Wednesday, January 18, 2012


by Chad Morris

Heights, spiders, snakes, public speaking, Lady Gaga in a meat dress . . . we’re all afraid of something.

When I was four or five, I remember being terrified that someone would sneak into my house at night and kill me while I was sleeping. So, I used my little five-year-old brain to outsmart them. I would lay down as flat as I could in my bed and draped the bedspread across my neck in a perfect line. Then I’d try to sleep very still. That way, if a murderer came into my room, he’d look down at me and think “Oh, that kid’s head has already been chopped off. I can leave him alone.”

I know. The logic is flawless.   

Though our fears may make no sense at all to someone else, or even to ourselves, they are very real to us. Using fear in your writing can bring tension and relevance.

I’m not talking about horror. I’ve never been a horror fan. (For example, I’ve never seen "The Ring," and I really have no desire to.) I recommend using fear as part of your story, not the goal of your story. The fear I think is best used is one of two types. 

The first type is a specific fear for a specific character. This can give a character a nice weakness. Indiana Jones had his snakes. The main guy in "Davince Code" (no I didn't want to look up his name) had his claustrophobia (only in the movie, but frankly, I thought it was a nice touch). This gives you some play. They can run from it, face it, find a clever way around it. Though readers may not be able to relate to whatever particular fear a character has, if done right, they can empathize with being afraid of something.

This can also be very fun in a side character. My favorite example: Aunt Josephine in Series of Unfortunate Events.  
     "Come in quickly children . . . not that quickly! You could trip over the welcome mat and decapitate yourselves."
     "Come away from the fridge. If it falls it'll crush you flat."
      "I could never, ever sell this house. I'm terrified of realtors."

More common is playing with general fears most of us have. Though it may not be a phobia, to a certain degree, we all fear failure, being alone, and facing a horde of rogue ninjas in the night. Sorry about the last one, but you get the idea. A teenage girl may fear that she isn’t beautiful enough. A teenage boy my fear that people will think he has fears. They are stereotypes for a reason. If they are approached in a fresh way they completely work.

I have a 15-year-old neighbor who loves to read. I ask him for recommendations, and his favorite series is starts with The Last Apprentice. I’ve read the first three, and though they are darker than what I usually read, I really quite like them. Tom Ward has to learn to face what is terrifying (bogarts, witches, demons . . etc) and not let the fear control him. It propels the story forward rather nicely. However, Tom also deals with fears we all can understand, leaving his family, his father dying, losing a friend. And those are even more poignant at times. Of course combining them makes for some pretty good tension.

Just another great tool. Don’t be afraid to use some fear.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  


  1. You put a blanket over your face? How did you breathe??

    I used to take my big teddy bear and lay it on top of me, so the monster would take it instead of me. And I remember having the debate about whether I would like to face the door and see the monster coming in, or face the wall and only see his shadow.

    Also, I love horror movies - I always have. In a college course I learned how watching scary movies helps us deal with our fears in a "safe" environment. I own The Ring, Chad, if you ever want to borrow it. It's actually one of the cleanest horror movies out there. No blood/gore, no nudity, no strong language, just pure terror. :)

  2. lol! What an awesome way for you not to get murdered! Love it!

  3. I understand what you mean when you say horror, but we can all write horrific moments into our stories to great effect, without writing a horror story--similar to incorporating fear. Good post.

  4. I convinced myself when I was little that my room was haunted by a couple who had been killed on their honeymoon by a serial killer who grabbed them by their ankles and pulled them under the bed to murder them. Consequently, they haunted the room in the same manner...pulling people under the bed by their ankles and murdering them. I outsmarted them by taking a running jump from the doorway to get into bed and flying leap out so they couldn't reach my ankles. Good Post

  5. That was awesome :D

    I went from writing contemp to a sci-fi, and it was SO much easier to find fear and tension, but at the same time - it made me realize how many thing are (mostly) universally feared.

  6. HA! LOVE IT!
    I always hated getting out of bed when I was little. I would stand on my bed and jump far off it so that Freddy couldn't reach out from under my bed and grab my feet!

    *hangs head* I'm such a nerd!

  7. I always hated getting into bed. I was afraid that my sister, who sleeps in the bunk under me, had turned into a monster and would reach out and grab me. I turned into a master of getting up the ladder in one step.

    I love how characters can be afraid of things and that can change the story. In my WIP my character is terrified of being locked up in dark rooms, and the antagonist shuts her up in one to force her to help him.

  8. Hey, this is a great post! Boy did I laugh when I read your clever idea to fool a murderer!
    How sad it is that kids are so scared of things. I hate to think of my kids being afraid.
    I really enjoyed reading your insights for adding fear to a story - so good. I don't like horror either, but fears are a fantastic tool! Thanks!
    And blast you! You made me jump when I watched that crazy video even though I've seen it! Argh!

  9. As a panic-stricken nutcake, much of my writing is propelled by immoderate fear. This was a great post. I'm going to go bathe myself in fuzzy bunnies and vodka.

  10. My daughter loves that last apprentice series too. It's scarier than what I usually like, but clean enough that I don't mind her reading. If she can be less of a wimp than me, than more power to her.


Comments are the sunshine butter on the toast of life.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...