An Experiment in Immersive Storytelling
Behind the Scenes:
Real Talk on Werewolves


Illustration of wolf in the woods sitting in front of the full moon.
Wolves are awesome. Change my mind. (You can't.)

Okay, yes, yes—they are overdone. To illustrate, I found the image above among 19,891 werewolf images to choose from on Adobe Stock. Compare that to the fascinating Qalupalik (alternate spelling: Qallupilluit) of Inuit folklore, which returned precisely zero results.

It's a common problem with any legend or supernatural beast that gains popularity. One of the earliest known werewolf legends is from Greek mythology. So, we're talking way back. There are a few different versions of the legend, but they all say a man named Lycaon angered Zeus, and Zeus turned Lycaon into a wolf. How Lycaon angered Zeus is a matter of which version of the legend we're talking about. Another early mention is from Herodotus in his Histories from 430 BC. In it, the Neuri, a tribe northeast of Scythia, all became wolves once a year.

Four books stacked on top of one another. The books are about Scythians and Ancient Persia.
Fun fact: I happen to know a lot about Scythians and Ancient Persia. I spent a few years researching them and related topics for a novel. I almost collapsed my desk while taking a photo of a few of the books in my history collection for this era because thick books with plenty of full-color images weigh a ton.

Since Herodotus, every type of media you can imagine has portrayed werewolves. Because of that, it's hard to develop a unique werewolf story. At its core, the concept of a werewolf is quite simple—a human temporarily becomes a wolf (and typically wreaks havoc for a short period.) 

Werewolf stories, much like vampires, have gone through cycles of booms where they explode into popularity, fade into the background, and then become popular again.

A Fresh Take on Werewolves

I always consider the need for a fresh take on any story that I write. No one wants to read the same horror story over and over, just with names and locations changed. Of course, since storytelling has been around for humanity's entire existence, there will always be some similarities no matter what fresh take one has on something.

So, what makes one story more entertaining than another?

"I do it better!" — Fanny Addie, Scare Me
Theatrical film poster for the movie Scare Me on Shudder.com
If you haven't seen the film Scare Me, drop everything you're doing tonight and check it out.

I built Absolution for an audience of one—Zarina. Of all the werewolf stories ever to exist, what fresher take could there possibly be than playing out the actual story as the protagonist? This isn't to say that I've written the best werewolf story in existence, only that Absolution took a different angle on werewolves that the audience (Zarina) had never seen before.

Writing to Market

In the publishing (especially self-publishing) world, there's a concept called "writing to market." Essentially, it means looking at the market for books, analyzing trends, and using those trends to write what readers are looking for. I did that with Absolution, only my potential market was one person, so it was a hell of a lot easier.

Two people sitting at laptops. They are focusing on a notes that appear to be quite complex.
This is how I imagine authors researching market trends.

The whole point of writing to market is to create something that readers want instead of spending time (possibly years) writing something that no one cares about. I'm not making any statement on whether writing to market is a good or bad thing to do, only that I did it for this one story as a strategy for ensuring Zarina enjoyed it.

Screencap of Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia—the Pepe Silvia episode. Charlie has a bunch of notes on the walls and has connected them with red string. He looks as if he's uncovered a crazy conspiracy.
Realistically, this is probably more how most authors decide what to write.

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is an art form, a delicate balancing act that requires knowing enough about an audience to connect with them, but not so much that the storyteller gives them something stale, something overdone.

A marshmallow roasting over an open fire.
Have you ever roasted marshmallows? It's like that. The tiny difference in time between a nicely toasted treat and a dangerous flaming ball of napalm.

One of the points of storytelling is to connect with the audience, lure them in, and make it unforgettable. It's a tricky thing to do with people you don't know anything about—which is why there is no universally agreed upon "best book"—not even within a specific genre like horror. After all, some people don't even like horror. What would it even be? What does it mean to be the best?

The Truth of Horror

While you're at that whole "drop everything you're doing tonight" and checking out Scare Me, make it a double feature and watch Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon as well. The film is a mockumentary that follows the rise of a new legendary slasher, a la Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.

Leslie Vernon: You have no idea how much cardio I have to do. It's ridiculous.

Taylor Gentry
: Why so much?

Leslie Vernon
: You oughta be able to run like a freaking gazelle without getting winded. Plus, there's that whole thing of making it look like you're walking when everybody else is running their asses off. And I gotta stay with them. It's tough, man. It's tough.

— Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

There's a lot that goes into every story to try and make it hit the way the author intends. You may have encountered the idea that the purpose of horror is to create feelings of fear, dread, disgust, and terror in an audience—or, to put it simply, scare them. But, whence does horror come? (I just finished a re-read of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and as a result, I've resolved to use whence a few times to try it out.) And, how exactly is an author to evoke such feelings?

I mentioned this briefly in a newsletter that I wrote about Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, but horror reflects societal anxieties and the terror of living. Successful horror—a horror story that connects with readers—reflects their own fears back at them, revealing terrifying truths from their own lives. Occasionally, horror also comforts the audience with a reprieve from their own lives and provides hope by showing how to deal with something horrific. This frequently happens in monster tales, where the monster loses at the end.

In real life, though, that doesn't always happen. But, all of us, we're all protagonists in our own lives; we're all heroes in our own stories.