Creatures of legend are the backbone of the fantasy genre, but writing them can be just as dangerous as encountering them in a dark alley. (Think reader expectations, stereotypes and behavioural consistency). Today I’m thrilled to welcome, Richard Parry, author of Night’s Favour, a gritty, modern werewolf tale, to share his experience writing with beasts.
Ah! There’s three good reasons.
1. The original story concept was trying to answer the question of what would happen if you had a protagonist who was, let’s say, an alcoholic, and couldn’t usually remember things by nature of spending evenings in an alcoholic coma. I thought it would be cool of there was some Other Thing that made them do stuff, good or bad. They wouldn’t know, right? As far as they were concerned, they’d just passed out in an alley behind a bar again. Werewolves were a good fit here, and not just because they can drink a lot.
2. I like alternative takes on existing memes. Werewolves seem to be a bit “in” right now, but stories using them all sort of seem to be teen fantasies. New Moon, amirite? I wanted to return a bit of integrity to the werewolf legend: make them strong, and powerful, and something to be feared. They should be a force of nature that can’t be caged, or controlled, and consequences should be extreme if you try.
3. They’re freakin’ cool.
I totally get it! Which came first; the story or the wolves?
The story, but only by about two minutes. Werewolves were such a natural fit for the idea of the story, and I went with it. The story’s moved on quite a bit since the original idea, but the werewolves stayed: they were too cool to put down.
Research or imagination? What’s your take on using the legends and well-known werewolf tropes?
For me, it needs to be a bit of both. One of the things that gives me high levels of OCD-fuelled rage is when people take a perfectly good thing, let’s say it’s a vampire, and turn it into not a vampire. With the vampire legend, what makes it so tragic is that it’s truly a curse, to be ever at the edge of the light but unable to touch, despite being perfect and beautiful for all time.
Werewolves share some of these sorts of characteristics – if you follow the legends, they are cursed too, to live outside of human life or they end up killing everyone they love. Or maybe worse, turning them into cursed creatures like themselves. I spent a bit of time on working out what the common elements of “werewolf” was all about. What makes them change? What’s the characteristics of them when they’re not human? Where does the curse come from? How does it spread?
Can they be good, or are they purely evil? Do good and evil make sense in the context of the legend?
I started to try and piece together: how could the werewolf legend be true? What if it was… What would have to have happened for one of them to be left alive out there somewhere and us not to know about it? What would happen if their world collided with ours?
After I’d pieced this together, I wanted to add a few bits of uniqueness to the story, to make it individual. For example, there is a common theme to the lack of remembrance between the beast and the human, but I wanted you to hear the voice of the beast speaking to the man as they come to terms with each other. This makes the werewolf more than just a trope: it becomes a character in its own right, and characters are the cool parts.
It also gives context for why one werewolf might act differently from another, and why they might come into conflict. I wanted them to be as individual as you or me.
Any unexpected surprises writing ‘altered’ human characters?
Perspective. I wrestled a lot with perspective. The thing is, I don’t really know in my head what a werewolf would think, so telling a chapter from the perspective of one of them would be really hard.
This framed the story a little differently – you see their motivations more through actions than through their view of the world. This turned out to be one of the coolest parts of writing the story.
One of my favourite parts of the book was when the police have to deal with a severed hand that by all accounts should belong to the main character – but when they track him he seems to be intact. How hard / fun was it to bring the fantastical into a very modern / pragmatic setting?
It was a lot of fun! Some of the narrative was hard to keep consistent though. There are a lot of rules that Night’s Favour is based on, but I try not to expose those to the reader. They’re either unimportant, or should be obvious through what happens.
The hand is a good example 🙂 I wanted to explore what would happen if people with our set of assumptions would come up against things that don’t match. I had similar amounts of fun with the teeth, if I had to be honest.
You can just see the Police (or doctors, or whatever) sitting there, looking at the evidence, trying to add 2 and 3 and coming up with 12.
Definitely it was more fun than hard. The hard part is narrative consistency – if you have a set of rules, they need to universally apply. So, for example, I know what happens to a werewolf if they’re shot with silver before they change, and what happens if they’re shot after. If it’s different, it needs to always be different, not just because it’s convenient at that point in time.
Any advice for those of us considering writing our own mythical creatures?
Pick one you love. You’ll spend a lot of time with them.
Maybe don’t pick one everyone else uses, and vampires say hi, but if you really like vampires then by all means go for it. You’ll have a harder time writing a story about creatures you can’t like.
Thanks so much Richard!
For enigmatic werewolves, plenty of action and some great one-liners, I’d highly recommend Night’s Favour:
Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early. One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit? And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?
Richard Parry grew up on a steady diet of cartoons, observed around the edges of his parent’s watchful gaze. He started writing bad fiction at an early age, but has had 30 years to think about the error of his ways. When not writing speculative fiction, he works for a soulless megacorporation, selling the art of the possible to G-Men. It pays the bills. He lives with the love of his life, Rae, and a cat and a dog who wage constant war in a turn of the century house nestled against a river bank. All in all, it’s not so bad.
– by Raewyn Hewitt