MarcyKate Connolly’s debut novel, the middle grade fantasy Monstrous, chronicles the adventures of Kymera, a girl brought back from the dead and made into a human-cat-raven-snake hybrid by her scientist father. (Though as the plot unravels, her origins prove more complex.) Pitched as “Brothers Grimm-meets-Frankenstein,” the novel delivers, and its mixture of classic fantasy and strange, gory elements makes for a satisfying read.
Here are a few things writers can learn from Connolly’s debut.
1. Give your protagonist a unique perspective.
Kymera is an intriguing protagonist, in large part because she’s so different from everyone around her. She yearns for the company of humans, yet knows she’s completely different from them. Animal instincts and human instincts compete within her––sometimes aligned, often at odds. In certain ways, she understands the humans in the nearby city; in other ways, their actions confound her.
All of this makes Kymera a fascinating main character. She’s an outsider, giving her a unique window into the world. While others see her––and sometimes her deeds––as monstrous, to herself she’s normal, with beautiful wings, a useful tail, and an important mission. This disparity adds a compelling tension to the book, and a profound reminder that things are not always what they seem.
2. Specific goals can change throughout the story––but underlying motivation should stay the same.
When Kymera comes to life, she’s given an important task: to rescue the girls of the city Bryre from a hospital, before an evil wizard gets to them. For the first section of the book, this task propels her, and she’s driven entirely by her goal to save the girls of Bryre.
A mid-novel plot twist complicates Kymera’s mission, and she realizes her task wasn’t as clear-cut as she thought. Yet, though her specific goals change, her central motivation stays the same. Throughout the entire novel, Kymera wants to help Bryre. Whatever her task, she’s always driven by the same deep desire: to be a protector, and to save the city she loves.
3. Push your protagonist to the edge. And maybe off of it.
It’s a common piece of writing advice: send your protagonist to the darkest place you can think of. Take away everything they hold dear. Push them to the edge. But rarely have I seen this done in a way that’s so…visceral.
The world Kymera lives in is a dark one, with an evil king and an evil wizard, an enchanted, malignant briar patch, humans who think she’s a monster, and a shorter and shorter list of people she can trust. As she begins to unravel the story of her own origins, this darkness touches her very being––quite literally, the pieces she’s made of––and she begins to wonder if all the humans who call her a monster are right.
Connolly’s debut is a good reminder to challenge our protagonists. To make them question everything, right down to their very bones. In this way, we spur their growth––and we keep our readers turning pages, wondering how the heck the protagonist will get out of this one…
Want to chat more about Monstrous? You can find me on Twitter @beckererine.