Friday, May 6, 2016

Your Characters Should Be Afraid,
Very Afraid

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Happy Friday, everyone! Before we jump into today's chat about fear, let me announce the winner of last week's giveaway. The winner of Rose Cooper's middle grade novel, I Text Dead People, is:

Lily T.


Congratulations, Lily! Please check your email for instructions. And thank you all for welcoming Rose so warmly. If you haven't had a chance to read her interview, please do. I think you'll enjoy it!

And now! Fear. 
Like every being of light, Canaan hates fear. It has little effect on him, but humans can't make such a claim. Only Celestial eyes can see it for what it is. Black and thick. Like tar, but icy and alive. It clings and oozes. It weighs down its victims until they are either frozen in a trench of indecision or worse--they make the first possible move, no matter how unwise, simply to rid themselves of it.
The above excerpt is from my first novel, Angel Eyes. Fear has become more than just one of the traits I brainstorm about my characters. Fear itself seems to work its way into every story I write. There's a lot of reasons for that. Some I'm aware of. Others, less so, I'm sure. But I think the best books require their heroes to confront the things they fear most.

It stirs something inside the reader to see courage like that on display.

And giving real fears to your characters will actually help your writing process. Knowing your characters' anxieties will give you places to go when you're stuck and it will help you dig into the heart and soul of the character who remains elusive to you.

Your characters should have fears. Even the minor characters in your story. Every single one of them should be afraid of . . . something.

Things to consider


Fear comes from many different places. Fear can be rooted in external situations or from internal emotions. It can be based on experiences of the past or in the unknown of future moments. Fears can be constant companions and fears can be sudden suitors. Your characters should probably have a hearty mixture of these anxieties.

Fear can keep us frozen in indecision. Fear often robs us of experiences and opportunities. When we reach a fork in the road, fear of making the wrong choice can keep us glued in one place. This indecision should cost your character something. The next time he reaches a fork in the road, his response should reflect the consequences he's already suffered for refusing to make the choice initially.

Fear can force us into action. We all respond differently to fear and your characters should too. Fear often propels characters forward--because they're brave or because they're stupid or because they aren't wired to stand still. I am absolutely certain you can find ways to use this in your stories.

Fear manifests itself in different ways. Some of us get quiet when we're scared. Some of us cry. Some of us need everyone around us to be scared too so we don't feel so alone in our misery. Some of us need to lean on a stronger personality. Some of us shut down entirely. How do your characters act when they're afraid? And please note: They shouldn't all respond in the same way.

Fear can be healthy. Some fears are good and necessary. When the building catches fire, it's your character's fear of burning to death that will force him into action. While past experiences can infect us with fears that keep us from doing the things we love, they can also teach us to avoid dangerous situations in the future. Healthy and unhealthy fears alike can motivate your characters to action. And readers like action. They like it a lot.

Fear should change your character. Every time your character confronts that great fear of his, something about the character should change. Is he growing more accustomed to the threat or is he increasingly terrified by it? What does that do to your character? Does it make him more or less confident? Does it make him brave or reduce him to a puddle of goo? Maybe your character starts with an overwhelming fear of the dark. If, as the author, you continually put him in situations where there is no light, perhaps he learns a few coping mechanisms along the way. Perhaps, he learns to live with his fear, to function in the midst of it. We call that character growth. Again, something readers like to see.

Fear should be confronted. Readers need to see your character in different dilemmas with this fear of his. Held captive by it, defeated by it, coping with it, functioning despite it, learning from it, feeding off it, challenging it, and finally punching that wretched fear in the face. Of course, you could turn your story tragic and let fear devour your character, but I can't think of a better reason to feature fear in your story than to show off your protagonist's growth and ultimate ability to conquer that fear.

I'm just scratching the surface here friends. Fear and its implications can bring all sorts of drama and action to your story.

Tell me, have you given your characters genuine fears? 
Can you up your fear game? How will that change your story?

31 comments:

  1. I so love this post!! In the book I'm writing for the #WeWriteBooks challenge, my MC has a fear of not being in control and having everything planned/figured out. But my characters are on the run, so there's no time to stop and figure things out. This, combined with some internal control issues Tess has, eventually reaches a breaking point. Tess realizes there's no way she can ever have everything in her life under control and sometimes she just has to go with it.

    Thanks so much for this awesome post, Mrs. Dittemore!

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    1. Love it! It's a great internal struggle that shows up physically. Great job.

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  2. This post is really helpful, thank you!
    I have one character that normally lets fear get the best of him because of past experiences. He is constantly afraid of losing a close friend or relative. He normally secludes himself from almost everyone else when he is upset or afraid.

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    1. Stellar! That's a great response to fear.

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  3. This is a great post!
    My character is afraid of fast moving water and being alone. It comes in to play a lot

    Also, this is a bit unrelated, but what is your opinion on posting our stories on apps like Wattpad? Or should we wait until we get published? Or just post the first chapter?

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    1. Love those fears! Regarding Wattpad and such, I don't know that I'll be very helpful. I wouldn't do it, but that's just me. I prefer to get my feedback from writers I know we'll and respect. It has it's upside, I'm sure, and maybe other Go Teen Writers can offer their thoughts, but I'm not very familiar with such apps.

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    2. That was supposed to say "know well." My phone is helping me and so not. 😉

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  4. My protagonist, an assassin, is morbidly afraid of fire ever since his parents died in an arson when he was a baby. However, he's also the world's last remaining Flameweaver, and that means that while he's afraid of the flames he can also control them, and in fact needs them to defeat his enemy. Hidden further inside, he'd also afraid of failure as his master, the Emperor, has trained him painfully in the past, bordering on torture. This manifests itself in a cold, calculating facade and a tendency to work alone.

    Great post :)

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    1. Brilliant. I love seeing fears tied intimately to the story like that. Great job

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    2. Brilliant. I love seeing fears tied intimately to the story like that. Great job

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  5. This is another really great post! Fear plays a very large part in my story--my MC Morath is a complete and utter coward, instead of the brave protagonists you usually find. He manipulates others to sort his own mess and runs away at the first sign of danger. However I hope to make him face up to his mistakes and fears at the climax :) Thanks for the helpful ideas!

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    1. Fabulous! Yes! I'd love to see a coward confront his fears. Such growth!

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  6. This is a fantastic post! I adore the way you portrayed fear in Angel Eyes. It completely changed my perspective on it. I think I've used a good deal of fears in my book, but sometimes they aren't clearly defined, especially in the minor characters. For my major character, he had many fears, but the largest one is the fear of failure/fear that he isn't strong enough to complete his quest.

    Thank you so much! I'll definitely put these ideas into practice.

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    1. I deal with this too. Especially in my first drafts. I rarely know my characters' feats, especially minor characters. I think it's perfectly fine to draft this way and see where it takes you. Perhaps, you realize how handy certain fears will be when you've fleshed out your story a little more. I add a lot of these layers in the editing process.

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    2. I deal with this too. Especially in my first drafts. I rarely know my characters' feats, especially minor characters. I think it's perfectly fine to draft this way and see where it takes you. Perhaps, you realize how handy certain fears will be when you've fleshed out your story a little more. I add a lot of these layers in the editing process.

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  7. I haven't thought much about fear. I do have this one scene where this woman called Anne escapes under the clock of darkness from her evil betrothed. I think I will incorporate some more fear into the mix. Thanks for reminding me!!
    Great post as always, Mrs. Dittermore!
    <3

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    1. Yessss! I bet you'll enjoy adding in fear. It ups the tension and gives you lots of things to write about.

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  8. My character is afraid of heights and (in one scene) has to climb a mountain. She's chasing the "bad guy" in this scene.

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    1. Love it! Perfect. Way to tie a fear directly to an action.

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  9. Oh... I haven't thought much about fear. That's important especially if I'm including a dangerous murderer!! ��

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    1. What on earth?!? My laughing smiley turned into question marks!!

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    2. Yes! Fear is crazy important if you've got a murderer wandering around. ALSO, I think the blog is being silly today. It keeps double posting my comments. Boo!

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  10. In my current WIP, my MC is fearful of the unknown. Both her parents are gone (one to abandonment, one to death) and that causes her to hold back from relationships for fear of people leaving. It's really interesting writing this from first person, and really discovering who my MC is and how she copes with things. Contrary to myself, she holds everything in and never cries or allows herself to truly, fully acknowledge her fear. I know where it will ultimately end up--with her finally regaining her trust in humanity, and ultimately in God again--but it's definitely taken places I didn't expect it too, and I think it's going to be cool to see all the other unexpected twists and turns.

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  11. Virginia O'KeefeMay 6, 2016 at 8:03 PM

    Thank you so much for your posts! Every day I remember that the GTW blog has been updated, I do a little happy jump before clicking on the link saved to my homepage ;)
    But question: with all of the really strong female heroines out there (Tris/Katniss types), how do you balance their fears with choosing moments where they stand up to what they face? I realize it's all about your individual character's development, but I guess I'm wondering how to find the equilibrium point between 'damsel in distress' and 'she can save herself'? Thanks Mrs. Dittemore!

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  12. Great new resource about fear. Fear has always tripped me up, and I find it really difficult to give my characters believable fears. I just have to sit down, and really think abut it, I guess.

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  13. Interesting post!! I had to stop and think about what my mc's fears are... I would say that her biggest fear is of losing her older brother, either because he literally walks away from tueir family, or through a gradual breakdown of their relationship that she can't fix. There's a lot of tension between them in my book and I think that's probably her biggest fear. Now what is everyone else afraid of? ... I can think of a few, but some of my other characters definitely need some work.

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  14. wonderful post! Sharing! Fear has always been my biggest enemy. Love how your list!

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  15. I'm still the early stages of writing my book, but my mc's fear is that all she's going to be for her entire life is just being "The Lost Girl" or "The Girl Peter Can't Get Rid Of." That and a dragon.

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