What Are You Afraid Of?

What’s your worst nightmare? Having a child die? Losing a spouse? Laying in a spider-infested ditch unable to move? What about being attacked by a pack of wolves, or discovering your husband is cheating on you?

There’s always something to fear. That’s life.

And that’s fiction.

Writers need to hint at the character’s fear early in the novel.

To make your characters seem real, they need to fear something. Before you begin writing your novel decide your character’s greatest fear. In The Hunger Games, Katniss fears that her sister will starve. In Brave, Merida and her family fear bears. In Home Alone, Kevin fears the furnace radiator in the basement.

Why is Fear Important?

Knowing this fear will help you create tension on every page. It’ll build your story until one of the most necessary parts of your novel. Susie May Warren, author and teacher at My Book Therapy, calls it THE BLACK MOMENT. Susie says, “Crafting the Black Moment is all about recreating the Greatest Fear in the past in some way so that your character can take another look at it, and this time, find a different answer, one that will change their life for the better.”

Remember the early scene in Home Alone when Kevin has to go to the basement to get something for his mother and he hears the furnace hiss and roar? He screams and runs up the stairs. He’s terrified of this hunk of metal. Toward the end of the movie, he faces that fear–the furnace–when he goes downstairs to prepare for war with the robbers. By this time in the story, he’s learned and grown from his experience and is able to face his fear of being alone. He roars back at the furnace. It’s a turning point. We laugh and cheer him on as he courageously takes on the bad guys.

In Brave, we see early in the movie that Merida’s family fears the bear. But in order for Merida to rescue her mother, she has to face the bear, her mother. In doing so, her character grows and she learns to respect her mother’s true character.

How Do You Define Your Black Moment?

Talk to your character. Pretend she’s sitting across from you sharing a cup of coffee. What EVENT happened in her past that contributed to her fear? Maybe the only person she ever loved was her father, but he died. Her greatest fear is loving someone too much and losing him. She guards her heart, refusing to fall in love again for fear of this loss. Maybe she believes God was responsible. Maybe she believes she was responsible. This is a lie, but nonetheless, she believes it. She won’t discover the truth until near the end of her CLIMB. (To read a past post on the climb, click here.)

The Climb

Give your character a fear that blocks their goal as they reach for the climb. .
When they reach the top, truth will be waiting, wearing the color of wisdom.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ 
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. “

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 What’s your greatest fear? Is it the same as your character’s?

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  1. Robin says:

    I love learning what characters are afraid of… it’s fascinating. And it’s interesting to learn their reasons. Great post, Michelle!

  2. Another great post, Michelle. This will give some ideas a to what my characters fear the most. Trouble is that, now I’m afraid of what I’ll write. Hey, if I get scared, I’ll blame it on you! Blessings.

  3. Merry Christmas, Johnny!
    Glad you enjoyed today’s post. When I posted the spider I could hardly write the post. It creeped me out SO BAD! I had to scroll down far enough so as not to see him. I guess that’s ONE of my worst fears.
    I hope you have a great writing week!

  4. Like Robin, I love learning what my characters are afraid of. At the end of my wip and I’m looking back to see if I’ve layered in my hero/heroine’s greatest fear enough. Great post!

    • Hi Pat!
      Thanks for stopping by on Christmas Eve!
      I wish you a blessed Merry Christmas. Which conferences will you attend this year? I’d love to connect with you. Please share when you know. I hope to be at the FL one in early March and the ACFW in September this year. It’s in Indy–so close to home.

      • Michelle,
        I’ll be at DT in February and maybe Blue Ridge in May, definitely at ACFW! Look forward to seeing you again!

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