Last August I made the promise that I would actually go off and do some of the writing exercises I’ve suggested here and in my online courses. I had a little success with some—wrote a maybe okay rough draft of a story inspired by a picture—a lot of success with some—writing longhand is working for me—and not at all successful—I couldn’t eavesdrop on someone to study dialog because I could neither hear clearly enough nor write fast enough. But the trying is the thing, right?

A couple weeks ago I suggested trying writing prompts and random plot ideas to get your creative juices floating. Rather than wait some unknown number of months to follow up on that, I’m going to go ahead and dive right in and try writing a very short story based on a random prompt.

I’m reading very short horror stories today as my online Horror Intensive wraps up for this run of the course, and inspired by that I feel like writing a horror story. Following one of the links from that post, I ended up at’s Creepypasta & Supernatural Horror Story Prompt Generator, hit the button and, without rejecting, editing, or even thinking at all—like an improv student is taught to say, “Yes, and . . .”—I just hit the “Give me the jibblies!” button and ended up with . . . drum roll please . . .

At midnight, a strange woman, a biologist, and a young witch explore an asylum haunted by the spirit of a serial killer while searching for a disturbing teddy bear.

And I’m going to write it in longhand first then type it in here for all to read. To the notebook!


Okay, then, after writing by hand without pause for (coincidentally—I didn’t set a timer or anything) exactly half an hour, here’s what I came up with:


Lala in the Basement


The scream hit Maria like a wave of boiling water, washing over her face, burning her—then she realized she was the source of the sound.

It was the way it walked that ripped the sound out of her. Skin crawling around the sound, twitching at each echo pinging off the close-in concrete walls. Even in the privacy of her own thoughts she couldn’t call it a teddy bear. Teddy bears were cute, cuddly, innocent, harmless, infantile, and inanimate. This creature hadn’t been any of those things in a while.

Maria screamed again when it turned to look at her. Its eyes, just blank black buttons, glassy and cold, fell in on themselves. The buttons gave out onto a darkness that Maria knew in that moment—requiring no further evidence—opened onto the black pits of Hell itself.

A hand on her elbow—skin hot and rough—and she spun so fast she lost her footing and dropped to the damp concrete floor.

“Is it here?” the professor asked, his normally deep voice shrill. “Did you see it?”

Maria wanted to hit him for touching her like that—kill him, even, like she had with her husband when he tried to leave her. But she let him help her back to her feet.

“It’s—” she started, forcing herself to turn back to the hideous thing.


Dark. Empty. The smell of stagnant water on old concrete. The echoing drip of water from somewhere within and a metallic clank from the steam pipes that covered the ceiling.

“Did you see it?” the professor asked again—more calm now, his voice closer to its normal register, then, “Behind you!”

Maria spun again and fell again and it was there. A scream lodged in her throat when the creature bit deeply into Professor Karel’s inner thigh. The tear of his scrubs accompanied by the pop of teeth penetrating skin. The blood spread into the fabric fast and Maria pushed away with one foot and sobbed and her throat tightened again.

The professor screamed—Maria had never heard a man scream like that. He reached down with both hands and pushed back on the creature’s blood-drenched fur. The little half-circle ears gave no resistance.

It came off him and Maria screamed again, this time managing to call, “Lala!” Her own voice as shrill as the professor’s.

Professor Karel fell back, eyes wide and wet and seeming about to explode. Maria whimpered knowing he was looking into the thing’s eyes—its dead black eyes that led to the Pits. And she screamed again at the blood.

It came out of him in waves, absorbing into his clothes, draining out of him so he bathed in it. He already seemed pale.

“No,” Maria coughed out then rolled onto her stomach to push at the floor with both hands to try to get away—get on her feet and run.

“It killed him,” she whimpered, though she didn’t know if that was quite true yet. Still, if it killed the professor—the man who’d created it—maybe that would be enough for it. Maybe then it would stop, go back to sleep, go back to being a toy.

Lala hadn’t said as much.

Lala seemed to know.

Lala, who Maria used to call “creepy” and even “Little Miss Satanist” when she first came to the institution.

Lala, who had warned Professor Karel, told him not to read any more of the book the dying patient, the man with the seventeen people inside him, gave him—warned him not to say the words out loud, not to follow its alchemical recipes or to bleed on it or sleep with it in his arms, cradled in bed with him.

Lala, who had warned them all then watched them die, one by one.

Lala, the patient.

Lala, the schizophrenic.

Lala, the inmate.

Lala, host for the spirit of a child murderer.

“Lala,” Maria begged when she felt the teddy bear touch her. “Lala—”

“Enough,” Lala said from above her. She sounded tired.

Maria sobbed and closed her eyes.

“This one is mine,” Lala said, and Maria screamed as Lala, the witch, started to eat her.


That’s almost 700 words of rough, semi-coherent fiction in thirty minutes. Maybe you actually can write 1000 words a day, especially if you take that advice about writing a short, bad book—or short, bad story—then give yourself the time and space to think about it, play with it, revise it, and make something out of it later.

This exercise . . . a success!



—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in freelance editing, freelance writing, horror movies, horror novels, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, monsters, Publishing Business, Pulp Fiction, Story Structure, transmedia, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


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