Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Nobody really. How many of us have actually encountered a wild, man-hungry wolf? Likewise, how many of us have ever found ourselves dangling from a cliff hundreds of feet from the ground? Unless you’re a professional mountain climber or enjoy really adventurous Friday nights, probably not many. But at some point, you have probably found yourself walking alone in a dark parking garage with the sense that maybe you’re not as alone as you think. Fact of the matter is, we’re all still afraid of the dark.
Writing about fear can be hard. It’s something I struggle with myself. The key is figuring out how to make the fear relational. As author Richard Price put it, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road.”
Bring out the dark side in everyday objects and scenarios. Simple can be powerful. Everyone’s felt the split second of panic before the fall. Not everyone has fallen from a fatal height. So if you’re writing about hanging from a cliff, don’t focus on the height. Write about how it feels to have nothing beneath your feet, the feeling of dirt crumbling between your fingers. The TV series Doctor Who does an incredible job with this concept, from men made from clock-work to flesh-eating shadows. What’s so scary about them? Clocks and shadows are everywhere. We’ve been all but desensitized to their presence in our everyday lives, and what’s more terrifying than the enemy hiding in plain sight? Or the monster we know is there, but can’t see? The fear is in the potential for harm.
In my novel, Holden is terrified by a hallucination of the monster that attacked his village even though he knows the beast is dead. Why? He doesn’t fear the monster itself. He’s afraid because he knows what it has the potential do, which is take away the people he loves.
Nothing is more frightening than the human imagination. So…what are you afraid of?