Fear: Help or Hindrance?
In one of my other lives before writing, I spent a decade and a half as a holistic therapist. Consequently, I also spent years in therapy myself. One of the things I learned is that you can't go with your client, where you're unwilling to go inside yourself. The same thing holds true for writing. If a writer isn't willing to explore their own fears or the dark side of their thoughts and feelings, their characters and stories will often lack depth.
At his blog, Dar Kush, Best Selling Author, Steven Barnes writes about Fear:
"A story is about the moment when someone changes. When their life change[s]. One door closes, another opens. And traversing that emotional territory is terrifying. Any event powerful enough to force a change in our habits or personality is going to trigger fear…the only question is what will we do with that fear.
"Some people run from the fear, some are paralyzed by it, others energized. But make no mistake: if your character is not afraid to take the next step in your story, you have given her a trivial challenge, one that will depend on the cleverness of your writing rather than the honesty and depth of your characterization."--Steven Barnes, Dar Kush
Transformation is what most readers hunger for, and generally expect from a story. They want to take the protagonist's journey vicariously. If they just wanted to go to the deli for a pleasant chat and a bagel, they could do that on their own. But going to the deli arm in arm with your character to secretly meet their online lover; or visiting the deli to discover that their old friend Bert the sandwich guy's toupee has slipped and he has an extra eyeball on his scalp, these scenarios present the enticing "What if's". The reader wants a dilemma, and they want the main character to struggle with this dilemma and come out on the other side changed in someway for better or for worst.
To present a compelling "What if" dilemma, a writer has to be willing to go where the character needs to go, and that's not always a comfortable place. But if the writer is willing to explore their fears and dip into their own dark places (which we all indeed have!), that juice will serve to bring the characters to life and make for an exciting romp of a story.
Life itself is often tedious and downright boring. It's the extremes that make us sit up and notice. The same goes for fiction, art and music. If Beethoven had avoided his darker passion and written all Adagio movements, we would never have had the powerful Duhduhduh-Dahhh! opening of the Fifth Symphony. And what would the world of scary things be without Thomas Harris's, Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter? Just imagine the places Harris had to go for that one.
So as a reader, how deep do you like to go? As a writer, how deep are you willing to go? One of my favorite writing teachers, Terri Brown-Davidson, always encouraged me to "write to the bone." Along with that potent image, there was my in-house critic, my husband Paul, who dutifully read my stories, but usually rolled his eyes saying, "That's nice, hon, but it needs something more." I have finally listened to them both and dipped into my fear, setting aside my worry that people will think I'm a psycho. Now I'm leaning in deeper with the blade of my words, and not only are my readers responding with gasps and giggles, it's oh so much fun!
If you're hungry for a taste of some "to the bone" fiction, you'll find the latest offerings of Fresh Meat for June from my T12 colleagues, including Fine Print by yours truly, Fran Friel, FREE at The Horror Library.
Thanks for reading!