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The Five Stages of Luke Skywalker’s Hero’s Journey


The first of the Star Wars films, Episode IV presents storytellers with a lot of structures and models worth noting.

Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope may be one of the most perfect examples of the hero’s journey and three act structure. No doubt, Lucas outlined the heck out of the script to ensure it hit every beat, twist and milestone that screenwriting manuals insisted a story should have.

But something I never considered, and think might be an interesting model to follow, is the five distinct phases in Luke’s development. I will call these phases:

  • The Child
  • The Adolescent
  • The Man
  • The Warrior
  • The Hero

In each phase, Luke become more pro-active and gains more power over his fate. What’s more, in every phase there is another male character influencing Luke’s decisions. And the male character from the next phase will be introduced and clash with that phase’s influencing character. This clash forces Luke to broaden his outlook and grow as a character.

What is this important? It provides a model one can use to develop and grow a hero (of either gender) through not just one, but several contrasting mentors.

Luke the Child

Luke begins as a child. He is naïve about the world, plays with toys, whines when he doesn’t get his way, and lies to his Uncle about where he is going. At this phase, Luke’s seeking adventure is contrasted against his Uncle Owen’s pragmatism. Luke being beaten unconscious by Tusken Raiders shows that Luke is unprepared for a larger world of adventure.

Then Luke meets Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is the gateway to his next level of development. Clearly, Obi-Wan and Owen do not see eye-to-eye, which puts Luke into conflict. While Obi-Wan’s offer to teach Luke the Force is appealing, Luke’s fear of his uncle causes Luke to decline Obi-Wan’s invitation to adventure. It is only through Owen’s death that Luke the Child is free to grow into Luke the Adolescent and follow Obi-Wan. (Had Luke arrived home and found his aunt and uncle safe, it’s likely he would safe said “So long” to Obi-Wan and never left the Jundland Wastes.)

Luke the Adolescent

Free of his Uncle, Luke seeks adventure with Obi-Wan, who assumes the role of Luke’s influencing character. Stating he’s “Ready for anything” in Mos Eisley, Luke is (again) not up for the challenge and must be saved (again) by Obi-Wan.

While Obi-Wan represents an idealistic vision of a future life, the introduction of Han presents Luke with a realistic, utilitarian and selfish existence.

However, rather than being meek, as Luke had been with his uncle, Luke meets Han’s “But who’s gonna fly it, Kid? You?” quip with anger, not deference. Luke is growing.

And, just as Obi-Wan and Owen were at odds, Han and Obi-Wan argue over the best course of action and make all the decisions at this stage of the story. This leaves Luke as a follower and unable to be pro-active until Obi-Wan goes off to shutdown the tractor beam’s power generator. Before Obi-Wan leaves, he rejects Luke’s offer to go with him and instead instructs him to watch over the droids. In a subtle way, Obi-Wan is telling Luke it is time to stop being a follower.

Seconds after Obi-Wan leaves, Han and Luke get into an argument, showing that Luke the Child, who would have backed down, is no more. Seconds after that, R2-D2 locates Princess Leia and Luke becomes pro-active. Understanding from Obi-Wan that Han is motivated by money, Luke appeals to Han’s greed to go rescue the Princess. Once again, Luke is growing.

He proves himself in getting into the detention level and freeing Princess Leia. Still, Han is the more pro-active of the characters in these scenes.

Luke the Man

While it’s a moment played for laughs, this look unscores that Han has come to respect Luke as an equal.

While Han has been the dominant character with Obi-Wan’s exit, it is Luke who finds a way out of the trash compactor. Once freed, Han treats Luke like a comrade and equal with the line: “If we can just avoid any more female advice, we ought to be able to get out of here.” When Leia lectures him, Han looks to Luke for support—acknowledging him as an equal—and Luke responds with one of the greatest eye rolls in cinematic history.

Luke’s actions have won Han’s approval, validating he is now a man. Han is now the character against which Luke is compared.

Luke continues to grow through getting the princess to the Millennium Falcon and fending off the TIE fighter attack, but in the process witnesses the death of Obi-Wan. As with Owen, the man who held Luke’s future is now gone.

Once free of the Death Star, Han continues to treat Luke like an equal, first through teasing him about Leia and then offering that he should go with Chewbecca and himself: “Why don’t you come with us? You’re pretty good in a fight. I could use you.” This is high praise from Han Solo.

A seemingly simple shot, this shows that Luke and Han are no longer seeing things the same way. Luke is eager to join the idealistic cause to attack the Death Star while Han is dismissive. Luke has grown past Han, so these two men must part ways.

But Luke is on the cusp of becoming a warrior. It is the other rebel pilots, Red Leader especially, against whom Luke is comparing himself. In the pilot briefing, the conflict between Han and the rebellion is seen in a short shot of Han waving dismissively at the plan to attack the Death Star. For Han, it’s suicide; for the rebellion, it is what they must do.

With words of validation from Biggs and Red Leader (in the extended editions), Luke has outgrown the practical and selfish Han Solo to the point where, in their words of parting, Luke is in the more powerful position. Now it is Luke forcing Han to explain himself.

We have come 180 from the first confrontation in Mos Eisley.

Luke the Warrior

With Han gone, Luke finds himself among a group of warriors, accepted as an equal. He survives wave after wave of assault. Finally, with most of Gold and Red squadrons destroyed, Red Leader picks Luke to lead the second attack run. Luke has proven himself a warrior.

The male character against which Luke will be compared in the next phase is Darth Vader, who destroys most of the remaining rebel fighters. Finally, it is not an ally but the antagonist against whom the hero must tangle.

Luke the Hero

In the trench run, Luke is alone. Most of Red Squadron is gone, Obi-Wan is dead, Han has left and even R2-D2 is disabled. The villain, Darth Vader, has isolated Luke and has the boy in his sights. So what happens?

Luke rises to become a hero in two ways.

The first is the return of Han Solo. While we credit Han for saving Luke, Han would never have returned without Luke’s admonishment. Luke could have just let Han go, but Luke’s appeal to something beyond simple greed is what forces Han to return. In this way, Luke has saved himself.

Freed of pursuers, Luke becomes a hero in a second way. He believes in the Force, opening himself up to the “larger world” Obi-Wan spoke of, and makes the shot that none of the other, more experienced pilots could make.

Luke returns to Yavin IV to find a hero’s welcome.

So what does this mean?

A hero’s journey is a very common but also very tricky story arc to get right. In Episode IV, Lucas used a series of mature, established characters to act as signposts for his hero. Except for Han’s change of heart at the end, none of these mentor characters needed to change, allowing the story to revolve on the character development of only the hero. And since they all played different roles—parent, wizard, hired man, general—their role as mentors did not feel repeated or trite as Luke encountered each one.

If you are telling a hero’s journey, it’s a powerful and useful model to follow.

Story to Appear in Bundoran Press’s Lazarus Risen

I’m pleased to tell you that I will have a story in Bundoran Press’s new anthology Lazarus Risen. Continuing Bundoran’s line of anthologies exploring how certain concepts or technologies might affect society and humanity, Lazarus Risen explores science-based immortality. From the submission guidelines:

Lazarus Risen will seek SF (no fantasy or horror, please) short stories that explore the economic, political, social and psychological consequences of life extension, human cloning, the hard upload and other forms of the biological singularity.

I won’t say too much about what my story is about, except it explores how immortality might not be the cornucopia of fulfillment one might dream it to be.

Bundoran has posted the full table of contents on Facebook.

Why Disney’s Lack of Rey Figures Hurts Boys and Girls

My friend Kari Maaren—author, filker and professor—has a challenge for Disney and the Disney Store: give us more Rey toys.

We have heard this argument, but Kari makes a point I have not yet heard before: It’s not just important for little girls to see themselves in toys, but little boys, too. Kids make up stories using action figures/dolls. (I know I did.) And play in all species is a way to practice skills one will need as an adult.

So a way for little boys to recognize women as equals and have agency is to incorporate them into their play, and therefore their stories, during formative years.

Please give her video a watch and share it!

Documentary: The City that Fun Forgot (?)

I came across this documentary and had to share.

I live in Ottawa, which is Canada’s national capital. Thought a city of almost 1 million people, it lacks a vibrancy or energy that a city this size should have.

This documentary examines how external perceptions (i.e., the residents carrying the blame for actions of government) and governmental culture have shaped Ottawa’s self-identity as well as how others are seeking to change it, even if it means more underground means.

Thank you, David Bowie, for marking a turning point in my life

I was never a big David Bowie fan. I recognize his contribution to music and admire his long a career, I was just never a fan.

With one exception.

Seeing SE7EN in the theatre was a transformative experience and it remains one of my favourite films. I was just out of school and looking for a job to become the adult I had been told my whole life that I needed to become as quickly as possible. But instead of opportunity, I found closed doors, arrogance and hypocrisy in this grown-up world I was supposed to join. I was frustrated, angry and jaded.

And here was this film where the bad guy dies but the good guys lose. Where a pregnant woman is beheaded (offscreen) to make a point. It’s always raining, people bicker more than cooperate and nothing is ever clean. We never know why John Doe does what he does, just that he was twistedly brilliant. And the universe doesn’t give a fuck about any of us.

I walked out realizing the Baby Boomer era of films—where the hero can get shot by a large caliber gun in the climax, but is pain-free and laughing with his buddies five minutes later in the closing comedic beat—was done. (Or, I’d hoped.) This was a movie that matched my pessimistic outlook and opinion of people. I never knew cinema could be like that.

The movie kicked off with a remix of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, a band I had just gotten into a few years earlier. That already put me in the right mood.

But when the credits rolled (downwards, opposite what you’d expect) it was Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” that played. Dark and brooding, it was the perfect song for sitting in stunned silence and trying to contemplate what you had just seen. (And soon after, Bowie would collaborate with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor for “I’m Afraid of Americans”.)

I realize that over a decades-long career, this song is relatively unimportant, but it is what I will always think of when I think about David Bowie—his voice washing over me, the industrial sound, the realization that being a grown-up would be mostly disappointment, tedium and frustration. That moment was a turning point in my life, and Bowie was its soundtrack. Hearing it still sends chills up my spine.

Thank you, David Bowie.

Rebooting Voltron on Netflix, and a proposed alternate version

Today, Netflix announced they were making a new Voltron animated series. This new show will be aimed at kids, but I think they are missing an opportunity here to mine some rich material.

Voltron, because everything from the 80s has to be dusted off and rebooted.

About 10 years ago, there was a live-action film in the works that would have been set in a desolate future Earth. (I am working from memory here; I could not find the plot summary I had read. If you can find it, please post in the comments.) Somehow, Earth and Arus are “twin worlds”, which allows the technology for Voltron to flow from Arus to Earth, allowing five young people to build the five lions from whatever they have at hand, ending in a Mad Max-esque Voltron defeating alien invaders.

Sounds like an interesting take, but consider the opening sequence of Voltron.

The group that’s sent to Arus is to bring Voltron back. This has elements of colonial exploitation. Rather than a kids show, what if this was an imperial power, which sees itself as benevolent, stealing a natural resource from an indigenous people?

More than that, the show hinted that Voltron was seen as a god. Whether the robot was worshipped, the robot was based on the deity, or somehow the deity manifested as the robot (like Primus in the Transformers comics) all offer possibilities. More than that, how would a culture view its deity being coopted by a colonial power?’

And not only the physical object stolen and cultural element coopted, but used as a weapon of war to, perhaps, expand its influence and territory, conquering more worlds.

I know, I’m reaching. Any maybe it doesn’t need the Power/Rangers treatment.

But I fellow can dream.

So, below is my take on an opening scene of a serious, live action Voltron film. (As serious as it can be titled Voltron.)



GENERAL HAWKINS stands at the window, looking over a futuristic city. Heavily-armed military vehicles move through the air. We can see battle damaged buildings and, further on, a deep crater.

Behind Hawkins, the door CHIMES.

HAWKINS (to the door)


The door slides open and CAPTAIN KEITH KOGANE enters. Fit, early thirties, he is a man who has seen hard combat, but he is a committed soldier who has not lost his optimism that he can win this war. He stands before Hawkins’ desk and offers a crisp salute.


Reporting as ordered, sir.

Hawkins returns the salute and motions to a chair. Keith and Hawkins sit across from one another.


How long have you been back on-planet, Captain?


About 5 hours, sir.


Don’t unpack. I have a mission for you and your team.

Hawkins presses a button on his desk and the hologram of an Earth-like planet appears above it.


This is the planet Arus. Know it?


No, sir.


It’s in the Gyrus Cluster.

Keith reacts to the name.


What do you know about the Cluster, Captain?


It’s a graveyard, sir.

Settlers reached it around 650 SE. Three core worlds and a handful of colonies.

It was cut off in the Second Drule Incursion in 809. There were two attempts to retake the Cluster, but both were pushed back by the Drule fleet. Around 40 years ago, a third attempt found the Cluster deserted. No sign of the Drule fleet and the core worlds had been nuked. Same with the colony planets they checked. Radiation made re-colonization impossible, so it was abandoned.


What you haven’t heard is five years ago we caught a freighter coming out of the Cluster. They called it salvage. We considered it grave robbing. But they said the colony on Arus had survived.

So we sent a ship to check. And found a colony that hadn’t just survived, but thrived. Agricultural, industry, government, arts and culture. Almost half a billion people in the middle of a graveyard. Cut off from the Alliance for over 400 years.


Keith considers this.


Either they made a deal with the Drule—


Which no other world has been able to do in over two hundred years of war.


Or they have some kind of advanced weapons system. Something that kept the Drule from Arus. Maybe even drove them from the Cluster.

Hawkins nods, impressed.


We’ve been getting our asses kick in the Dairugger system. If we get pushed out, seven more systems could fall. Something that could push the Drule from an entire cluster could change things.


We’re going to Arus, aren’t we sir?


We’ve had a diplomatic mission on-world for the last 6 months to re-establish relations. With them we’ve embedded intelligence operatives as cultural attachés. They’re learned the locals talk about a god named Voltron that could command five massive, mechanical lions to defend the planet.

Understanding dawns in Keith’s eyes.

HAWKINS (con’t)

No one has seen Voltron in decades. The only people who claim to have seen him were children when it happened. But they said they lions kept the Drule back.

Hawkins changes the holographic image. The planet is replaced by the head of PRINCESS ALLURA, a woman a little younger than Keith.


This is Princess Allura, sovereign of Arus. They’re a constitutional monarchy, so her power is limited, but she is quite popular with the people.

Yesterday, the Arus Parliament agreed to rejoin the Alliance and this morning Allura gave royal approval. As part of the Alliance, they’ve pledged to meet their obligations in placing military forces under Alliance control, but Allura denies that Voltron exists. ‘A myth,’ she said, ‘to rally the people.’

Her family crest is a lion within a five-pointed star, by the way.

Keith is intrigued by the mission. He stares at the confident gaze of the princess.


The diplomats don’t want to rock the boat. That’s where you and your team come in. Your mission, Captain, is to go to Arus and confront Princess Allura over the existence of the Voltron weapon system. If she agrees to turn it over, take command of it and arrange its transport to Earth.

If she doesn’t cooperate, you and your team are to locate Voltron, steal it and get it to Earth.


The Black Friday Executions

Another Black Friday come and gone, and America did not disappoint with pushing, shoving and fights breaking out. Not over clean water or the last spot on a vehicle that could take one out of a war zone. Nope, over shoes, electronics and who knows what else. At a discount.

As a fiction writer, my mind goes to odd places. And so inspired by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and movies The Purge and Series 7, I want to propose a fictional world where, once per year, we execute a rude, arrogant and aggressive person. Someone who has not committed a serious crime—we have that system in place. I mean those people who commit an on-going series of thoughtless, selfish actions.

Let’s take one of these people who thinks she can rip a box from the hands of a child (and then play the victim when the mother tries to take it back) and put them in the death chamber. Send the message that this kind of behaviour, which puts their wants (i.e., not needs) above the safety and well-being of others, has no place in our society. For our own protection, you have to die to serve as a warning to others.

Same would apply to aggressive drivers. While we all make mistakes from time to time, anyone with three or more moving infractions (e.g., drunk driving, speeding in a school zone, tailgaiting, excessive speed) is also up for execution. It’s luck, not the driver’s skill, that no one has been hurt by their reckless actions, so let’s see if we can’t nip it in the bud.

These executions would not happen for everyone; just one person per year. There would be due process, and I am in no way advocating vigilantism, but I think those of us who can keep it together have the right to defend ourselves. Since these selfish, violent bullies rarely have to worry about consequences, and often their actions result in rewards, let’s give them a reason to pause.

Of course, this is just an idea for a story, not reality. These bullies will continue to flourish, convinced of their own entitlement and superiority. Worst of all, they get to be seen as a hero for presenting the gift they wrestled away from someone else who was ahead of them in line.

(If you use this idea in a story, please drop me a line and let me know.)

In conclusion, here’s George Carlin.

How to Be a Good Moderator for Panel Discussions at Conventions

I’ve been told I’m a good moderator for panel discussions at conventions. Recently, I was asked to mentor someone moderating her first panel. I had intended to just outline a few ideas, but it turned into something much larger. Below are the thoughts that I shared, which I hope can prepare you to moderate a panel at a convention. While this was written for SF/F/H conventions, it can be used by anyone moderating any kind of panel.

These are just my thoughts, so your mileage may vary.

What is your role as the moderator?

A moderator is accountable to the audience. You are not there to serve the ego of panelists.

This is your role. Who gets to talk and who doesn’t.

The audience is attending your panel (yup, its yours) to hear a good discussion on a topic they’re interested in. You must deliver that. This means not letting:

  • One person dominate the conversation,
  • One point of view dominate the conversation, and
  • Some jackass in the audience dominate the conversation (more on this point below).

You are a traffic cop; the panelists provide the discussion. You make sure everyone gets their say while keeping the audience in check. Even if you have a world-renowned expert on the panel, the others deserve their share of the time.

You should be positive, fun and enthusiastic. It is your role to keep the energy up.

How much do you participate?

The moderator is not a panelist. You need to remain neutral and keep the conversation going.

This means keeping your opinions on a topic in check. (There is a special ring of hell for moderators who use their role to advance their own agenda.) You might think X, but Y and Z are also options that audience members might want to hear about. You must get X, Y and Z on the table.

But if there are only two other panelists, you might need to interject, but be clear that what you are saying is your opinion, and then jump back into your (neutral) moderator role.

If there are three panelists, you might be involved.

If there are four or more panelists, you are the traffic cop. There are enough opinions in play.

How To Prepare

Do a little research on your panelists. Know who they are. You don’t need to do exhaustive research; reading their bios on the convention website is often enough.

Have at least 5 questions prepared to ask the panel. Have them be open-ended, not questions someone can answer with “Yes” or “Five years.” Five questions should be enough to fill the panel (assuming it is an hour long).

Begin with introductions

I always begin panels by asking panelists to introduce themselves and then relate themselves to the topic. So something like “Tell us why you wanted to be on this panel” or “What interests you about this topic”. This helps let you know where they stand on the issue. In other words, are they “X”, “Y” or “Z”.

It also might give you fodder for more questions. Sometimes a panelist might say something in an offhanded way that sparks a whole new discussion.

Asking panelists to introduce themselves also lets you get a sense for their personalities—shy, soft-spoken, axe to grind.

Encourage panelists to speak

Let’s face it, we are a community of introverts. Some people might need to be coaxed to speak. If you have an audience member who has been silent, invite them to share an opinion. It could be that they have nothing to say, but make sure you give them the chance. “Jen, we haven’t heard from you. Any thoughts?”

Take notes during the panel

Take notes during the panel. They could give you ideas to keep the conversation going.

Take notes so you have ideas to keep the conversation going.

This is key. People will say something off the cuff, but it could be a great segue into another topic to discuss. Someone might mention something during their introduction you didn’t know which you can delve into later. “Wanda, earlier you said a zombie and vampire are the same basic monster, but what about the master vampire who retains her/his identity as an undead creature?” “Piotr, did your time in the army affect your writing?”

Keep the conversation on topic… Or don’t

Remember the audience is there to hear about the topic. If you are discussing Dr. Who, and you realize somehow the last 5 minutes have been about water on Mars, bring it back on topic. And you can just say “OK, to get back to Dr. Who” and chuckle as you say it. That is, unless the audience is into this new topic—leaning forward, asking questions, etc. In which case, you have to decide whether to let the discussion follow its course or bring it back on topic.

20 minute lull

When I first began moderating, I begin to worry at the 20 minute mark because I felt we weren’t going to make it through the full hour. If this happens, don’t panic—this happens. I don’t know why, but it does. I think that’s when the initial energy begins to fade. But then someone will say something, and you all will hit your second wind. And, you can always turn to the audience.

And if the panel runs out of gas early, admit it. Thank everyone and end the panel early.

Manage the audience

I’ve saved this topic for last because the audience will be your biggest challenge. There will always be someone who thinks they are on the panel and won’t shut up. So how do you to deal?

First, when starting the panel explain that the panel will talk for about 20 minutes or so, and then you’ll take questions. And be clear: To ask a question, put your hand up.

If someone just starts talking, cut them off (“Sorry, let’s hear her out” or “Hang out, I want to hear from the panel. We’ll take question is a bit.”) and go back to the panel. And remind people when you will be taking questions and how to ask.

As people put their hand up, acknowledge them. Even if a panelist is talking and/or you are not ready for their question, make eye contact with the audience member and give a nod or small wave to let them know you see them.

When you call on someone, be clear: “This gentleman in the Spider-Man hat.” “Yes, Poison Ivy at the back.” “Lady in the front row knitting me a scarf. It’s for me, right?”

If various people have their hands up, set up your order: “I’m going first to the gentleman with the beard at the back, then over to this lady with the stuffed TARDIS and then over to the Flash t-shirt.”

Vary who gets to speak. There will be one person with their hand up all the time. Make sure others are heard. Say things like “Yes, in the Sailor Moon boots, we haven’t heard from you yet” or to the person who keeps asking question “I see you have your hand up first, but let’s go over here. We haven’t heard from her yet.”

You'll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

You’ll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

Be prepared for someone who isn’t asking a question but making a statement. Or, it takes them 5 minutes of set up to get to their question. You don’t have time for that. If you sense someone is standing on their soapbox or is taking to long to ask a question, be direct: “I’m not hearing a question here” or “You need to get to your question because others have questions they’d like to ask.”

If you get the rude jackass who keeps interrupting, be direct. “Hang on, let’s hear from the panel” or “She wasn’t done speaking yet.” You might even need to go as far as saying “Excuse me, but you’ve been interrupting us. If you have a question or comment, please raise your hand.” The longer this person is allowed to interrupt, the more they will do it. So shut them down quickly.

Maybe you think this is being rude to an audience member, but remember (1) you are there for the entire audience, not just one person and (2) that one person is being very rude.

One of my proudest moments as a moderator was a woman who kept loudly interrupting the panel (and other audience members trying to ask a question). I tried to politely deflect her at first, but her behaviour persisted so I became more direct and told her to stop interrupting. So she raised her hand while someone was speaking, I nodded to let her know I saw her, but after five seconds of her hand in the air she screamed “FUCK YOU PEOPLE!” and stormed out. You might think it’s bad I pissed this person off so much, but her anger pales to the sum of the frustration of everyone else in the room. Her absence made the panel run smoother, fulfilling my obligation is to the audience as a whole.

Anything I missed?

If you have advice or suggestions for panel moderators, please put them in the comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback!

My CAN-CON 2015 Schedule

CAN-CON 2015—Ottawa’s original conference on SF/F/H—is coming up in Ottawa from October 30 to November 1. There will be readings, panel discussions and presentations, plus book launches and room parties. Registration is open and it’s $60 for the whole weekend with discounts for students.

A description of all the panels is up on their website. And you can download a PDF of the daily schedule. My schedule is below.

Something that is not listed are my Blue Pencil Cafés, which you have to sign up in advance for, but they are free for attendees. I hope you’ll sign up!


2:30PM: Workshop – Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats
I wrote a blog post with some more information on this workshop. Short version: creating tension means knowing how to structure a story and create threats to your hero. If you’re interested, you can register on the CAN-CON site. It’s $10 with a $1.25 service fee.

7:00PM: Live critic panel
Matt Moore, Kris Ramsey, James Bambury, Kevin Quirt, Agnes Cadieux
Come hear us crack wise about whatever the audiences says they love.

9:00PM: Bundoran Press/SFCanada Party
I’ll be attending. We’ll have to see how the evening goes, but I might be reading a snippet from “As Below, So Above” from Bundoran’s Second Contacts anthology.


10:00AM: Our Monsters are our Children
Matt Moore (m), Sean Moreland
Why do we love monsters, and what does that say about us?

3:00PM: Horror Reading: What is scaring the $#@% out of you?
Matt Moore (m), Peter Halasz
Looking for some good horror novels to read? Come check this out.

6:00PM: Extreme Weather Slapdown CANCELLED
Marie Bilodeau (m), Matt Moore, Eric Choi, Leah Petersen, Mark Robinson
Famed stormchaser Mark Robinson poses a severe weather event, and we authors have to create a story around it.

7:00PM: Scifi Cult movies (Buckaroo Banzai, Mystery Men, Repo Man, etc)
Ira Nayman (m), Timothy Carter, Matt Moore, Eric Choi
Why do we love them?

9:00PM: The ChiZine Publications’ Party
I will be there.


11:30AM: Reading
I’ll be reading “The Weak Son” from Tesseracts Thirteen. It’s an older piece, but one of my favourites to read aloud.

12:00PM: Contract, Contracts, Contracts – What’s a Good One?
Matt Moore (m), Matthew Johnson, Eve Langlais, David Hartwell, Caroline Frechette
Are you an author wondering what makes a good contract? Publishers and experienced authors will let you know what to expect, what to fight for, and what’s just crazy to ask for.

How to Write Monsters, Part Two: Fighting Them, and Monstrous Villains

In my last blog post, I talked about how to write monsters. That post came about when I was writing a story with a terrific monster, but an unsatisfying ending. I realized I was treating the monster too much like a villain. Once I realized it was a monster, and it needed some monster “rules”, did things fall into place.

The topics I covered last time were:

  • What’s the difference between a monster and villain?
  • A monster must be invoked instead of just showing up
  • The monster must be monstrous—both physically and morally upsetting to the natural order of things
  • The monster reflects the hero’s weakness, forcing the hero to fight harder than they ever have

In this post, I’ll take about how the hero fights back and even contradict myself to show that villains can be monstrous.

[Note: Below I am speaking in absolutes, but consider it advice. It’s just easier to write in absolute terms than conditional ones. Also, I use “hero”, but it’s a non-gender specific sense.]

The hero must be able to resist

While your monster is a serious threat to your hero, the possibility of victory must exist. Imagine Conan or Harry Potter fighting Godzilla—the battle would be over in moments. (Unless avada kedavra works on Godzilla, but such a short fight would not be a satisfying story.)


Here is how Jaws could have ended. If the people had stayed out of the water, Brody would not have had to go out to kill it.

You can run from Jason, barricade yourself against the zombie horde, stay out of the water or drive away from the tornadoes in Twister.

Lesson: The monster must present a near-hopeless situation. Some glimmer of hope motivates the hero to fight (or, at least, try to survive), which keeps the reader engaged.

The monster must have a weakness

A monster strikes at the hero’s weakness, but the hero must learn how to strike back. Searching for and exploiting a monster’s weakness makes up a good chunk of monster stories. Jason Voorhees can be confounded by his mother. Silver, garlic and sunlight are effective against several forms of monsters. The shark from Jaws was just a shark.

It great stories, the hero overcomes their own weakness in exploiting the monster’s. Chief Brody—with his fear of the water—killing the shark in Jaws from a stable, well-equipped boat is nowhere nearly as satisfying as him clinging to the mast of the sinking Orca.

Lesson: The monster’s power must be offset by a weakness. The path to find and exploit that weakness must lead straight through the hero’s own weakness.

A villain can be monstrous

I’ve been talking as if villains and monsters are two different things, but a villain can be monstrous.


John Doe, the killer from SE7EN, is both morally and physically monstrous. While he’s a villain, he has many monstrous qualities.

John Doe, from SE7EN, fits this bill. A villain of the highest order, he plots and schemes, seeing himself as a hero in a corrupt world. But to us his morality is monstrous. So is his self-mutilation to cut off his fingerprints. While he literally walks into the story, he is actually invoked by the daily immoral deeds we see (and commit) every day. His strength is his cunning, which strikes dead-center against Detective Mills’ weakness in seeing the killer (during the investigation) in the most simplistic terms. And Doe’s weakness lies in Mills’ ability to resist his urge to kill Doe. However, Mills cannot resist and his rage completes Doe’s monstrous plan.

Pinhead is another example. Clearly summoned, in some incarnations Pinhead is reactionary to his invocation. He has no plan other than to torture whoever summoned him. He is more a force of (super)nature than a scheming villain.

The demon from the The Exorcist is a better example. Clever and manipulative, its actions and very nature are monstrous. To say nothing of the physical effects it has on Regan McNeil. It is invoked by Regan and exploits at Father Karras’ weakness—his loss of faith.

As I’ve said, take all of this advice. But I hope these “rules” about how to write effective monsters gives you some tool you can use in your writing.

If I’ve missed something, please let me know!

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