Writing Exercise #8 – Whimsical Horror

This is post is approximately 650 words, many of them silly nonsense, but limned with a sinister tone, I hope.

I like fun and I like whimsy, and I like them mixed with horror. In the appropriate proportions, of course. Without the proper balance, a story is either too dark or too goofy. It’s something I’m managing in certain parts of my current manuscript.

I think this penchant comes from fairy tales I read in childhood. They’re cautionary stories, of course: stay in bed, eat your peas, don’t lie! They all promise horrible fates to children who fail in some regard. Take Little Red Riding Hood, who was devoured by a slavering wolf before a woodcutter sliced open the beast’s belly to free her.

In deliberate contrast to the horrors of the story, the pages often featured colorful illustrations of cherubic tots venturing obliviously into danger. After a few similar stories, we all knew something bad was coming, despite the innocence of the art. And we loved it. As kids, we were practically watching them through half-covered eyes, gleefully anticipating their demise as we imagined their chubby little legs carrying them toward certain doom. 

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever cheered for these children the way I did for other heroes, like Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. Let’s chalk that up to schadenfreude and move on.

These memories came to mind this morning as I walked across the parking lot to the office. I’d been listening to Harry Potter: A History of Magic, the Audio Documentary in the car, in which I heard similar bouts of glee from contributors as they discussed the fantastic and the horrific. When I sat down at my desk, the following flowed from me in about seven minutes.

Shilly shilly yum-yums,

Sucking on my thumb thumbs

Wakes me from my slum slums

Makes me want to run run

Chase me through the house at night

Give me so much of a fright

Little snipping jaws of hate

Loving little thumbs to ate

Doors to every room are locked

On the outside do they knock

Shilly shilly yum-yums

They’re coming for my thumb thumbs!

Hands held out of reach, yes

Snapping at my night-dress

Toes not out of reach, no

And it wants to nibble, so

Shilly shilly yum-yums

Nipping on my toes toes

Anywhere I goes goes

Never can escape, no.

Never will escape, no.

I think people who are reading this post fall into two categories: those who can’t believe I wrote these verses in less than ten minutes. And those, based on its simplicity (and other criticisms),  who don’t doubt it for a moment. In my writing, there’s no such thing as a single draft, so I know I’m not presenting perfection. It is a writing exercise, after all.

Keep your arms ‘neath the covers, children, lest the shilly shilly yum-yums nibble at your thumb thumbs!

What the “shilly shilly yum-yums” look like, I have no idea. Since the narrator can hold her hands out of reach, the creatures must be short. Since they favor fingers and toes, they must have small mouths. They’re cowardly, too, since they wait for children to sleep before nibbling on them. As I’m editing this post, they seem to be dark, many-teethed little creatures, who can hop, but not climb. I imagine a kind of comedic horror, similar to Gremlins.

When it comes to world-building, my story employs many of the common foundations you’d expect in fantasy (e.g. language, history, mythology), but I also consider songs, traditions, poems, and cautionary tales as equally important. Hopefully, these are the details that help transport readers fully into the world of Empyrelia.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, November 2018


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