Writing with monsters

Writing fantasy is fun. You get to create an entire world as you see fit, highlighting any facets of the real world by reflecting them back in your creative one.

Yet, for every hero, there must be adversaries, and in fantasy that is often monsters. For The Child of Fire and Earth, I wanted to build a world which was firmly connected to reality. As it's set in Europe in the Middle Ages, that meant researching the right food, clothing, locations, and most importantly, folklore creatures.

The first one I researched seemed an interesting one. Liked to live near bogs and marshes, and would hunt unsuspecting travellers. Sounded perfect.

It was called a boggart.


You see, you may well have heard of a boggart. Another fantasy franchise (from she-who-must-not-be-named) has very much popularised boggarts as being, well, something completely different from what a boggart was. This left me in a quandary.

Should I use this folklore creature, keeping true to its original form? Or would I receive Cease and Desist letters from Hogwarts?

I struggled with this for quite some time, until I realised a fundamental truth. You cannot copyright folklore. It has literally been in the public domain for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You may as well try copyrighting the word the or cheese.

With that settled, it was time to peruse more folklore.

Now, I'm the first to admit that folklore creatures aren't always the best to use in fantasy settings. Some can be useful, but more often than not, there may be key elements that don't quite fit into your world. It's fine to change it. Tweak the details. My book contains a grindylow (yes, I know, so does that one) who, according to tradition, has green, scaly skin. I wanted my grindylow to have a bit more sympathy from the reader, so made her look more like an old lady, trapped underwater and needing to grab passers-by to feed on.

Not all monsters have to be adversaries, either. Folklore is littered with creatures who help, hinder, or are just a plain nuisance. I'm particularly fond of the gyrtash, a shape-shifting creature that likes to lure people into ponds because it's funny.

So, please, use monsters in your writing. Research folklore for inspiration, and enjoy building a wondrous world.