28 October 2009

Fear and How to Use It

We all have things we're afraid of. Me? It's spiders. Sure, most people think they're gross, but I seriously have a phobia. I see a spider bigger than my pinkie toe and I freak out! My husband is well aware that if I suddenly freeze, my eyes go wide and I point with a gaping mouth flapping like a fish flung up out of the deep blue, there's a spider close at hand. I've had to kill a few when home alone and the act sends me into hyperventilation and a mild panic attack. Crazy? Perhaps. But I'm convinced they are the spawn of Satan and come from the eighth level of hell. (PS: you have no idea how hard it was for me to actually google pictures of spiders!)

But enough about that *shudder*; I'm starting to look over my shoulder, half suspecting Shelob or Aragog to appear and haul me off to the Forbidden Forest. What frightens you? It could be something very real, like spiders, the dark, the threat of war or disease. It could be something in your mind: fear of being alone, of never measuring up, of always having to settle for second best. Or it could be completely fantastic. I grew up reading ghost stories and watching spooky movies. Not horror movies mind you; never liked the things. Out of all the ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night, I was terrified of the Headless Horseman. Every year at Halloween, my sister and I, after trick or treating, would settled down in front of the Disney Channel and watch A Disney Halloween. Remember the weird mountain demon from Fantasia? Or how about The Sorcerer's Apprentice? It never failed, toward the end of the program, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow would air. My favorite Halloween tale of all. And yep, every year I would sleep with the light on, convinced I would hear the horseman's gallop underneath my window as he came to claim my head.

You want to know something kind of silly? I'm still a bit scared of him today. I went and saw Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" twice just to prove to myself I was an adult and could handle the old Hessian. It's a legend, right? There's no basis for facts, right? Heck, I live in Georgia, hundreds of miles from the Hudson River Valley. There's no way old headless would gallop all the way down here for my noggin'. Would he?

See where I'm going. We're all afraid of something. And that something can give real zing to our stories. You don't have to write suspense or even murder mysteries to throw in a good fear factor or two. Fear makes our characters appear more real. I enjoy reading about a character who has fears and flaws. I can identify with that because I have plenty of both!

Dredge up an old fear, or use a current one in your story. See what happens when you give it to different characters. Try on different fears, see what works, what doesn't. Perhaps you could try your hand at writing some suspense stories. I have a small collection of them now that I'm hoping to compile into a short story anthology. I find I love writing scary stories. They really creep me out. I work on them and glance over my shoulder, shudder, and keep on typing.

What kind of fears could you use on your characters? Me? I think I have a headless horseman just begging to be put to use. (I don't think I could stomach the spider research!)



Stephanie Faris said...

My characters seem to perpetually have a fear of relationships...usually one or the other, usually from being burned in the past. I think this comes from my time spent dating in my mid-30s and all I went through.

Tamika: said...

One of my biggest fears live in my MC. The fear of not having a father, ever.

Mine is lost to drug addiction, I haven't seen him since he stood me up for my birthday in March. Even before then he would pull the most amazing disappearing acts.

God is so kind he has given me a stepfather who I never call stepfather, he is Dad.

My poor MC doesn't even have that...

willow said...

I think spiders are beautiful, outside, and away from me, that is. Yesterday, I was drying my hair with my head bent down by my knees. When I flipped up, there was a huge, juicy spider, about the size of a nickle, danging from it's web right in front of my face. I let out a sizeable scream. I couldn't help but think how much creepier it would have been, had the spider lodged it's self in my hair!

Karen Walker said...

I am fascinated by reptiles, as long as they are in cases in a zoo. If I see one in the wild, I'm terrified. When I saw a 3+ foot iguana in the Australian outback, everyone told me how lucky I was. Maybe, but tell that to my heart, which nearly leapt out of my chest.

ElanaJ said...

I'm terrified of all animals with more than two legs. Heck, even ducks and geese scare me. They have TEETH, you know, and are very unpredictable. Animals, that is. That's why I tread carefully.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I can't believe you put a picture of a spider on your blog! You are brave, my friend!

My mc in my WIP is afraid of failure.

Ratty said...

This is a great topic. I'm not sure if I really know exactly what I fear. Usually if I have a fear, I try to conquer it. When I was a kid I had a fear of things like ghosts, but now I could walk alone in a cemetery at night with no problem. That old fear is still fascinating to me though. I love reading and writing ghost stories.

ajgallion said...

Hi Jen! That's a idea to ponder upon: fear. And when I think about fear -- at least my own -- I think of dark spaces with possessed demon-folk lurking in wait. NOW, I know that this is nowhere as real a concern as spiders. Spiders are real. My fears are based on watching "The Exorcist" and "Beyond the Door" one too many times. But the idea of the possessed really freaks me out. Now, I've never written about a character who was possessed or faced with losing a loved one to possession. That might be too creepy -- I feel like I'd have to live it, be in that space. Don't know if I could handle it.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Karen Rose spoke about that at the NJRW conference. She has a fear of snakes and used it in her suspense novel.

In the manuscript I'm editing now, I made my character afraid of water. I swim like a fish, but my mom is dealthly afraid. So I used HER fear. :)

Jen Chandler said...

Stephanie: It just goes to show that we put ourselves into our books, planned or not. I've even found myself staring back at me through the eyes of my villian. Now that's an interesting, soul searching venture!

Tamika: Goodness what a fear. I'm so sorry to hear that but I'm so glad you've been blessed with a wonderful step-DAD.
The things we do to our main characters!

Willow: I suppose they are elegant in some way or fashion. I honestly wish they didn't creep me out because in a way I find them fascinating.

Karen: reptiles are wonderful. I once pondered having a pet Komodo Dragon (except for the whole poisonous venom and violet behavior thing). I can't even look at a dead spider under glass. Blech!

Elana: I've been chased by a goose. They can be quite intimidating.

Kristen: It took everything in me to post that picture. I kept shuddering while looking at the pictures. If I saw that spider in real life i think I'd run through a wall!

Ratty: I find ghosts fascinating too. I love a good old fashioned ghost story and have few written down. We'll see where they go! Good luck with yours!

aj: that is a frightening subject. I actually have a story planned about just such a topic. I've put off writing it because I would have to live it and I'm not sure I want to tred in those waters just now.

Jennifer: It's interesting to explore other's fears. I think it can help us understand them better and not be so critical.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I hate spiders; nothing normal could have that many legs. I'm also suspicious of snakes: no legs and yet they move. There's something seriously wrong about that.


Terresa said...

Scorpions and cockroaches. Plenty of zing in them, especially the scorpions when they sting.

Great writing ideas!

Lisa said...

I have developed, for no reason I can think of, a fear of bodies of water. I can't be in them. The idea of living things (like fish) swimming around my legs and I can't see them, freaks me out.

But even a bath bothers me these days. I had never thought of putting this fear into a story. I think irrational fears (like this) can be scarier because they are weird too.

Thanks for this...I am going to work on putting this into a story. I wouldn't have thought of it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great post! I have to conjure up my fear of the county fair from when I was a kid. :) People came out in droves from whatever rock they'd been sleeping under. The carnies were scary. The noise was scary. The flashing lights were scary. The rides...okay, I'm sounding like a broken record. But carnivals, clowns, etc. can always put me in a jittery mood.

Mystery Writing is Murder