Have a Beer with Fear

The original intent of this entry was to discuss my greatest writing fear. This is a concept that’s been on my plate for over a month now, and the problem that I arrived at as I turned this over in my head was that it was nearly impossible to narrow it down. There are so many different possible writing fears that naming just one would be impossible.

There is, for example, the fear of not getting published (although obviously with self-publishing I can do that). There is the fear that my work is secretly crap and I’m not as objective as I would hope. Obviously, I will be subjective of my work, but more that those who have read my work and complimented me were just being nice to me.  That’s actually a pretty big fear, and may be #1. Though there are also the fears of losing vision or my hands getting injured, something like that. I think I would find a way around that, but it’s a constant fear.

Oh, and the fear of losing my mind – not in the sense of going crazy, but Alzheimer’s. When your mental acuity declines, how much can you really write? For me, writing is life. It’s who I am, and have been, for years.

There you have it: it’s simultaneously a very huge subject but also a small subject. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to  point to the motivations that keep a story going.

Not to get too personal, but once upon a time, one of my greatest fears was having a significant other cheat on me. On some base level I equated that with a form of emotional death. That shaped a lot of how I behaved in a relationship. I would give in, I would put up with things that a lot of other people would not put up with because I felt I had to please the other person no matter what, or they would go elsewhere, giving them the ultimate power over me. If I were a character in a book, it would certainly have been one of my motivating factors.

Like any good book, I had to face that fear. It happened to me. That would have been the climax of that particular arc of my character. It transformed me, that’s for sure. The end of the story is probably yet to be written, but I’ve come out of it a better person. That’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. Sometimes a character’s motivation may be to avoid something that’s negative, but that negative thing may be just what they need.

Let’s look at one of my favorite books, Stephen King’s the Wastelands, part of the Dark Tower series. One of the characters, Jake, has an intense fear of losing his mind (and he slowly is losing mind thanks to a schism between timelines). Everything that he does is motivated and driven by this fear – the need to relieve the pressure of living in the shadow of this fear. It’s used very effectively, and when we get to the climactic point where he literally moves into another world and resolves this internal conflict, we learn that there is a guardian between worlds, a demon, who nearly kills him.

The symbolism here is obvious, going back to the hero’s journey and the crossing of the abyss, facing down the demons that haunt us, etc. This externalization, combined with the suspense that’s been building up through his erratic actions in the grip of this fear as control slips away, adds a punch to this demon pursuing him because he is facing the ultimate realization of loss of control.

So not only is fear a motivating factor, but it’s used as an effective plot device to build suspense in that scene, especially as we know that he is not safe – the character has already been killed twice at this point.

The movie Se7en has this too. In the climactic scene with the box, we see Brad Pitt‘s fear of “what’s in the box”. It’s a microcosm of using fear as a motivating factor. We can even see how Kevin Spacey‘s character pulls the strings of Pitt’s fear in order to make him act in a certain fashion.

This is something that I’m trying to use in Corridors of the Dead. There are times that I’m concerned it may not be 100% effective, but as I draw closer to the end, I think I’ve tied the ends tightly enough that Matty’s actions and motivations make sense in the face of that. She has a fear of losing someone she loves, which motivates her to go along with a monstrous plan that she would otherwise oppose. She finds herself in conflict with this fear at most points – becoming self-driven in fits and starts as this threat is hammered against her psyche over and over again. It becomes a question of her resistance against this implacable stone of her fear. It’s the crux of the novel’s climax, which is a symbolic representation of her taking control of her life – control that she lacks at the beginning of the novel.

In that way, I think that fear can be something that makes us think we have no control. It can keep us living life from the standpoint of a victim. That’s a theme that I like to explore in my writing quite a bit because…well, hell, it’s something I know. I did it a lot in my life. It’s something that will likely recur as I continue to develop my career.

So yeah, fear. It’s a great motivating factor. Something that I want to talk about in the future are other motivating factors that you can use for your characters and possible scenarios that might explore those.

Okay! Music Friday. Let’s do this. This is Whirring by the Joy Formidable.

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  1. Great post (and you have great titles, as well. Very attention-grabbing.). I like your fears (sounds weird to say). I, too, have many of the same writing fears. I was so pleased when the first complete stranger bought my book because it meant they didn’t have any reason to be nice to me. And I often wonder what I would do if I lost a hand or at least a finger. Sorry to hear about the infidelity. It also happened to me. Sucks.

    But anyway, go Hero’s Journey! I think part of this is also what is referred to as the Hero’s lack, that thing they have to face and overcome (sometimes a person or sometimes personified in a fear). Good use of references on this one (mostly because I’m a fan of King and Se7en, but also just good tie-ins). Hope your weekend treats you well.

    Paul D. Dail

  2. Thanks a lot! Yeah, I’m waiting to see what the stranger-buying-your-work thing is like, but I’ve already had some strangers express interest. That alone was…interesting, to say the least. The infidelity sucked, but while I wouldn’t say I’m GLAD it happened, I wouldn’t be here today without it, so I can at least say it was an important experience. Hopefully you were able to pull some positive out of that as well.

    Oh yeah the Hero’s lack, that slipped my mind when I was writing this, but yeah that’s definitely was I groping around about. I knew it was expressed in the concept of the Hero’s Journey, just couldn’t remember if it had a more formal name.

    After checking out your blog, it looks like we might have other tastes in common. Are you on Goodreads by any chance? I’d be curious to see your list.

    Have a great one!

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