Using Fear to Your Advantage

My granddaughter told me the other day that she’s afraid of the dark. She’s seven. According to the experts, being afraid of the dark at that age is common and will go away as she grows older. My fear of the dark did not go away, but that’s ok.  I’m brave in other areas.

I must admit I use my own fears for the good of my writing--to spur the imagination. Fear helps me create scary scenarios. Elements of fear are widely used in movies and books to scare the bajeebers out of the reader and movie audiences.
Common Fear Elements

*The dark (What is in the dark? Is it coming for you? What will “it” do to you?)

*Vicious Dogs (Can you imagine being chased by rabid, angry or possessed dogs?)

*Spiders (Can you imagine waking up in bed wrapped in a spider web and seeing the spider over you chomping?)
*Snakes (Remember Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes?)

In The Hotel (working title), my MC’s fears include an abusive father, not being able to escape her horrible life, and of losing those she loves most.  People can be driven to desperation when they are afraid.
Fear can touch the reader in very personal ways. 

If you write, how have you used fear? If you are a reader, what fear was used in a book (or movie) that still lingers in your mind?

Have a great weekend!


  1. I don't fear water, but after seeing Jaws as a child, the toilet made me nervous!
    I used fear to drive Byron's actions, even though he didn't realize what it was he really feared.

  2. You got mine on there--spiders. They TOTALLY creep me out.

  3. I slept with a night light until I was about 10... that dark was IS common! My kids outgrew it a lot earlier.

    My MC in the book I'm editing is afraid of a lot. She is a ghost who saw a lot of horrors during her short life in a mental hospital, and her fear mostly boils down to history repeating itself, but specifics are doctors, being strapped to a bed, electroshock, and the violence of the kids living in the newly re-opened facility (now a reform school). Some of her fears are quaint (and hopefully a little funny--like fear of the kids swearing) but i hope MOST draw the reader into realizing how horrible her life was.

  4. I was afraid of spiders and dark as a kid, too. In fact, when I woke up in the night, I couldn't get out of bed and walk to my mom because I thought spiders might be on the dark floor!
    In my play Jewell is afraid of her husband, but more afraid to leave him.

  5. Alex, fear of the toliet because of Jaws. Very funny.

    Lydia, I wish I would have outgrown that one.

    Hart, The book sounds so good. And if I know your humor, it will be hilarious.

    Mary, The play sounds very interesting and true. So many people are afraid to leave something they know, even if it's not good for them.

  6. Hi Joanne .. not that keen on snakes .. or dark places with creepy crawlies .. I saw the Harry Potter 50 best moments (well some of them) this week .. and there's a snake scene in that - thanks v much .. no ways!!

    Don't like frighteners .. The Birds was pretty horrid .. and I just wrote a post about Gull!! Oh well takes all sorts to make the world .. cheers Hilary

  7. Hi Theresa .. I am so confussed - Gull did it to me again .. and I called you Joanne .. not so bright .. apologeeeeeees from all the grovelling Eastbournites .. me!!

    I meant what I said though .. please call me Valerie, or Thomasina .. or .. anyway which you like .. I'll be over to mow your yard though!!?? I'm off for a cup of tea now .. need to revive myself .. after that blue. Cheers Hilary

  8. Hilary, So very ok. Somedays I feel like split personalities so today I'll be Joanne...especially since Joanne on Blogcation. Hee Hee

  9. Thought provoking topic--both on a personal level and a writing one. After my mom died when I was young, my brother, father, and I formed a strong, very unique, bond. So throughout my life, my biggest fear was losing them. Well, in the space of 7 months, I lost them both somewhat recently. Among all the other emotions I've experienced, the only POSITIVE one is that,, I'm free of that fear. It no longer controls or impacts me in any way. On a lighter note--in the writing department--I tend to stick to romantic comedy (maybe as a way to run away from fear??) so my characters' fears are very subtle and are usually not even known to them until late in the story.

  10. Randy, I'm so sorry for your loss. You bring up a great point,fear can keep us captive. I love comedy of any kind. Sandra Bullock stars in her share of romantic comedies. They make me laugh big time. Thanks for stopping by!!

  11. I have used fear as a plot device, but not in every manuscript. I'm going to use it again in my next one, though. Great post.

    Randy, I know how hard it is losing those close to you. When I was young, I lost my mother and both grandmothers within a six-month time frame. I'm so sorry you had to go through something so similar, too.

  12. Books that scare me...The Fall of The House of Usher and The Stand.

    My older sister was always afraid of the dark. I use to feed on her fear...told you I was evil, even as a child.

    Way back, too many years ago to mention, we had an outdoor toilet...a long way from the house. Between there and the house was a smokehouse. I would always wait and jump out to scare my sister. I mean, really, how many times of someone jumping out of the same place does it take to get over it?

    Well, she didn't, but she did get smart and made me go with her every time so I couldn't scare her.

    One night, she jumped up and accused me of grabbing her behind. I said I am right here. I shine the light down the hole and there is MY cat! She had jumped up and patted my sister on the behind.

    I do believe to this day, my sister thinks I told the cat to do that.

  13. "Do not fear, for I am with you"...I don't know the passage and I'm too tired to look it up, that is the scripture that comes to mind whenever I start worrying about something.

    As far as critters, I hate them all! Ick.

  14. Carol, That is a lot to handle for a small child.

    Gail, I can see you doing that. I'm having empathy for your sister because I have been in her shoes. :) Oh including cats scaring me.

    CM, I've been known to pray away bad dreams. It works.

  15. I use mankind misusing breakthrough technologies as fear. greed and incompetence are the drivers behind the fear. Mankind will destroy themselves because we are not ready to steward these breakthroughs rather than use them to advance civilization. Its technology run amok. That's the fear I use.

  16. I read a couple of Stephen King books in high school - haven't been the same since! :)

  17. For some reason, as a child, the Lloyd Bridges series Sea Hunt used to scare me to death. I think it was the sound of breathing underwater that I found creepy. Great post.

  18. I fear many things... I fear untimely deaths.. I fear the under water activities since i have never swam and of course bats, but i'm sure i will come out of all these... With a little prayer.. and pure faith.

    Tk cre

  19. I think every one has fear of something and can develop it at any time. I never used to be afraid of dogs but I have been chased by a few in Mexico and now I'm very, very cautious.

  20. I love the fact that you tapped into why we fear things as much as you did mentioning "what" we fear.

    I think the base of fear is a loss of control. Personal control.

    The thing I fear?

    Blindness. I would be lost without my window on the world.



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