Thursday, April 28, 2011

Playing with Fear

Over on my personal blog, I belong to a Blog Chain (a group of writers who blog on the same topic once or twice a month and link to each other). I was recently going back over some old posts and came across one whose topic has been on my mind a lot lately.

I'm currently in the process of rewriting the first novel I ever wrote. One thing I've needed to do is add a little more depth to my characters...make their hopes and fears more tangible, more a part of them and who they are, and above all, stay consistent to their inner selves.

It got me thinking about the subject of fear and how I bring that to my characters. Fears are funny, I think. When it comes right down to it, all fears are internal. You may have a very good reason to fear something, (like fearing fast moving vehicles after being in a car accident), but the fear you feel is still based in your head.

I had a nightmare once, when I was in my mid teens. I was in my room and a blinding white light was shining through my window - like someone had focused a spotlight on it. There was a man standing in my room, but he was made of shadow - black and sort of hazy. No features, just a black outline though it was solid. And red eyes.

I've slept with a nightlight ever since. To this day. Even though I KNOW it was just a dream and there is nothing to fear...especially twenty years later.

I also fear spiders, ghosts, enclosed spaces, heights and losing my loved ones. All of those fears are totally irrational, justified but unfixable, or unavoidable. I'm huge compared to a spider. I step on it and it dies. But I'll run if one is big enough. I generally stay out of my basement at night and never EVER watch or read ghost stories...esp at night (not even Ghostbusters - though one of my lovely crit partners writes very creepy stories so I've had to relax the ban a bit...I still only crit her stuff during the day though :D ). I avoid enclosed spaces and heights if at all possible and go to my happy place and breath deeply if I can't (no amount of exposing myself to such places has cured these fears). And I'm going to lose people I love. I already have. And I will again. Yet I fear it.

I put these same fears into my characters. Sure I give them a real monster to fight- that's always fun. :) But those internal those are intense battles. I like to watch my characters conquer their fears. Sometimes it takes more than one try, but there is nothing more rewarding than beating a fear...even if it's only temporary.

One of my fave quotes about fear is:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that
something else is more important than fear.
~Ambrose Redmoon

I actually first heard that quote while watching The Princess Diaries :) But it's so true. I may fear a lot of things - but I can be courageous, no matter how bad my boots are shaking, when I need to be :) And I try to bring this to my characters. My current MC is terrified of losing control of her life. She goes to great lengths to be able to be queen of her world. So, when I need to amp up some conflict or torture her a bit, I play on those fears. I take away her control of the situation and watch what happens. Whenever I am writing with her, I try to keep her innermost fears in mind, because those are the things that ultimately drive her to do what she does.

What are you afraid of? Do you bring your experience of fear to your characters? What are characters most afraid of?


  1. Great post. My favorite quote on Fear, and I don't know who first said it, is that FEAR is really "False Evidence Appearing Real." Once I broke it out like that, it helped me to see what I was doing whenever I got scared or nervous about something. I don't know, it helped me :-)

    And yes, I love working on my characters' fears. It is normally the first thing I try to tackle in plotting. So crucial!

  2. Yes very good post. I think my greatest fear is losing my family.

    I have a young family and I have lost a lot of my immediate family (mother and father) within the last decade, so that would be my only fear is the premature death of one of my children or wife.

  3. Rachel - I love that! I'll have to remember that one :D

    John - so sorry to hear about your parents. I think losing one of my children or husband is truly my greatest fear also.

  4. I have a lot of fears and phobias, and I've consciously tried NOT to pass those on to my characters. But I've realized recently that it makes me hesitate to do truly awful things to them, or put them in awful situations, and that affects the books.

    So in my current WIP, I'm ramping up the horribleness. It may be that it ends up not quite so extreme after rewrites, but I feel like I really need to push these characters in a corner to see how they handle it.

    Oh, and BTW, one of my fears is looking like a nutjob because I talk about my characters like they're real people. How am I doing?

  5. lol ahhh but that is the wonderful thing about talking to fellow writers :D We all do that. It's when we start talking to those non-writing folk that we have to watch out :D

  6. I remember talking about fear in 3rd grade and we were told that everyone is afraid of the unknown. And the unknown is everything that's never happened to you. >:(

    My mom had me climb a ladder to get some Christmas decorations down (they live in an old church and have crazy-high shelves and my arms are longer than hers) and I couldn't stop sweating while up there. So, yes, apparently I've gotten afraid of heights in my old(er) age.


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