I’ve been away for the past five days, visiting family, and while I’ve been away, I’ve been doing a whole bunch of things I’ve never tried before. Things like off-roading in a 4x4, or flying for the first time. Some of these things I really enjoyed, and others, quite frankly, made me more than a little nervous. And it got me thinking about writing fear, how it can be portrayed realistically. And how a character’s fears can be used to flesh out their personalities and inform their actions. Today I wanted to share some of these musings.
Response to Fear
Fear of the unknown is a pretty common fear. A lot of us are afraid of doing things we’ve never tried before, or going places we’ve never been. But, while a lot of people have this fear, we all respond to it differently. Some people might meet it as a challenge, while others find it difficult to get out of their comfort zone, and still others cancel any plans that involve the unknown because they’re afraid. How does your character respond to things they are afraid of? Does it stop them from doing things, or do they prefer to meet their fear head on? Knowing this can really help writers understand how their characters work in less pleasant situations, and make them more unique.
Coping With Fear
While everyone is afraid of something, no one deals with fear in quite the same way as anyone else. And most people have a strategy for dealing with their fears. Your characters should too. Does your character deliberately put on a brave face to fool others? Are they the sort of person who prefers to distract themselves and ignore the fact that they're afraid? Maybe they always have two or three back-up plans to reassure themselves with. How a character copes with their fear says a lot about them.
One of the best ways to show fear is to use physical responses. A character may feel overly hot, or feel really sick deep inside. They might develop a rapid headache from overthinking things. They might sweat a lot or find it hard to sit still because of nervous. We’ve all been afraid of something at some point, and we can identify strongly with a good physical response to fear because we know how it feels. Using one or two physical descriptions can give your fear more punch.
People Respond Differently In Similar Situations
Everyone is afraid of something different, and this means that people will react quite differently in the same situation. For example, I am afraid of things I have no experience with. One of my sisters is afraid of heights. Put us on a flight together, and we will both be scared, but we’ll act differently. I might be stressed during the security checks and boarding, but will then relax as the plane takes off. On the other hand, she might be fine right up until the plane starts moving when she is likely to freak out. Another person might not be afraid at all. Because we are afraid of different things, our responses to the same event are likely to be different. Keeping a character's fears in mind while writing can help you get a better grasp on how they would react differently to the same events.
Use Personal Experience
You might not be afraid of heights like your character is. Or maybe fear of the unknown doesn't make you freeze in panic. While you might not have experience in the same sort of fear as your characters, I can pretty much guarantee that you've been afraid of something at some point. And when you come down to it, our most basic responses to fear are pretty similar, even if the way we deal with that fear is different. Use your knowledge of it, and combine that with what you know about you character and their personality, and you can use your personal experience to create an experience of fear that readers will believe.
These are some of the thoughts I've had about how to writing fear. What advice would you add to this list? And tell me, what is your character afraid of? What scares YOU (if you dare to share)?