Fear in Writing: The Lion or the Snake?

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lion or the Snake?

My 2yo is into storytelling.  She tells some wonderful tales, minus most of the conjunctions, of course.  Saturday she tole me a story of a lion and a snake (her current favorite topics).  Someone turned into a lion and someone turned into a snake...and I asked her, "Which was scarier?  The lion, or the snake?"  She said, "The lion.  He had huge claws."

The lion is a large animal, equipped with claws, yes, and sharp teeth made for ripping into flesh and muscle.  Its mane is magnificent and somewhat terrifying when sweeping over a victim.  Its power is unquestionable and, I'd imagine, it is near-impossible to escape a lion unless one is armed.

The snake is small--usually.  Long and slender but fear-inspiring nonetheless.  Some can wrap themselves around a victim and squeeze until dead.  But most deadly snakes just bite.  The venom in this reptile runs the gamut from irritating to deadly.

So, which is scarier?  The large animal that shows you death before it arrives, kills you in a bloody, brutal way, and from which it is nearly physically impossible to escape?  Or the small one that sneaks up on you or slithers into your path, strikes quickly and without warning, causing a slower onset of pain and, may times, death?

Now for the writing connection...You knew it was coming!

Deciding on the lion or the snake is an important point in a writer's process.  The type of book you are writing can hinge on this decision.  Is your antagonist a methodical criminal who uses the sneakiest of methods?  Or a blatant psychopath who leaves trails of horror and gore in his wake?

Does your book lull the reader with beautiful language and glorious passage, then BANG! hit them with a surprise twist?  Or does it smash them in every chapter with action and consequence?

Which type of writer are you?  The lion or the snake?

*Snake photograph courtesy Randy L. Emmitt

Return to Literary Movement Series: Beat Generation
Friday: Writers in Jail
Monday: LM Series-Realism
Tuesday: LM Series-The Lost Generation


  1. Hmmmm... good question. I think I may be the snake.

    Love that story by your 2 yr old. Very cute!

  2. Snake for me too. The lion is just a big cat.

    Think I'll warm up for tomorrows post re-reading some high-lights from On the Road >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  3. I guess I'm a snake. I'd rather be bit by a snake than a lion any day. To be bit by a snake may mean death but to be mauled by a lion - that is a nightmare. Or a bear. eeek! That is why I always take my trusty bottle of scotch when camping. Then I can sleep in bear and snake territory.

  4. Clever analogy. I'd have to say a little of both, although more lion than snake.

  5. Tabitha- She's quite...outgoing. :) And you know what? I don't have an answer. I really don't!

    Cold- Loving that Kerouac! Don't forget Burroughs...just as, if not more, prevocative.

    Jan- I knew you'd have the most interesting answer! Scotch, eh? I'll have to remember that.

    Alex- I guess I'll read your book to find out...!

  6. Great story!

    I think my subgenre dictates more of a lion approach...or a quiet snake. :)

  7. I think you need both. Especially as a mystery writers. To keep suspense, you need the lion in front of the readers. But, out of nowhere, the snake should arrive.

  8. As you know I don't write mystery but if I did I would have to say the Lion.

    I just wanted to pop over and say hello, yes, it has been a long time. How are you doing? Email coming soon.

  9. Although not a writer, I agree with Clarissa; I think the best answer is both. Action throughout with a ZAP here and there!

  10. Elizabeth- I think your Myrtle was a lion, and the antagonist a snake. But we'll see with this new series!

    Clarissa- A balance is nice, you're right. So far, you have the best take on this!

    Piedmont- Thanks so much. Good here! Like the lion and the snake question, I'm finding balance.

    Crystal- I like the ZAP idea! Glad to see you here again. I'm trying to be better about getting to other blogs. :)

  11. I don't think I could pick one. I would agree with some of the others here and say that I'm a little of both.

    Really, I could be a lion in snake's clothing. I like to slither around and build tension slowly, more by what is NOT written and foreshadowing. Buth then, BAM. I hit'em with a series of punches. In my perfect story arc, I would then pull back just a little, coming back at them on attack and making the reader reel with the punch of action. Kind of like when a cat has caught the mouse but lets it go to prolong the chase.

  12. J.L.- Sounds like the makings for a great book. When can I read it? :)

  13. Probably a combination of the two, but more snake than lion. You don't see him coming, but it wreaks horrible havoc.

    Straight From Hel

  14. Neat analogy :) I think I'm a bit of a combination with a bit of a lean towards the snake side.

  15. I guess that in a sense, all lions have the ability to kill a person. Not all snakes have poisonous venom that kill their prey... but they are all slithery, sneaky little devils. Lions have the ability to sneak, but their size inevitably give them away along with the fact that they bite and scratch and it is immediately felt. The snake can be detected, but usually after the fact. And even if they don't bite, they are still up to no good (like the slimy wanna-be exec in the office that screws over everyone to get what they want). When they don't bite, there is still an amount of damage done and adrenaline still pumps. As I see it: snakes are found everywhere making their little vampiric bite marks... lions are the rare enemy unless you put yourself in the situation to be attacked.

  16. Snakes are not too be trusted - no legs. They're as bad as spiders, squids and octopi - too many legs.

  17. There is a bit of a lull before action scenes in my books. Its fun to mess with the reader's mind a bit and then make a left turn and smack them in the face with something they didn't quite expect.

    Oh, and I haven't fogotten about the guest blogger spot. I'll send something your way soon.

    Stephen Tremp

  18. Helen- I'd hate to get on your bad side!

    Jemi- Aaaahhh, snake. Fits with the shyness you've claimed!

    Jeanne- Exactly, and I like the rare part you added. So are you rare or sneaky?

    Elspeth- No legs or too many, both make my skin crawl!

    Stephen- I like reading books like that. And no prob! You have a week.

  19. I love your 2yo's story! My 3yo loves stories, both telling them and having them told to her. I love it!

  20. I want to write both kinds of characters in the future. Both full of menace, but possessing completely different qualities.

  21. Can I say both?
    I have both gentle builds with a sudden shock and wild roller-coasters.