Jump to content

Facing Down Fear

Recommended Posts

My father served in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force. Often on training runs he would tell his buddies, “If something goes wrong, you’re going have to push me out of this plane.” Even with a parachute and several years of training, he was convinced he would never willingly jump. Then one day he was in a plane that developed serious engine trouble. Who was the first person standing at the cargo door, ready to leap? My father. “Never say ‘never,’” became one of his favorite mottoes.

We all arrive at moments when something we’ve dreaded comes to pass.  I’ve survived many things I once imagined would break me, from getting fired to miscarriages to the deaths of my parents. Over a lifetime we all encounter some version of one (or several) of our worst fears; how we handle those encounters both reveals and shapes the very essence of who we are.

One of the keys to writing fiction is to put our characters in terrible situations, circumstances in which they must confront their greatest fears, their deepest insecurities, the rawest versions of themselves. And those moments, of course, are the turning points that shape them from that point on. What do they do? Who do they become?

Here, some things to consider:

Expect the unexpected. When confronting literal or metaphorical monsters, you have to be ready to let your characters surprise themselves and you—often the scenarios that play out in real life are nothing like the ones we may have anticipated in our heads. When thrust into terrifying situations, people are often braver, more scared, stronger, weaker, more rigid, or more resilient than expected, and sometimes they’re several contradictory things at once. The action or reaction that no one saw coming (including the character herself) is often what has the most profound effect. When a fearless hero caves suddenly under adversity, for example, that unexpected moment of weakness may turn our frightened hero into someone more compassionate, more tolerant, kinder, more understanding. Or it may lead to a sense of failure and self-loathing that threatens to undo our hero, to destroy them. Either way, it’s compelling. Or our hero may act nobly when faced with one threat (Michael Corleone in The Godfather saving his father from would-be assassins in the hospital) and then turn into the worst version of themselves when another fear is realized (the murder of his young wife turns Michael Corleone into a calculating killer).

Death isn’t always the worst thing that can happen. Death, of course, is the universal fear, whether it’s our own or the death of someone we love. But there are other, deeper fears. Imagine inadvertently causing the death of someone else or, worse yet, someone you love. Terrifying, right? Aging, dementia, physical disability, illness—they walk side by side with the fear of death but can make living seem even scarier. Then there’s the fear of insignificance. We all want to feel that our lives matter, that someone or something has been affected for the good because we existed. How might your character react if faced with their own mortality before they’ve been able to do whatever it is they feel they need to do to create a meaningful life? How would this change the choices they make and the actions they take moving forward?

Courage is messy. Knowing that disaster is looming and that your moment to face down your worst fear is on the horizon is terrifying. Fear changes our perception; it can bring out our worst selves. It can paralyze us into indecision or flight; it can make us cruel. What’s amazing and fascinating and beautiful about living through our worst fears is that we do it, and sometimes we find a bit of grace even as our world crumbles around us.

How have you handled your character’s deepest fears in your fiction? What changed for you or your story because of those moments? How did your character change?

[url={url}]View the full article[/url]

AC Admin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



WTF is Wrong With Stephen King?

  • Create New...