The Fear by Katy

Katherine Longshore Reply Thursday, October 28, 2010
When Veronica suggested a theme for Halloween week, we all jumped on it (obviously) with relish.  Suspense is what keeps the pages turning.  It is what makes your story unputdownable.  And it is a perfect theme for this week as we head into the time of year that frightened our ancestors the most (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).  Anticipation of winter.  Darkness, damp, starvation, death. 

What more primal fear is there?

Because ultimately, it is fear that builds suspense, whether you’re writing a thriller, an adventure, a mystery, a romance, or a quiet, character-driven story.  There is an element of fear every time you raise the stakes.

“Will Katniss survive?”  We fear for her life.  “Will Percy stop the gods’ war?” We fear for humanity.  “Will Bella end up with Edward or Jacob?”  We fear for her happiness.  “Will Melinda tell her story, will she Speak?”  We fear for justice to be done.

And we, as writers, know all about fear.  I mean, look at yourselves.  You’re bleeding onto the page.  These characters are borne directly from you, like Athena from the skull of Zeus.  The very act of creation is an act of immense courage.

We, as writers, feel fear every day.  And suspense.  Tension.  Anticipation.  What if it’s not good enough?  What if I never get past Chapter One?  What if my computer crashes and I lose my manuscript?  What if I can’t write tomorrow?  Or the next day?  Or next week?

What if.  The two biggest guns in our arsenal.  Because they are what enable us to create – “What if demigods were real?”  “What if vampires went to high school?” – but they are also what impel us to doubt.  To fear.

So what do we do?  We mine that.  Just like so many other emotions and events and characters from real life that we merge and tweak and alter and fictionalize.  We use the fear.  Put it on the page.  Give it to our characters (the poor things).  Build on it.  Make it worse.  Afraid of spiders?  Make an Aragog.  Afraid of criticism?  The Mean Girl needs to pinpoint your character’s weakness.  Afraid of falling?  Imagine it.  Afraid of rejection?  Have your protagonist get it in the throat.  

And survive.

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