I just recently listened to the audiobook versions of these two stories, and was as struck by the similarities, as much as the dissimilarities. Suffice to say, if you’re going to write a Kaiju Style Apocalypse, for maximum terror, these are the things you’re gonna need to include: monsters, death, intrepid survivors, and some human villains.
Nightworld, written by F. Paul Wilson, waaay back in 1992, (it was heavily revised in 2001) , was the conclusion to a seven book series that started with The Keep, and starred Wilson’s original character, Repairman Jack, (who is sort of like Jack Reacher, only he fights the supernatural.)
In Nightworld, the entire world is beset by monsters who have emerged from sinkholes that circle the globe. This invasion is the precursor to the rise of an of Anti-God, named Rasolom, and Hell on Earth, as the sun begins rising later every day, and setting earlier every evening. Worldwide. (To someone with even the most basic understanding of Astronomy, that’s already pretty terrifying.) The endgame is an endless nighttime, where the various monsters, that are allergic to sunlight, can roam, and eat, freely.
In The Mist, a novella written by Stephen King, and first published in 1980, in the anthology titled Dark Forces, the world is overcome by a dense fog, in which all manner of different monsters live. It is theorized, by the characters, that scientists accidentally opened a portal to another universe, that flooded into Earth.
First, something naturally unnatural has to occur, in the sky or in the earth, like the sun setting at the wrong time everyday, fogs, mists, tsunamis, or giant holes opening up in the ground. The precursor to all hell breaking loose (literally), for these characters, is if the natural environment has suddenly gone horribly awry.
Second, you are going to need monsters, and not just Leviathans. You’re gonna need a variety of sizes to induce maximum terror. After all, you might be able to fight off, or avoid, the big ones, (I say “might”) but smaller monsters can creep into human hiding places, and cause general havoc, as well as sleeplessness.
You’re going to need, not just one big monster, but a variety of different sized monsters, from the small to the gargantuan.This is what makes these books different from a Kaiju story. They’re more like Kaiju-Adjacent.
You must have gruesome deaths. Some of these gruesome deaths must involve the use of some kind of acid that dissolves its victims alive. In Nightworld, there is a thoroughly disgusting collection of acidic critters that fly around eating people’s faces. In The Mist there are giant spiders with acidic webbing, as if the idea of giant spiders isn’t quite terrifying enough,I guess.
Some of your monsters must have wings. It doesn’t particularly matter what type of wings, as long as the creatures can fly. In Nightworld they have insect wings. In The Mist bat wings seem to be the preferred method of flight.
At least some of your monsters must have tentacles. Nightworld fulfills this requirement admirably, by having lots (and lots) of creatures with tentacles, grabbing people and pulling them into small apertures. The Mist has giant tentacles just sitting outside a grocery story, not even attached to anything, apparently. They’re certainly not attached to anything aquatic as grocery stores are normally on land. The Mist pours some extra gravy on its tentacular horrors by giving them tiny mouths.
At least one of the monsters encountered has to be so fantastical, that it defies belief , like The Mist’s Leviathan, or the creature that decides to take up most of the Atlantic Ocean in Nightworld.
Speaking of giant monsters, they have to come from somewhere, and out of giant holes, whether under the ocean, or out of the ground, as in Nightworld, are the perfect portals for entry. You must have portals. What?! Them monsters gotta get here somehow.
Okay, once you’ve got your monsters sorted into their various sizes, along with where they’re visiting from, and their transportation, you then have to lay out who it is they’ll be eating. You must have an intrepid group of people, whose job it is to be eaten, trapped, survive, or defeat the monsters.
I’m not sure if The Mist qualifies in that department, as the people in that story seem scared shitless, throughout the entire ordeal. Nevertheless, since all the other criteria are met, we’ll refer to them as intrepid anyway. After all, they do some brave things, like fighting the giant spiders, and arguing with the crazy religious lady. The characters from Nightworld are actually described as brave and fearless in the book. In fact, one of the characters has a speech about it, and they all engage in some boldness, some daring, and even some indomitable behavior.
Your intrepid group of people must consist of, at least one straight, honest, stand-up, White guy. It is a requirement that he be both honest, and White, and no substitutes will be made. He must be the kind of White guy who is strong and bold, but also compassionate, idealistic, and willing to protect the little guy. He must be able to clearly articulate why things need doing, and convey those beliefs to the other characters.
In other words, you need Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
Nightworld fulfills this quota with two…count’em!, two stand-up White guys. Although, I feel the writer is clearly overdoing it, by having one of them be a former priest, and the other an ancient swordsman.
In accordance with the James Kirk Axiom, you will them need a pretty blond White woman. A redhead or possibly auburn haired woman can be used in a pinch, but she must be heterosexual, and conventionally pretty. No arm fat, tattoos, arthritis, or nervous diseases need apply. Not even allergies. She must be in perfect physical health and form, and above all else, she must remain un-traumatized by any of the preceding events attending the end of the world, like watching her family and friends be eaten.
And for Gob’s sake, no women of color! Apparently women of color, (and any women with tattoos) all get eaten first…or something. Whatever is happening though, they never seem to make it to the being intrepid part of the story.
There must be at least one child, preferably a boy, but a young girl will suffice. They can be White, but it is not a hard and fast rule, as it is not required that they be genetically related to either the White man, or White woman. Sometimes it can just be some kid one of them picked up somewhere. Extra points if the child is an orphan who just witnessed their family be eaten by the monsters, for maximum trauma. How else are you going to convey to the reader how dangerous the world is, without the help of crying, screaming children. Also, you can always fill up some time by having the child be in extra special danger, by having them wander off alone, or be autistic, or something.
Nightworld is interesting in that there is a perfectly healthy and un-traumatized child in the story, which is turned on its head, by having the child become autistic, when he helps save the world.
Surrounding this trio are what I like to call the intrepid, but disposable people. They are the literary equivalent of non-playable characters. Don’t get too attached to them, these characters could be eaten at any second. They should consist of at least one (if not more) men of color, preferably Black or Latino. You can break the rules and have there be at least one woman of color in the story, but they can’t have any lines of dialogue, unless its exclamations like “Look out!”, or “Aaaaaahhhh!” Any exposition should be left to any extra White men, that you have added, preferably a teacher, or a scientist. Nightworld has a priest, who knows what’s happening, and can explain it to those characters who are out of the loop. David Drayton, from The Mist, is an illustrator, which kind of changes things up a bit, but he is still the narrator.
Nightworld is not a good template for casting your characters because all of its major characters are White. (People of color probably didn’t exist when it was written. I have it on good authority, that we weren’t invented, in Horror literature, until about 1999. Well, Stephen King had discovered us, but we had to be magical to get in his stories.) There should be no more than ten of these non-essential characters. More than ten and the reader will lose track of who they should be terrified is going to die next.
And last, but not least, you must have at least one asshole. No story about the end of the world is complete without at least one human being, who is trying to kill off the other human beings, and that you wish would hurry up and be eaten by something. By anything.
The Mist is exemplary in that it has two…Count ’em! Two assholes. Norton, the asshole neighbor of David Drayton, and Ms. Carmody, the asshole religious townie. Norton fulfills the role of the asshole who wants desperately to be in charge, but no one will listen to him, who becomes increasingly unhinged. He eventually dies by skipping out into the mist to feed himself to the monsters.
Ms Carmody fulfills the role of the asshole, who is already thoroughly unhinged, before the story even begins, and the intrepid people are now trapped with her crazy ass, and the other scared people start thinking that human sacrifice makes sense.
Nightworld fulfills this requirement, in exemplary fashion, by also having multiple assholes in the script. In the unrevised edition of the story, (from before 2001), it was the husband of one of the intrepid people. In the newly improved book, its some random bad guys from previous books, who mostly don’t come into contact with our intrepid gang.
And finally, the ending can’t be all wishy-washy. (We’re looking at you Steve!) In The Mist, there really isn’t much of an end to the story. We don’t know if David Drayton and his friends ever get out of it, or how long it lasts. (Thankfully the movie corrects this problem, which is all I have to say, in that the movie definitely has an end.) Nightworld correctly follows the rules, by having the good guys win, at the last possible second. You know the rules. Disaster is only averted when the countdown reaches one.
Now my people, go forth, and kill your darlings.