Creating New Monsters in Fantasy and Horror


Monsters, the fantastical and bizarre embodiments of all our instinctual fears and existential terrors, are essential in horror and fantasy. Crafting these creatures demands creativity and a deep understanding of the world you are writing in and the themes you are trying to discuss. Let's take a look at the secrets of crafting extraordinary monsters, focusing on physical weirdness, functionality and powers, cultural influences, and the art of injecting twists.

Physical Weirdness

A monster's physical appearance is often the most impactful aspect. All the classics are well-established due to their looks, weird bodies, multiple limbs, or more subtle details like differently-coloured eyes, odd teeth, etc. Embracing physical weirdness means defying conventional design, introducing elements that unsettle and intrigue. Combining disparate features, unusual proportions, or asymmetrical arrangements can create a lasting physical impression. Check out some of Lovecraft's elder gods, look at the weird creatures of Dungeons and Dragons or the Witcher, and do some research into the lesser-known mythological beasts throughout the various cultures of the world.

In science fiction, drawing from space or the microscopic world yields alien forms. Creatures with crystalline exoskeletons, bioluminescent appendages, or unconventional anatomies challenge biological norms. In fantasy, mythical and magical sources inspire ethereal shapes or creatures made of living shadow. Embracing physical weirdness captivates the eye and creates genuinely otherworldly beings.

In addition to defying conventional design, a monster's physical weirdness can extend to its senses and modes of perception. You could consider creatures with sensory organs that detect electromagnetic fields or vibrations beyond the human spectrum. In horror-fantasy, they might have some supernatural senses, hive mind, or other senses different from humans. (Side note: Be careful when using the hive mind idea, as it has been done quite often and should not be the sole discerning trait. Whenever you use something cliché or done before, try adding a truly unique twist to it). The creatures might navigate their environments through echolocation or synesthesia, adding layers of complexity to their interactions with the world and different problems for your main character to handle. Research extra senses, see what others have done before and it might spark an idea or two. Look up the weirdest creatures of our real world for more inspiration. Keep looking until something really clicks.

Studying the science of evolution, and seeing what happens on macro and micro scales can be interesting. In both science fiction and fantasy, monsters might evolve similar physical traits despite originating in different environments. For instance, creatures from different planets might develop analogous adaptations for flight, hunting, camouflage, or communication, highlighting universal principles of survival and adaptation. Think about ways that your monster or creature might need to survive in the wild. Or, if they are more domesticated or sentient, how they shape the world around them to make it more comfortable or secure.

For some stories, the incorporation of biomechanical elements can enhance the strangeness of monsters. By blending organic and mechanical components, you can create creatures that blur the line between living beings and machines, and this might tie into the themes of the story you are telling. Perhaps a creature's skeletal structure is partially composed of metallic alloys, or its limbs incorporate hydraulic systems for enhanced strength and agility. These hybrid organisms challenge perceptions of natural and artificial boundaries, sparking questions about the nature of life and consciousness.

In fantasy, the concept of magical mutation can give rise to bizarre and unpredictable forms. Think about how human's might affect the natural environment. Monsters might be the result of arcane experiments gone awry or the unintended consequences of powerful spells. This opens the door to creatures with unpredictable abilities, constantly shifting forms, or inherent instability that defies conventional biological understanding.

Moreover, considering the environmental context can enrich a monster's physical weirdness. In science fiction, creatures adapted to extreme environments like deep-sea trenches, toxic wastelands, or airless moons can showcase adaptations that push the boundaries of plausibility. Similarly, in fantasy worlds with unique magical phenomena or geographic features, monsters might evolve specialized traits to thrive in these environments, further enhancing their strangeness and unpredictability.

Overall, embracing physical weirdness in monster design offers endless opportunities for creativity and innovation. By defying conventions, incorporating diverse influences, and considering the broader context of their worlds, creators can craft monsters that truly captivate the imagination and challenge perceptions of what is possible.

Functionality and Powers

A monster's functionality and powers define its role in the narrative and its impact. Consider its ecology – how it survives and interacts with the environment. Unique powers stem from advanced technology, psionics, or magical sources, complementing the creature's physical weirdness.

In sci-fi, powers may involve manipulating time, controlling elements, or altering reality. In fantasy, magical systems or divine influences shape powers. Ensuring powers have strengths and weaknesses creates a balanced entity. Powers should align with the monster's narrative purpose, enhancing immersion and believability.

In addition to considering a monster's ecological niche, its powers can also be shaped by its cultural context and societal role. In science fiction, a creature's abilities might be influenced by the technological advancements or social structures of its civilization. For example, a species living in a highly advanced society may possess psionic abilities derived from collective consciousness or neural augmentation, reflecting their reliance on interconnected networks and shared knowledge.

Alternatively, in fantasy settings, a monster's powers could be tied to the magical traditions and belief systems of its culture. Perhaps a creature draws strength from ancient rituals or mystical artifacts, channeling the energies of ley lines or celestial alignments. This connection to magic and mythology adds depth to the creature's character and reinforces its place within the fantastical world.

You may consider questions such as: How does the cultural mythology surrounding the monster influence its powers and behavior? How do societal attitudes towards magic and supernatural phenomena shape the perception of these creatures within their world? Do the creatures have any direct influence over these beliefs? Do they manipulate them more subtly, like the vampires in The Witcher convincing humans that they are weak to garlic when they really are not? By exploring these aspects, writers can create monsters that feel intricately woven into the fabric of their fictional societies, enriching the narrative tapestry with layers of cultural significance and historical context.

Cultural Influences

Integrating cultural influences adds depth to a monster's character. If your story is drawn directly from a real world myth or culture, you want to research that. If it is more general, you can draw from a wider pool and be a bit more creative in their designs. Explore mythologies, folklore, and legends for symbolic significance. Consider the monster's cultural context – is it revered, feared, or a cosmic symbol? Do people believe in them, or are they so rare and fantastical that they blur into fantasy stories in-world? Do the colours of their skin, or the existence of feathers or scales, mean anything in that culture? Can they speak, and if so, how intelligent are they?

Looking at and drawing from various international stories and folklore can really enrich a monster's character. Try to find ways to incorporate the monsters into the setting, the larger world, and the characters of the story itself. Making it feel real can be a challenge but can also be incredibly rewarding to both yourself as the writer and to the reader.

Injecting a Twist

You may wish to subvert expectations and add complexity to monsters. Twisting common tropes can do this. Challenge stereotypes by giving unexpected traits or behaviors to the monster you are writing. If you have a dragon, question every aspect of it. Does it need to be reptilian? Does it need wings? If so, does it only need two, or can it have more? Does it need to breathe fire, or have any magic at all? Perhaps they swim rather than fly, or burrow through the earth. Can they speak, and if so, what language? Do they really need to covet gold and treasure, or are they more interested in family, security, or simply survival? You can apply this line of questioning to every creature out there.

Also consider adding human traits to the monsters, like emotions and human psychology. Incorporating psychological elements can humanise them, creating depth beyond physicality. Perhaps they have their own belief systems, religions, wars, and ideologies. Can they invent, or are they not sentient at all? Do they practice any forms of art, writing, or theatre? Do they have myths of their own? You want to dive into these questions to build up the lore and mythology around the creatures, even if not all of these aspects make it into the final work.

A monster's motivations and emotions, like fear or love, further enhance narrative depth. Unexpected vulnerabilities, love interests, or tragic pasts can all add layers to the creature's character.

Alternatively, you can really pull back from the humanised aspects and focus on the mystery. You could remove the empathic parts entirely. Adding layers of questions as to their motivations, actions, and even internal-story rules can really amp up the fear and inhuman horror of a monster. If they do not bear any resemblance to real-world creatures at all, you can showcase their lack of empathy, reason, or mercy through their actions. Many of Lovecraft's and Stephen King's monsters fall into this kind of horror category.


Here are ten examples of weird and creative monsters in fantasy and horror stories:

The Hound of Tindalos, a terrifying entity from the realm of Lovecraftian horror, is a creature that defies the very laws of space and time. Unlike any mundane predator, it prowls the shadowy corners of existence, hunting relentlessly those who dare to breach the boundaries of reality and access alternate dimensions. Its form is a grotesque amalgamation of angles and curves that defy comprehension, and its eyes gleam with an otherworldly hunger that pierces the soul of any who meet its gaze. To encounter the Hound is to invite madness, for its presence alone warps the fabric of reality, leaving behind a trail of shattered minds and broken spirits.

In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, the Shrike emerges as a mysterious and formidable force known for its ability to manipulate time. Revered by some as a deity and dreaded by others as an omen of doom, the Shrike embodies enigma and terror in equal measure. Its presence evokes both awe and fear. It traverses through the fabric of time with an unknown purpose. Adorned with razor-sharp metallic spikes and clad in an ominous aura, the Shrike strikes an imposing figure, instilling a sense of dread in those who cross its path. Its actions are shrouded in mystery, leaving behind a trail of speculation and legend.

In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, the Sleer emerges as a spectral guardian of ancient secrets, lurking within the depths of an eerie chamber hidden beneath the graveyard's surface. An enigmatic entity wrapped in mystery, the Sleer's presence is felt as a chilling whisper in the darkness, its form coiled and serpentine. The Sleer watches over its domain with eyes that gleam like polished stones and a voice that echoes through the cavernous halls. We are left with more questions than answers after meeting this odd creature.

In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, the Beholder is a creature that looks like a big floating ball covered in eyes, with a big eye in the middle and more eyes on stalks sticking out from all around it. It's a classic monster in the game, known for its many magical powers and abilities. It is quite a fearsome opponent for adventurers to face, and encountering one can lead to some really challenging battles.

In the Alien movies, the facehugger is a creepy little creature that's part of the Xenomorph life cycle. It looks like a spider with a long tail and a body that's shaped like a hand. What makes it really terrifying is that it jumps onto people's faces and wraps its tail around their necks, so they can't pull it off. While attached, it lays an embryo inside the host's body, which later bursts out as a full-grown Xenomorph. So basically, it's a parasitic nightmare that spells death for anyone unlucky enough to encounter it.

In Algonquian folklore, the Wendigo is a really scary spirit that embodies hunger, cannibalism, and the harshness of winter. It's like the ultimate embodiment of everything terrifying about survival in the cold wilderness. The legend goes that it's once a human who turned into this monster after resorting to cannibalism during a harsh winter. Now it is a grotesque, skeletal creature that's always hungry and constantly prowling the forests, looking for its next meal. Encountering a Wendigo is like staring into the face of pure primal fear, and it is said to bring nothing but doom to those who cross its path.

In Celtic mythology, the dullahan is a headless horseman known for seeking out a specific individual while wielding a whip made of human spines. Carrying their semi-human head in a saddlebag, they remain silent until sighting their target, at which point they call out the person's name. Impervious to locked doors or barriers, they cannot be obstructed on their mission to kill their intended victim. Remarkably, they possess only one weakness: gold. Even a small amount such as a simple gold ring, is sufficient to cause them to flee. 

In Brazilian folklore, there exists a shapeshifting water spirit known as a boto or river dolphin, which often adopts the guise of a human at social gatherings. Though typically appearing as a river dolphin, they possess the ability to transform into human form. Despite wielding various magical powers including weather manipulation, inducing illness or madness, and hypnotising humans, they are not inherently malevolent. Known for their numerous romantic liaisons with humans, they sometimes resort to kidnapping their love interests.

In Japanese folklore, the kitsune is a supernatural fox spirit characterized by its intelligence, magical abilities, and capacity to assume human form, often depicted with up to nine tails. Kitsune may serve as messengers of gods in some stories, while in others, they exhibit more malevolent tendencies, capable of possessing individuals. Their shapeshifting abilities and cunning nature make them both revered and feared figures in Japanese mythology. 

In Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, the K'Chain Che'Malle are a race of ancient, reptilian beings known for their formidable prowess and enigmatic culture. They selectively bred their own kind to take advantage of preferred traits, such as the length of their tail. These creatures are part of a complex society and are characterized by their intelligence and physical prowess. As bipedal dinosaurs with blades for arms, sharp instincts, and advanced technological capabilities, they are a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. 


In science fiction and fantasy, crafting monsters can truly push the boundaries of imagination and lead to some amazing stories. Whether inspired by mythology, nature, or technology, these creatures challenge perceptions and evoke wonder. Embrace the weird, let creativity soar, and unleash unimaginable monsters in fantastical worlds with your own unique twists.

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