I just had a dream. In that dream I felt anger, I felt frustration, I felt helplessness, I felt defiance, I felt as if an injustice were being done to me, and I felt fear.
Now what could have been the cause of such emotions, and tears, to well up inside me? Well I’ll tell you, Everyone was trying to cut off my hair. It may seem silly, dear reader, that the source of all this anguish and distress was the loss of my lock. But I do really like my hair (its long, brown-strands fall straight down my back and almost to my hips, which is where I’m trying to grow it to, and is soft and silky on good days.) plus they were trying to catch me and hold me down, which is never a pleasant experience.
Not only were they trying to cut it, they were trying to cut it all the way short, to where I could not even gather it behind my head. As I fought and ran, I had an image in my mind that frighted me. It was myself, dancing in the Nutcracker with hair too short to pull into a proper bun. Every dancer knows such perils are real, and something not quite shame, but not unlike it entered my mind as I again fled from the menacing shears.
The climax came when my brother succeeded in cutting away a lock. It was down to inches, and I watched in horror as the handful of hair fell from my head. I remember my dream self snatching the scissors and holding them in one hand, and the end of my hair in the other. As I cowered in the corner I said something along the lines of, “Please, no. I’ll cut my hair, just the ends, so it’ll be ‘healthy’ like you said. Just leave me alone.”
I don’t remember how the rest of the dream went, but I think I made it out with the majority of my hair. It was not quite a nightmare, but still unpleasant and I was still afraid.
Fear can make people do many things; lie, cheat, steal, run, fight, give up, betray. And we all have different reactions to it. We have things that we hate and avoid if we can, and things that freeze the very marrow of your bone as you tremble and witness your life flash before you.
It is no hidden truth that people have fears, whether rational or seemingly irrational. It is a fate of everyday life. What matters is that it is such an obvious fact, that we may not be thinking about it or using it to our best advantage while writing a story.
So what do your characters fear? Is it everything that goes bump in the night, or the possibility of losing their loved ones? Do they fear something that could hurt them, or perhaps that they could hurt others? Also, how do they respond? Does being faced with what they fear make them freeze up, fight, panic, or even make their senses sharper?
These are question to ask when you’re interviewing and fleshing out your characters. Even secondary, or thirdary, if that’s a thing. Since it is such a part of “real” life, adding it to our characters will help them became a little more real. After all, a little bit of truth helps make our fantastical fibs be more believable.
There are many ways to use fear in your story. Anywhere from minor things like being scared of spiders, to centering your plot around your protagonist overcoming his/her fear, whatever it may be. Really, the possibilities are endless. But I will hit on a few possible ways to use fear to your best advantage. Just remember to use it with purpose, and avoid putting something in your story unless it has something to contribute to it.
1. The Little Things.
This could be anything. Afraid of spiders, afraid of water, afraid of heights, afraid of sawmills, afraid of men with beards, anything really. It could be mentioned in your story, pretty well stated, or just something you know from when you fleshed out the character
2. Little Things That Lead To Big Things.
When Jenny sees the spider on the patio she jumps up, and lands in George’s arms. And while she is clinging to him and gazing into his eyes Jenny realizes that he is more than a friend, or she loves him, or some such thing.
Ben is afraid of heights and so he wouldn’t go on the big rides at the fair, and consequently would get teased. That opened the door for Ben to get teased more and his sister, being popular and a jerk, would refuse to be seen with him. And because she is always ditching him, no one knows Ben in being kidnapped until it is too late.
3. Over-Coming Plot.
Now lets keep running with Ben for a minute. Lets say the sister learns that Ben is being held at an abandoned amusement park, and tries to rescue him. But the bad guy finds her, and leaves her tied up on top of a broken down tower. Ben sees her, and the zip-line close by that could help them escape, and must overcome his fear to try to save his sister and himself.
The over-coming plot has the most to do with what your character fears, because it’s working up to them facing it. Whether it’s them being afraid to let someone in, afraid to give up control, afraid to trust, afraid to forgive, afraid to take that snake training job that will save his family. Afraid of anything really, as long as they can over-come it.
4. The Drive.
Your villain can use this to try to force the hero to do something, or give up information, by threatening his loved ones. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it still works. Being driven by fear can lead to negative results as well. Like making mistakes, or running when you should have fought.
5. Delays and Holding Back.
You can use fear as a barrier or blockade that must be knocked down, before your character can accomplish something. Fear of being rejected can hinder your character from confiding or loving someone else. Ben’s fear of heights must be put aside to save his sister. Being afraid if you tell someone who the murder is, that he will come get you next.
These are few way and examples of using fear in your story, but I’m sure there many more ways and combinations you can explore for your own work. This post is to spark some ideas, or to help you add another layer to your story. So, what will you do with your fear?