Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Are Your Characters' Fears Your Fears?

Franklin Roosevelt said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Those words from his 1933 inaugural address were intended to encourage and energize the American people, who seemed to have lost all hope of recovering from the Great Depression that had devastated their lives.

Now fast forward to October 2019. The world appears to be teetering on the brink of another crisis, one that threatens to break peoples and countries into fragments that seem to be headed toward anarchy.


How does this affect your writing? Earthshaking events on the world scene can drive a story or be a backdrop for events in various genres from romances to thrillers to mysteries to science fiction and fantasy. But what about other fears—ones that fall short of a world crisis? Do things that go bump in your night show up on the pages of your novels?

Do you and your character share a fear of spiders or snakes? How about fear of the dark? crowds? height? flying? the opposite sex? Why do you you shrink back from confronting your fears? How do you react when a spider or snake crosses you path? What are the perks of sharing what you are afraid of with someone in your story? Realism.

When something terrifies you, your ability to convey the fear and emotions attached to it multiply exponentially. The reader will be drawn into the scene to a far greater extent than she would have had you simply described what you imagine the fear to be like.  For example, how do you react to standing on the edge of a high cliff? Do you shake inside? Are you afraid of falling? Or are you tempted to jump? What goes through your mind? Show your reader your gut reaction to what scares your character (and you), and you'll have a memorable scene.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

8 comments :

  1. Great tips for showing rather than telling emotion. I think a little part of me lives in every character I create.

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    1. I like reading books in which I can feel what a character feels. That makes the story dance up off the pages and pull me into its mood and action. Hence, I try to write so that my readers feel my characters' emotions, whatever those happen to be.

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  2. Most of my main character's fears in my newest wip are based on fear of being found by the bad guys who are chasing her, so no, I'm not fearful in that way. My characters are always much braver than I am, though, so if bad guys were tracking me, I'd be cowering somewhere out of sight rather than facing them down in a gunfight.

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    1. Interesting comment, Pat. Sometimes, my characters react the way I think I should, but am afraid to. Hadn't considered it from this perspective. Great point!

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  3. Great post, Linda. My characters have nothing to do with me or the way I would react to danger. That's what writing is: fantasy. We had a weapons' expert at one of our Sisters in Crime meeting, and I couldn't even lift the gun. The best we can do as writers is to imagine the fear and danger, and if we have to think about the thing we fear the most to make the dialogue/narrative more realistic, then we do it.

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    1. I like your approach to making a fear realistic for readers. Imagining our reaction to our own fear(s) certainly can give credibility to those of our characters, even if their fear is to something quite different.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.