How do we write about fear in an authentic way?
Fear is a vital response for human beings. If we didn’t feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves from threats. Our bodies and brains are wired to treat threats as life-threatening. This triggers an extreme fight-flight-or-freeze response.
Our fears are not solely dependent on instinctive responses. They are also shaped by our societies and cultures, which teach people when to fear and how much to fear.
Sometimes, our fear is unnecessary and we avoid doing things that could be beneficial to us. Sometimes, facing danger can result in lingering responses that trigger us to act in a certain way, even when the risk is gone.
The same is true for the characters we create. When we write about fearful characters, we should remember to write about them in a realistic way.
Here are 32 things to consider when you write about fear:
A) Physical Reactions
When we are afraid, we have these reactions:
- An accelerated breathing rate
- An accelerated heart rate
- Increased muscle tension
- Goose bumps
- Increased blood glucose
- Increased white blood cells
- Sleep disturbances
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty swallowing
All of these responses help us to survive by either running away or fighting. Use these physical reactions to show your character is afraid.
B) Body Language
In your body language, signs of fear include:
- Hunching shoulders
- Shrinking away
- Open mouth
- Wide eyes
- Wrapping arms around oneself
- Shaking hands
- Rocking from side to side
C) Rational Or Irrational?
- Fear is rational. It is a reasonable response to danger.
- Phobias are irrational. They are persistent, irrational fears of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. Read: Writing About Characters With Phobias
D) Ways to create conflict
There are three classic ways people respond to fear. They fight, flee, or freeze. Use these responses to create suspense in your book.
- Fight – choose when your characters would reasonably stay to confront the danger.
- Flight – choose when your character would reasonably choose to run away.
- Freeze – choose when your character would realistically become paralysed with fear.
Use these three responses at different times to show different aspects of your character. Use them when they suit your plot.
E) The Importance of Fear in Plotting
- You can create a fearful situation to move a plot forward.
- You can literally change the setting by making characters move to avoid a threat.
- You can increase or decrease the pace of a story by introducing a threat.
- You can show another facet of the character in the way he or she reacts to fear.
- You can use it to show growth. Characters can look at the way fear made them act and change their behaviour.
© Amanda Patterson
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