have your character bitten by a rattlesnake in Maine (they have no poisonous snakes there) should have two books on hand: some sort of field guide to North American wildlife, and a field guide to North American plant life. They’re perfect for quick searches when you need a simple fact, like knowing the range of the Timber Rattlesnake, or what the common black bear eats. Sure, you can Google it, but in doing that you can also get bogged down with wrong web pages or get distracted by other information. I save Google for when I need something more specific. Secondly, you need to have your thinking cap on. By that I mean, be aware that you might be writing on a topic of which you don’t know enough to be accurate. Everything else you need is a mouse click away.

    So, let’s build a monster. There are many kinds – werewolves, vampires, aliens, ghosts, zombies, demons, people with psychic powers, robots, ogres – the list goes on as far as your imagination, and beyond. But today we’ll start with something simple: the werewolf. If I wanted to create a werewolf (and I did, for my novel Carnival of Fear), here’s how I’d go about it:

    First of all, we need to decide what type of werewolf we’re talking about. Does it a quadruped or a biped? (Does it walk on four legs or two). If we want our man to turn into a full-blown wolf, we have to think about physics – Conservation of Mass. That means the wolf will need to be the same weight as the human it came from. So, our first search is a simple one: how much do wolves weigh? Type-Click-Google.
    Answer: adult male wolves average 70 to 115 pounds, but can get as large as 150 pounds. Hmm. That means we either have to use a small person, or end up with a big wolf. Having a big wolf is no problem, as long as in your story people are shocked when they see wolves running around that are larger than the average bull mastiff.

    Of course, if we want our wolf to walk on two legs, we eliminate the problem of size, because he can be as tall – or taller – than the man he came from. Why? Well, here is where you need to know what you don’t know, which is why we always look at monster-making as if it’s a scientific experiment.

    What would the anatomy of a bipedal werewolf entail? If you watch movies like The Howling or Underworld, somehow the werewolf manages to retain canine hind legs and grow to twice the size of the man form. This always makes me laugh. Try this at home: Get your dog to stand on its back legs and see how well it can walk. Most can only hop around. A few can take a few steps on their own. They’re certainly not going to chase you that way!

    Anatomy lesson: canine legs are built differently than human legs. The hip, the knee, the ankle – none of them are meant for bipedal walking. So if you want your werewolf to be believable, it can’t have canine legs. Now, you could give it regular old human legs, but how scary is that? A big hairy guy with a wolf head running around? Might as well be Bigfoot. Besides, we want it to be wolfish. That means at least part of the time, it should be on all fours. But humans run on all four limbs about as well as dogs run on two. Try it. Get down on all fours and see how far, and how fast, you can run across the yard or down the hall. Then, after you get the heating pad on your back and the bandage on your head, finish reading this thread.

    But there are animals that can do both. Chimps. Bears. Some lizards. Even alligators. So anatomically and physiologically, we have someplace to start. We can do this.

    In the case of my werewolf, I chose to go with the primate model, for two reasons. First, it works well. Chimps and monkeys are pretty good at running on all fours (quick search: Answers.com tells us a chimp can run as fast as 29 mph, same as a person) and on two legs they’re darn good at fighting. Second, the chimp, like many other animals, is incredibly strong for its size. Unlike humans, the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones of wild animals are constructed to maximize strength. Brute force is a survival necessity. (quick search: why are animals stronger than people?) That’s why a 100 pound chimp can easily win a fight against a much larger human – as long as kicking, biting, and clawing are allowed. And the wolf is a powerful beast at 100 pounds; you can imagine what a man-size wolf would be capable of. Plus, since the animal is stronger than the man, you can have more muscle on a thinner body, which means the werewolf can be taller than its man-form.

    The result? By sticking with science, we end up with a werewolf that’s taller than the average person, able to run just as fast as a human, and is much stronger than a human. Add to that a wolf’s ability to run long distances, and the combination of the wolf and human intellects, and you have a creature that would be devastatingly frightening without defying any of our standard physical or biological tenets. All this by asking ourselves a few simple questions (What would it look like? How would it move?) and doing approximately 10 minutes of internet research.

    Now, obviously the more complex the monster, the more questions you have to take into consideration. The important thing is that you have to be willing to ask the questions and really think about your monster, rather than just being SyFy lazy and saying, “Oh, let’s make the snake roar,” or “Oh, a 30-foot ant is scary, let’s do that, who cares that its physiology is such that it wouldn’t be able to move or breathe.”

    So, the next part of this I guess will be people asking questions about where and how to find complex information or detailed minutia, or maybe just posing examples of monsters so that we can brainstorm how to create a realistic one. Either way, I’m here all week (unless Hurricane Sandy knocks out my power!). Ask away!

  4. No one sees themselves as the bad guy. When I create my villains or antagonists this is the driving thought behind them. The best villains operate out of a self-righteous justification or entitlement. Joffrey from the Song of Ice and Fire series is a prime example of this. The boy feels he is entitled to be King, and because of this belief he is incredibly vile and self-absorbed, yet he would never view his own behavior as anything but noble and justified.
    My novels Where the Dead Fear to Tread and Where the Damned Seek Redemption both involve a fictional cult. It is through the religious beliefs of the members that they see themselves not as the villain, but as chosen by God. Their behavior is righteous, and they are ordained by God to succeed. To oppose them is to oppose God’s will.
    Inspiration or perhaps revulsion for many of my villains stems from my perception of religious extremism as well as them self-absorbed, me first, I’m special culture. When a person views themselves as different or better than others, it becomes easy to justify hostility toward others who are not special by your standard.
    Once a villain has become detached from those around them their behavior will automatically seem creepy and when the reader understands this mindset, it is more believable.
    Think of your favorite villains, I am willing to bet many of them justify their behavior. And when you begin to understand their justifications it gets even scarier.

  5. I wrote my thoughts on this over the weekend and I can see by reading my colleagues’s comments that my ideas on this echo the others. I will go steps further and also mention other elements I think help make a villains believable and creepy at the same time and not just that he or she doesn’t consider themselves a villain but also that their motive is key to their philosophy and the more logical and true to their nature it is, the better!

    I think what helps in crafting a creepy or villainous character is to give them a clear and logical motive for their actions. A character who truly believes that his actions or beliefs are just and for the greater good can be more creepy than a totally insane maniac who tortures or kills randomly. This way you help ground the story and give it direction. Any motive is better than no motive at all.

    Having that character be more like us, motivated by a sense of love or duty or seeking justice for a perceived wrong puts the reader in the character’s mind. It can make them see a little bit of themselves in the character and that can be very creepy in my opinion. After all, there are instances where an evil person does not believe they are evil. In their own mind their actions and beliefs are correcting a wrong or punishing the guilty or seeking to enact vengeance in the name of a lost loved one.

    When you think of a vampire or a werewolf for instance, they do what they do for survival. It’s a basic need for any living thing. No one blames the shark for feeding. These villains do not think they are doing something evil, they’re doing what their nature forces them to do.

    This of course is just one way of developing a believable villain, to remember that they weren’t always evil, that they didn’t think of themselves as evil, their motive was quite clear and sane to them and they have an unwavering belief in it. They are not wrong. Everyone else is.

    Now how they go about carrying out that motive is another story.

  6. The two go hand-in-hand, actually. Concentrate on creating a very believable character, (neighbor Jim down the street wearing gym shorts mowing his lawn), and really hone in on intricate aspects of this guy, highlighting emotions, personal goals, conflicts, drama, tragedy, love loss, etc. Don’t just make this guy believable. Make him someone everybody knows, even loves. And then… tactfully include the seventeen mutilated corpses rotting underneath Jim’s lush, green lawn. It’s no wonder he smiles when cutting the grass.

    Granted, mister serial killer is a well worn cliche. But for good reason. I do a lot of horror, and when it comes to making a character both creepy and believable, the above strategy is my preferred one.

  7. For me, like for Douglas and many others, the answer is in the question. The best characters, the creepiest characters, are the ones who ARE believable. I’m a serial killer fanatic—not in the sense that I root for the bad guy, but in the sense that serial killers, mass murderers, spree killers, and all of the monsters in between are as real as they are terrifying. What makes that kind of a person terrifying isn’t that they sit around in a dank basement plotting their neighbor’s demise, but that they go to the hardware store and smile at the bubbly baby in the cart ahead of them while they wait to pay for their plastic sheeting and electrical tape. Ted Bundy was a witty, charming, disarming guy with a megawatt smile who worked as a bagger in a grocery store and volunteered at a suicide hotline. The fact that he murdered thirty women and cut their heads off to keep as mementos makes him a psychopath; the fact that he was on the honor roll at his university makes him creepy as hell. John Wayne Gacy killed thirty-three teenage boys and young men and buried them in the crawl space of his house, but the reason we remember him was because he dressed up like a clown and showed up at children’s hospitals to entertain sick kids. To make a character both creepy and believable is a balancing act between good and evil. Caricatures throw their heads back and bellow evil laughter and steeple their fingers together in dungeons. Real monsters have childhoods and memories and jobs and car trouble.

  8. I agree with Christian’s thoughts…some of the most creepy villains are the ones we don’t know. How many times have we heard after a mass murdered has been arrested that he was quite, kept to himself, polite, an upstanding member of the community. His friends and neighbors are shocked because he was so nice and charming, a good worker and neighbor.

    It’s those with a monster inside that make them all the more creepy, they could be your neighbor, you friend, your co-worker, the person at the bank window or the checkout clerk. As they say life imitates art or art imitates life…

    On the outside we all seem so normal, so happy, just like one of us…he or she could never do the unthinkable but that is just it. The creepiest villain can be the unthinkable one and what is more believable than someone just like us.

  9. Here’s a quick blurb about creepy but believable characters (partly because so much good stuff has already been said, partly because brevity is the soul of wit, partly because I’m lazy): THEY THINK THEY’RE RIGHT.

    Think about it. The creepiest thing about that Adolf dude wasn’t that he whacked a bunch of people. It was (to me at least) that he whacked them all and was utterly convinced that it was the right thing to do.

    One of the creepiest characters I’ve read is Enoch Cain, Jr., the sociopath baddie from Koontz’s From the Corner of His Eye. And what gets me isn’t the awfulness that he perpetrates, it’s the continuing delusion that he is doing the right – the ONLY – thing.

    Similarly, in my most recent bestselling horror novel APPARITION, one of the “bad guys” is the father of the two children in peril. And he is also the only one who can protect them. This dichotomy is much scarier than just having them run through some endless corridor while a machete-wielding nutjob waits for them to trip on a convenient root (why there are roots in the corridor, I don’t know – I didn’t WRITE that book, so don’t ask me).

    So, to make a long story, er, somewhat shorter… creepy and real characters never believe they are creepy. And they believe that theirs is the ONLY reality worth fighting – or dying (always with someone else doing the dying) – for.

  10. You create creepy characters by making them human. Normal, even.

    The axe murderer I write about in the upcoming Thomas & Mercer thriller, Murder by Moonlight, is a genuinely nice guy. The type of young man you would hang out with in college. He jogs, likes to sneak some cigs on occasion. He likes to have a few beers with his buddies. Maybe go off on his own and indulge in a Snickers bar or two. He even works at a vet clinic helping taking care of sick pets. His parents love him. His neighbors love him. His teachers and boss think he’s dependable, conscientious, and has the whole world in the palm of his hand. He dresses nicely, conservatively, and is neat in appearance, but not compulsively so. And get this: he’s an Eagle Scout.

    It just so happens, the young man also is psychotic. He has no regard for human life or its value. He looks at human death/murder with no more emotion or sentimentality than he does when he steps on a spider or a cockroach inside his kitchen. And when he takes an axe to his parent’s heads while they lie asleep at night, he doesn’t feel sick with rage. Instead he feels as though he is rationally playing out a means to an end (in this case, he will inherit a couple of million dollars upon his parent’s sudden demise). It comes as no surprise that when his mother actually survives the attack, while at first she points the finger at her son as the axe murderer, she later recants and supports his plea of innocence. Because after all, her son has always been a good, kind, and normal boy. Not a creepy character at all.

    Oh, and just so you know…Murder by Moonlight and its creep axe murderer is based on a true story…

  11. Like everyone else, I agree that creepy and believable are inextricably linked. In order to be scary, a “monster” has to come to life, to make the reader truly feel fear. If it’s all funhouse horror and over-the-top, never-exist-in-the-real-world kind of monstrosity, the reader will never feel real fear. I find that my creepiest villains/monsters/serial killers all have convincing back stories that make them not only real people, but also somewhat sympathetic no matter how heinous their predilections. That’s probably because if we can find something in common with someone who’s truly horrible, that’s a deep fear. I think that the scariest aspect of any terror-inducing character is where we overlap with him or her. Bottom line: often the most terrifying creature can be the one who stares back out at us from a mirror.

  12. If you want to create creepy characters, don’t just focus on the villain. Yes, he’s important, but the atmosphere you create is the key to writing a truly disturbing work. Everything about your writing has to be unsettling. Don’t write throwaway characters. If you have someone in your book, give them a purpose, and give them a quirk. Something strange. Something not quite right. But first, make them believable. They should be perfectly ordinary. Completely like anyone you might meet on the street. Except for that one little thing. The way one eye seems to look past you to some unseen horror. The monotone voice. The smile that’s not quite right. Plunge your protagonist into a world that is off-kilter. In my view, that is the true horror. We expect everything to be ordered and normal. Take that normalcy off a single degree and you have created a world that is truly disturbing. One of the best ways to do that is through your characters.

  13. Rick’s point — “often the most terrifying creature can be the one who stares back out at us from a mirror” — is one I have taken to heart over the long span of my writing, as I’ve always been fascinated with the dark side of the human psyche, and speculating where it comes from and why it can perpetrate so much evil. Even when not dealing with the obvious metaphor of “the beast inside” in my werewolf thrillers, I tend to create characters (I hope most of them are creepy!) whose dark side remains hidden for the most part, but when it comes out to play… watch out. I think our dark side helps explain atrocities such as genocide and the like, or (on a smaller scale) just the persistent love of bullying which can get out of hand and escalate to real sadism. Questions such as why do most humans have this dark side, and why do some people either not have it or control it so well, tend to fascinate me. Even the juvenile version, the “mean streak” which exhibits in bullying incidents is fascinating. I’ve enjoyed creating several sadistic high school age characters for my parallel stories — I remember observing similar behavior, but for these creations I’ve exaggerated the traits a little to reach useful levels of hate and depravity in what would seem to be mere “kids.” Ironically (and sadly), the papers and net are full of real-life examples.

  14. some great responses so far, and they don’t leave much for me to add 🙂

    You need to give your character motivation, a reason for him or her to be doing what they are doing. Every reader understands motivation, we all have that drive in us to accomplish a goal. Now, your character doesn’t have to be a Bond-like villain that wants to take over the world, that’s too easy to write. Rather, give your character a reason to be bad. You could resort to the tried and true he-had-a-bad-childhood method, again, too easy. Most of my characters have bad qualities, but they also have, what you could consider, good qualities. For me, I think the key is not painting your character in black or white, but shades of gray.

    For example, a man trying to save his family, no matter the cost, could be viewed as a bad guy if, during a zombie apocalypse, he sabotages a bus full of crying babies, because their crying will give away his family’s position. Extreme, perhaps, but the current season of THE WALKING DEAD is a prime example and something that’s fascinated me since episode one. Rick, for all intents and purposes, has been portrayed as a good guy, but over the past few episodes and the end of the last season, he appears to be doing more “bad”, to protect the group. Under normal conditions, sure, his killing people and not just Walkers, would be viewed as bad, but in this new reality (of the show), it’s a necessary evil. For myself, I am really looking forward to how the show portrays the Governor. Call me crazy, but I don’t see him as a bad guy (even in the comics), he’s a guy that’d doing what he must to protect his people. And I miss Shane, he was a great representation of writing a creepy, yet believable character 🙂

    Thomas

  15. I agree that motivation is often important… and indeed, it may be the key to many of our antagonists. The crappy family life, the abuse, and so on — cliched, sure, but often also true to an extreme level of the mundane! However, just to cast in a dissenting voice, sometimes the mere LACK of motivation (or at least “seen” motivation) can in itself terrorize. The serial killer who stalks the occupants of the lonely cabin is terrifying precisely because we don’t know his motivation, only that he lusts to kill. While motivation gives us more credible characters, sometimes in order to be truly creepy, we need to go back to the idea that we may never understand the evil in a Ted Bundy, or an Ed Gein. I mean, in reality we may well get it once the trial is underway (or whatever), but in the moment, when our protagonists are in the hour of their most mortal danger, creepy can be the monster who refuses to answer the question: “Why?” The not knowing can sometimes be the key to making the story memorable. In “Night of the Living Dead,” none of the protagonists know why dead bodies want to eat them… and that’s more frightening than having an explanation. Of course this works only part of the time, and in certain plots. But I wanted to give a shout-out to those monsters who may lack motivation but scare the hell out of us anyway!

  16. The concept of the beast hidden inside the ‘normal’ exterior is of course vital to many types of stories. It doesn’t matter if your monster is human or supernatural, it scares us to death to think of something evil hiding behind a mask of normality. It makes us wonder if our neighbor – or spouse, or relative! – is actually something they’re not. Serial killer, werewolf, animal torturer…the list goes on.

    One of the great things about writing is getting to twist that concept around. The horribly ugly man who turns out to be a gentle giant. The serial killer who turns out to be killing alien or demon creatures masquerading as humans.

    In a story I once wrote for a magazine that went under right before publication, my twist on this was a werewolf who, in his 3 days per month in werewolf form, took himself to the woods and made sure he killed only animals. But during the new moon, his human half turned into a serial killer. In the end, it is the wolf that turns itself in so that the serial killer can be put away for the killings that have been blamed on the wolf. I do hope to sell that story someday and see it in print!

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