Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Only Thing We Have to Fear, Is Fear Itself

It would be difficult to find a story where fear did not play an active role in the plot. Fear comes in many different forms depending on the story. Even if your novel involves a hardboiled hero who can face any kind of danger without flinching, the absence of fear in his behavior is nothing more than another manifestation of the same emotion. We know the fear is there, deep down where it matters, but our hero is able to control it in a way that is admirable.

One of the interesting things about fear is the fact that it doesn’t have to be earth shattering to interest the reader. What touches us most, a twenty car pileup on some distant stretch of Interstate, or the remembrance of loosing our breakfast on picture day when we were in the first grade? Fear must be upfront and personal if it is to have any effect on the reader. How do we accomplish this? Here are a few suggestion you might find interesting.

Make it realistic: If the frightening experience involves an injury, make sure you have your facts straight. Authors sometimes make the mistake of thinking that if one gunshot wound is exciting, then twenty will have a greater effect. In one action/adventure novel I read, the hero was shot a dozen times but still managed to remain on his feet until he had choked the villain to death. Oh, and I forgot to mention another amazing detail. He was laughing while he did it.

Make sure the fear is universal: I know a man who is afraid of all small animals. A cat will send him into a state of mind-numbing terror, and a small dog will make him wet his pants. There are a lot of irrational fears, but unless you do your groundwork and explain your character’s problem, your scene is likely to fall flat. Horror writers frequently make this mistake when they reveal the monster as nothing more than an oversized insect that could be dispatched with one swift blow with an overloaded purse. Find those things that frighten us all – a shadow outside a window, a phone ringing in the wee hours of the morning, or the intense attention of a stranger.

Make the reader want to do it himself: By the time we reach the confrontation near the end of the story, we need to be emotionally prepared to dispatch the villain in a very pleasing manner. You already know how to do this. Just think about the ways in which we are infused with righteous indignation while watching the early morning newscast. Some unknown group blew up a bridge in –what was the name of that place – and we can’t wait to tear out their throats. Revenge is a dish best served cold, the old adage advises. Make mine hot where I will feel the results of each blow and observe the wonderfully pleasing aftermath. I wouldn’t admit this to just anyone, but there is a desire for revenge in all of us. I know you need to get back to your story, so I am going to stretch out on the couch and wait. Give me something spine tingling this time around.

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