Fear Pt 3: How Knowing Fear Better Informs Your Writing

(Quick note: This article is longish and well very Fearful - so I decided to break it up and make it a bit happier with some Star Trek memes from the icanhascheezburger conglomerations site. The Enterprise pic has notes on it! Cheers!)

We’ve discussed (over a couple of blogs now) a bit about fear in puppies, but how about in people? Can people go to a place where logic and reason don’t hold sway for them either?  They always talk about animals (and people are animals) having a fight or flight response.
I’m going to give you a list of F-in’ fear options.You will find that many of these “F” words overlap in each other’s territory.Fear is like that, insidious.It can cause reactions and repercussions in your characters and their worlds and stories throughout all time.Sometimes it is in little ways (a tick, a memory, a simple reaction) or sometimes in big ways (life/death altering choices). Think about Indiana Jones’ reaction to snakes, or someone like Castle’s Kate Beckett who’s a cop because her mom was an unsolved murder.Regardless, a character’s fears and history with fear will inform the audience A LOT about your character and it should inform you a lot about their story. 

Yes, sitting and fighting with my little dog, to help and protect her did lead me to a story problem I didn’t realize I was having.The main bad guy behind Jaz’s current ZOMBIE Squad* adventure is the grandfather of the front-man antagonist, a young man Jaz’s age who is basically a mirror of her on another path. I’ve been mentally calling the big background bad guy, “baddy granddaddy” (BGD). BGD killed Jaz’s mom when she was a baby, because she didn’t marry his son joining their families together. He killed his own son when he perceived him to be weak because he didn’t want to force the marriage issue with Jaz’s mom or follow in his father’s footsteps. He killed his daughter-in-law when she wasn’t raising his grandson to be the person he’d wanted his son to be. And now he’s after Jaz for his grandson, to go to the places he’d wanted his son to go a long time ago. On the surface BGD wants power and control, but what my ruminations on fear have told me is that he is really a VERY fearful man. To do the things he’s done,he’d have to be a crazy, fearful type of person. When he tells me his fear, I think it’s going to resolve my story concerns and make it a better story with more realistic characters, actions, and reactions.


Fairly straight forward and the cornerstone of reason and humanity (of and puppy-manity too), basically it means:  run, flee, hide, skedaddle, live to fight another day, get the hell out of dodge, try in any way possible to extricate yourself from the current situation with as much alacrity as possible.   Ed Parker, the Father of American Kenpo Karate, taught that all Kenpo combinations main function is to allow you to create an opening to run away (of course you always want to put your opponent down hard enough to make sure they stay there, so you can safely run away :D).


This means to take affirmative action. It may actually mean fight as in fisticuffs and flying feet, or it can mean fighting back in some other way (a leaflet campaign, a sit in, sharp wit and sarcasm, bribery, convince, connive, etc.), including flight (escape is an affirmative action).  So fight and flight do not seem to be mutually exclusive.






We would always like to think we could and would do something in a bad pinch, but the fact of the matter is people freeze, animals freeze, only time itself does not (though it sometimes seems to at bad times). Freezing is not necessarily the absence of movement or perceived movement at any given moment.Sometimes it is, but then there are those other times when it is a cunning and clearing action selection.  

Simply freezing is often both an action and an appropriate response.    Rabbits don’t freeze because they don’t know what to do. They freeze because oftimes if they are very still other creatures and people will not “see” them and go away. So, it can be taking a legitimate action.

Other times your brain farts, and you have to clear the air in your mind.  Those precious few seconds allow you to do so and come up with a plan of action. Like a reboot and respond. Just like in writing.  Act and react right?  I.E.  An unanticipated act causes a seemingly stupefying reaction until an appropriate response can be obtained.   

F… It!

Bring it on Space Boy!
I am a) just going to fling myself at the problem without any thought or care, just to do something or I am b) just going to give up and quit and let the chips fall as they may.  This is kind of the mindless, thoughtless, more insane version of Fight or Flight.




Forget about it! /Faith/Fate

Sometimes things do work out.  Unscathed is best!
Sometimes it seems like there really is nothing more that can be done. (This isn’t quite the same negative version as “F… it!” above.)  Example:

One of my first few years riding cross-country on my motorcycle, I had above average fear incident.  It had been a fairly early spring ride, probably an Easter/early spring trip.  Dad and I were on our way back to Michigan from Kentucky.  It was cold and wet.  We’d been in the rain all morning, my fingers were stiff with the cold and we were going to stop for breakfast.

We’d pulled onto the off ramp and were turning left to go over the highway overpass to get to the restaurant. Rain is always dangerous and tricky on a motorcycle as much more can go wrong than in a car.  This was that a day.  I’m still not 100% sure, but I believe I caught a piece of the metal girder of the bridge that is in the center of the road or lanes, and it was extra slick with the rain.  I caught it at just the wrong angle and I started to slip and the bike began to slide out from under me.

You do not just clamp on the breaks when you have traction issue with a motorcycle (water, ice, gravel, sand, etc.).  You take it slow and steady, easing into any changes.  My dad always taught us if you get in trouble on your bike pull in the clutch to disengage the motor from the wheels.  (It is the one time in life that more power isn’t better. :D )  My dad had also trained us like trials riders when we were first learning to ride in the dirt.  So, I went on auto-pilot with dad’s training and tried to maintain ease and focus. I was scared.  My mind actually told me, “You are going down.”  I didn’t seem to have any choice at that point.  I was beyond what could be thought, done, or changed.  The next second, I was upright, ok, and across the bridge.  It felt like a miracle as my brain tried to readjust to a new, happier reality.  Sometimes things just do work out, despite reality seeming to be to the contrary.

Fake it!

This is pretty close to “F… it!” and “Forget about it”.  You care more than “F… it!”, but you may have more wiggle room or options with this than “Forget about it”.  You’re only choice may be to roll with the situation and keep on evaluating and modifying your reaction as you go.  The old “Fake it until you make it” plan.




"Ya did remember to bring the scotch, didn't ya laddy?"
This is where you try to be helpful and/or friendly. There is no other option so you try to side with the fear/cause of the fear hoping to work your way out of it or at least lessen the full response. The extension of this reaction might be the famous Stockholm syndrome where the victim starts to feel sympathy for and side with the enemy or object causing the fear.


Freak Out!

"I don't wanna!"
This is another 2-edged reaction, not unlike the freeze option.  You can do a mindless freak-out, get lucky and win, or get un-lucky and fail (maybe even unto death).  Or, you can mindfully freak-out like Carol Burnett said she once did.  

Carol said that someone had grabbed her she didn’t know if they wanted money, to rape her, or otherwise hurt her, and she wasn’t in a position to do much.  This famous funny lady, decided to “freak-out” on her attacker.  She deliberately went hysterically, cuckoo nuts: screaming, crying, laughing, and flailing her hands and things around.  She even peed herself.  It worked.  The assailant freaked-out over her freak-out and buggered off.

Forced/Face it

This is a pretty abysmal option in my book.  I think it may be the most damaging and scaring.  You can’t do anything, at this time or in this situation, that will help in anyway.  Every option seems wrong.  You can’t do or not do anything – you are stuck.  Your only hope is to survive this moment or this happening and hope that there is another side or option that might possibly occur later.   And sometimes that other option is a welcomed for death – mentally and/or physically.  When I think of this I think of a rape victim, a disaster victim, or a war victim.

Fear is story.  Fear is character.  Fear is motivation.  Fear is reason.  Fear is insanity. How is fear affecting and effecting your story?  Can you think of any other fear options I’ve missed (even if they aren’t F-in’ options)?

In case you missed them:

*About ZOMBIE Squad:
Z.O.M.B.I.E. (Zeno Organic Meta Biologic Inter-dimensional & Extraterrestrial Species)

From history to the present, ZOMBIE squads have been multi-national squads that deal with threats to the current inhabitants of Earth from critters who are absurdly strange (in an un-Earth-like way), newly created/birthed (not original to this planet’s flora and fauna), new to this plane of existence, or are from space, inter-space, other dimensions, times, etc.  They’re here to help. 

ZOMBIE Squad: Book 1 (working title for work in process)
When the world’s ZOMBIE population shifts into high gear, and it seems to coincide with the death grandfather and a mysterious package and “invitation”, Jaz knows something apocalyptic is in the making.  Logic and order take a backseat to top gear chaos as Jaz drives right into the middle of a new age war as old as the human race itself.  If Jaz and her team fail to keep the monsters at bay, this modern day samurai warrior will not only lose her life and her family’s honor, but it will be the end of life on Earth as everything currently knows it.

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