Sinister or Sweet?

Posted on September 12, 2012

Categories: Writing

How do you react to the image above? Is it 'Aahhh' or 'Argh!!'?

Can such a woolly little bundle be sinister?

Is our response to such things more to do with context or with state of mind? This is a question any writer must surely address many a time and oft. It is up to us to put lamby here in the context that will imbue him with whatever properties we need him to have. At the same time, we must, long before he puts a neat little foot on the page, have so influenced and manipulated the reader's state of mind that even the cutest of creatures can appear downright terrifying.

This might seem obvious, as indeed it is when writing, say, a horror story, but that is a very straighforward instance. The same techniques and tactics come into play when we are writing something much more sublte; when what we do not write is as important as what we do write; when the subtext is what transforms Larry Lambkin into a wolf in sheep's clothing. Do we need reminding of the impact of the story within the story of The Silence of the Lambs which explained the title? Or the vanishing goat when the dinosaurs get out in Jurassic Park?

It works for inanimate objects too. Remember the little girl's red coat in 'Schindler's List'? In film or book, the power of the charming little thing as symbolic of something terrible is incredible.

Of course, living in Wales, we are surrounded by sheep, so I have seen them in all their many guises. Pinging about in spring when the hills are lousy with lambs. Grazing safely (as sheep may do) in the lush summer meadows. Arranging themselves in Christmas card poses in the snow.

But how easily all that harmony can be upset. What if the lambs are not playfully pinging, but leaping for their very lives to evade snatching jaws and claws? What if those grazing ewes throw up their heads and run blindly over a cliff edge, as they did in Hardy's 'Far From the Madding Crowd' (taking poor Gabriel Oak's hopes and dreams with them)? And those hoofprints in the snow are cloven, after all.

So, never underestimate the value of a cute animal for triggering feelings of dread in the reader. That lone lamb, lost and wandering, bleating for its mother, untended by the shepherd, straying ever nearer to danger and away from safety, could so eloquently stand for the beloved hero of your book.


Add Comment

All comments need to be approved by a moderator before they are displayed.