In Allison Pang's IronHeart chronicles, each chapter begins with a short rhyming couplet that sounds like a chat children would use when skipping rope. The eerie, slightly sinister rhymes are one of Outland's favorite details for the IronHeart books, so we asked her to share a little bit about where that concept came from, and how it evolved over the series.
Worldbuilding a fantasy novel is made up of a number of parts. Often there are all sorts of details that
only the author knows, but they may “breadcrumb” them throughout the story so they don’t simply
infodump everything in the first chapter. I’m a big fan of letting the readers learn things organically –
though I think sometimes I maybe hold things a little too close to my vest so I’ve been trying to be
better about that.
One of the questions I get about my IronHeart series is “What’s the deal with the freaky nursery
rhymes/poems in the beginning of each chapter?” Caveat – I actually had to fight to keep these in
during early rounds of editing. A couple of beta readers didn’t understand why they were there,
wondering if they were pertinent to the story.
In my mind, of course they did, but even if they aren’t technically part of the plot, I felt they added some
worldbuilding “flavor” through the use of a familiar literary device.
At first I simply twisted some of the more recognizable ones into something a bit more sinister. I thought
by doing this I could remind readers of their own childhood memories, and therefore subconsciously
make a closer connection to Raggy Maggy and her world. By writing them so they were overtly darker, it
was a way to get a better idea of the dystopian society in which she and the other Moon Children live.
Truthfully, many nursery rhymes and lullabies are already pretty dark if you dig deeper into their origins,
even if most of us today don’t really know the original connotations. Many are thought to be historical
references of various monarchs or religious personages, but I’m not sure most of us really pay much
attention to the words directly – they are simply part of our childhoods and our society.
As the books progressed, I started running out of common nursery rhymes so I just wrote my own, but
from a story perspective, it actually made quite a bit of sense. In the earlier books, Maggy is trapped
within BrightStone – both via society and her own inner walls. As she moves through the books, she
grows more independent. The nursery rhymes reflect this, becoming less about death and darkness and
more about hope and moving forward and accepting the simple truths that allow Maggy to ultimately
make her own decisions and take her place in the world.
Curious to see how these rhymes help build Maggy's world? Catch up on Maggy's adventures in Magpie's Song and Magpie's Fall and keep watching for preorder details for Magpie's Flight, out this November from Outland Entertainment.
Allison is the author of the Urban Fantasy Abby Sinclair series, the steampunk IronHeart Chronicles series, and also the writer for the webcomic Fox & Willow (available in print through Outland Entertainment). She likes LEGOS, elves, LEGO elves…and bacon. Represented by Jess Regel of Helm Literary