Analysing the Tale of the Twisted Claw

1024 684 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

‘Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it!’

Analysing S01E04 ‘The Tale of the Twisted Claw

Let’s get started! Here’s an embedded video from the official Are You Afraid of the Dark? YouTube channel but you can also click on the link above and watch it over on YouTube instead:

Episode overview

Horror tropes to watch out for

Be careful what you wish for, three wishes, scare dare, old dark house

Storyteller

David

Frame story (what’s happening around the campfire) 

Ugh, Eric. It’s his night to tell a story and everyone’s on tenterhooks as he reaches the climax. A little boy wakes from a bad dream only to find a monster next to his bed and then… BAM! Lazy Eric reveals he hasn’t figured out the ending yet. Don’t do this at home, kids! There’s a time and place for a cliffhanger but when all your friends sneak out of their bedrooms at midnight with limited time to hear ghost story, they expect it to be wrapped up in twenty minutes. This, of course, gets us thinking about the merits of leaving your middle grade or YA novel unresolved, forcing readers to buy the sequel in order to find out what happens. I really advise against this! It’s absolutely valid to leave a couple of threads open for further exploration in book two but the main narrative arc needs to be tied up or readers will feel frustrated, dissatisfied and cheated. Leave all that ‘to be continued’ stuff to serialised magazine mysteries and 1960s episodes of Batman. Give your readers an answer to the story’s narrative question by the end or expect angry letters from fans!

Plot

Taken from the official YouTube channel:

At Halloween, Kevin and Dougie decide they will break with the tradition and visit the scary house of Miss Clove, known to everyone as the Witch. Instead of the usual candies they are expecting, Miss Clove has a special treat for these daring young boys–an ugly, Twisted Claw.

Theme

I’d suggest the theme here is impulsiveness and thinking before you speak. Eric starts telling a story without considering where it’s going (is this going to get him a written warning from the gang, at least? I hope so), while the boys are pushed into making spur of the moment, seemingly innocent wishes that have devastating consequences. Kevin is introduced as an adventure-seeking dude, always looking for the next thrill and not giving much thought to what might go wrong, so this story seems to be exploring how children make choices and the importance of thinking through your actions. Remember that children’s books are no longer the place for preaching or correcting behaviour and this isn’t what AYAOTD seeks to do, either. Rather it’s reflecting genuine childhood behaviours, experiences and mistakes. Kid do often make impulsive decisions that turn out to be disastrous! This episode helps viewers process and work through that part of them in a safe space.

Story development

Protagonist’s goal and motive

It’s a dual POV this time with teen boys Kevin and Dougie getting equal screen time in the story. Kevin is the more daring of the two friends, always looking for adventure, while Dougie (played by Noah Plener of Ready or Not fame) is cautious, and against Dougie’s protest the two play a prank on scary Miss Clove on mischief night (how cute and innocent does that sound?). Their goals start out as most AYAOTD episodes do: Kevin wants bragging rights for pranking the local ‘witch’ while sensible Dougie just wants to stay out of trouble.

Devices and motifs

When Kevin wishes to beat Bostick in a race, a black dog runs onto the pitch and trips Bostick up, breaking his leg, so that Kevin can win. Black dogs pop up a lot in horror and supernatural folklore as an omen of death (I actually attended a fascinating webinar, ‘Beyond the Hound’, from The Folklore Podcast recently about black dog mythology) so this feels like a symbol of bad energy, a warning to the boys that these wishes are not what they seem.

As always we see lots of focus on doors and thresholds, with the boys hesitating over knocking on Miss Clove’s door. It’s by entering her house that they pass the point of no return and have the vulture’s claw and its dangerous magic foisted on them. At the end of the story we get a dramatic zoom-in on Dougie’s front door when the doorbell rings and we wait to discover if the curse has been broken: will opening this door have a better outcome than opening Miss Clove’s?

Monster / Villain

Cackling Miss Clove is the baddie in this episode although she’s a very sympathetic antagonist. Who can blame her for playing a trick on the boys when they squirted her in the face with cream and made her break a vase? Like lots of good villains, Miss Clove’s character is the polar opposite of the boys and highlights their fatal flaw: she possesses the foresight and smart planning they lack. When they first prank her, she predicts they’ll come back on Halloween and has the vulture’s claw ready, and she knows offering them three wishes will teach them a lesson in thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Climax and resolution

The tension builds as the wish aftermath get worse and worse until finally Kevin wishes that Dougie would just lose his parents (noooooo!😭). When Dougie gets a call from the police to say his folks were in a car accident, he knows he has to fix things and makes one final wish that they never got the claw in the first place. Thankfully his parents return home safe and sound and Miss Clove leaves the broken vase, now good as new, on their doorstep with a card saying ‘trick or treat’.

Call to Adventure!

How to use these ideas and observations in your own work

Hopefully this episode has given you middle grade horror or dark fantasy writers a lot of ideas and inspiration! Here are some things to think about when writing or revising your own manuscript:

    • There’s a focus on individual responsibility and choice and how characters deal with the consequences of their actions in this episode. Is your main character an active protagonist, driving the story with their decisions? They should always be in the driving seat, making choices and taking action as often as possible to propel the narrative forward. Dougie and Kevin are cruel to Miss Clove and that decision is met with a cursed vulture’s claw. They respond to this by making wishes which each have devastating consequences and eventually they have to deal with them. The entire story is kicked off and resolved because of choices they make.
    • This episode features the motif of a black dog, which is symbolic of death and danger in folklore and the horror genre. How could you use mythology and symbolism in a new way in your novel to add atmosphere or even change the direction of your plot?
    • Don’t be like Eric! Think about the ending of your novel: is the story arc fully resolved? Do you answer your narrative question? Will readers feel satisfied and rewarded when they get to the last line? If not, you might not be ending the story in the right place.

Thanks so much for reading, lovely writer! Want empowering, feel-good writing chat and fairy dust in your inbox? Plus receive a PDF of my recommended writing craft books for children’s and YA writers (including go-to genre guides and Children’s Lit MA reading list) AND £20 Wolf Credit to spend with me! Sign up today!

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes