Review: Writing Monsters by Philip Athans

Rating: 10/10


In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable–and terrifying. You’ll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up.


I purchased Writing Monsters by Philip Athans to help me through a little sticky point in the second draft of my current novel and while it focuses on monsters; it is nonetheless another brilliant book for writers and one I can see going back to over and over. 

Philip starts by leveling the field and properly defining what a good monster is; what makes them scary, where they come from and how to define them as a monster or a villain (or both). Then he continues by encouraging us to describe their attributes, digging deep into creating three-dimensional creatures with skill descriptions that resemble a Dungeon & Dragons scoring system. I really enjoyed printing the monster creation form and going through each question to develop (or re-develop) the main villain of my story. He proceeds with an amazing section on how to write them properly on the page using the appropriate reveal, leveraging your five senses and some tricks to make them scarier and less cliché (ex.: don’t use vampires, werewolves or write them in a whole new perspective). 

And if that wasn’t enough, in the appendices you have tons of resources to continue your journey on monster writing. These sections include novel and movie references, and even a style guide to help you write better monsters on the page. 

I cherished the never-ending stream of examples from popular monsters in movies or novels such as Alien, Jaws and HP Lovecraft novels; which were used to solidify arguments made and strengthen their practice (ex.: Isolate your characters for some alone time with your monsters – Cabin in the woods like). I especially enjoyed learning some historical tidbits, for example, I didn’t know Zombies originated from Haitian folklore. In fact, it was where George Romero, in Night of the living dead, got his idea of the modern zombie from — the living dead as we know it today. 

There is a lot to think about in Writing Monsters when creating your next Cthulhu or Xenomorph, and it’ll benefit everyone with producing original, well-developed monsters and how to properly introduce them into your story. I highly recommend this book to any writers of the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres.

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