I recently finished reading The Belles and came across an interesting concept – that our novels can come from somewhere deeper. They can come from our personal ‘monsters’. Clayton tells us that The Belles was conceived from her adolescent struggles to understand something I doubt we will ever have the answer to; what is beautiful? From a seemingly common question, a dark, disturbing, and unsettling world was born. Clayton takes us to a place where beauty is currency, it is law, and it is ever-changing. So my question is, what is your monster?
Writers often hear the four word doctrine “write what you know” so often that it becomes ingrained in our minds that we cannot possibly write a masterpiece from something we haven’t experienced. So, if we forsake the obvious claims that are the basic definitions of science fiction and fantasy, what is it about our own experience that makes it all the more compelling? I guess for me there are two answers. One as a writer, and one as a reader.
- I can show you a side of the story you’ve never seen
Clayton demonstrates fantastical ideas about beauty and fashion that could only come from someone who has spent so much time intoxicated by them. She created styles, tastes, currencies, and laws that come from everyday topics but are all the more enhanced in Orléans.
“The world of Orléans is built from the flesh and bones of that monster. It’s ugly, painful, unsettling, and oftentimes disturbing.” – Dhonielle Clayton, The Belles
As a writer, your monster is yours to share and manifest however you please. You know it better than anybody else, and you can make it into something brand new. While nearly everybody has a hard time finding their place in a world of social media and influencers, only Clayton could take 1990s models and shallow boyfriends and turn them into scandal, intrigue, and a fatal desire for the perfect aesthetic.
2. I can see my darker thoughts in a new light
When a monster comes to life, it rarely looks as it was imagined or as it was expected to. I might have my own desires of beauty and power, but have never seen them in this way before. When someone takes your own secret, or even mild curiosity, and runs with it in this way, it draws you in. You want to know how it ends. You want to know if you were right.
Even if you haven’t had thoughts on the topic, or struggles in that arena, you are bound to be intrigued. Especially when the topic is at the centre stage of society. As a reader, your perceptions will be challenged and you will be forced to see another angle. Were you right? Did it end well?
So when we talk about muses, from now on I will call them monsters. I prefer that, less angelic and more unpredictable. A monster is raw, sometimes uncontrollable. When you write, is it from a darker place? What’s your monster?
Let me know in the comments!