Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ Leveraging Fear

Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.

Image result for halloween movie release dateIf I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of. 

See the source imageA general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.

The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?

Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.

If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”

Three different questions, all with different answers.

Image result for dr evilThis is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.

How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?

It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?

But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!

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The Beauty of a Bad Book

wpbook5There’s nothing like a good book to inspire a writer. You read an incredible story that transports you to another place, and magically, you’re unable to put the book down. The beautiful prose, the edgy dialogue, you read it and say to yourself, “I want to create something like this.”wpbook4

That said, there’s nothing like a bad book to get you writing.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, LOVE getting lost in a good book. But . . . I’ve noticed that there’s a little problem with that. When I can’t put a book down, my reading time cuts into my writing time. I find myself making bargains – write 500 words and you get to read five pages. Only five pages turns into ten and then I’m sweating trying to squeeze in the other 1500 words I try to write a day, laptop on the counter while I’m making dinner, literally stir the pot, type a sentence multitasking, and that’s no fun.

wpbook1I consider myself lucky that I had a really long run of great books to read. Only, that seems to have come to an end. At first, I was really uncomfortable, pulling at my collar, looking at the words on the page, thinking, “But this isn’t good. The writing doesn’t flow, the characters aren’t developed, I don’t like this at all.” It was the same kind of itchy uncomfortableness that comes from trying to give up chocolate. It just doesn’t feel right.

wpbookInstead of looking across the room at my book with longing, I find myself not looking at it at all. Instead, I find myself typing. Creating. Being much more productive in my own endeavors. And when I take a break and, say, take the dogs outside, the book is there. When we come back in, there is no battle to put the book down and get back to work. I just do it.

wpbook6Eventually, another incredible book will fall into my hand. I’ll treasure my time with it, even if it takes time from my own writing, because you gain so much from reading a good book. But if the next book is subpar, I’ll read that one, too. Because sometimes bad books, stories with gaping holes in the plots and poor writing and boring characters, have even more to teach you. What not to do when you get back to work!

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