Fiction writing advice: Discover your character’s greatest fear … and make them face it. Not that authors are cruel people (most of the time). We just have discovered a sure-fire way to create tension and conflict in a story.
Take for instance the heroine of my work-in-progress. Cassie’s dad was killed and her mother severely injured in an accident caused by a drunk football player celebrating a victory. The driver was let off with a seeming slap on the wrist because of his local star status. Cassie’s greatest fear? Being around football players … because something bad could happen and they would get away with it. Again.
So, where do I have the story start? She’s just been assigned a college graduate assistantship with the … football program. As the story reaches the climax, of course, one of the players will do something bad and she’ll have to conquer her fear and show how she’s grown.
What’s that got to do with life? Well, we all have fears. We try to avoid them. We explode into tears or anger when forced to face them. We list every excuse in the book to explain away why we shouldn’t have to deal with them. But, when it comes right down to it, becoming a stronger person means facing our fears head on.
For example, I’m a perfectionist (for a variety of reasons, including the most noble excuse of wanting to do the best with the gifts God gave me). With perfectionist tendencies comes the fear of failure. Of not measuring up. Of being rejected.
Because of fear, I tend to write and rewrite and rewrite again. I find other important things to do that push submitting my work further down the to-do list. I even procrastinate when it comes to revisions because that further delays having something good enough to send out. I try to find “safe” places to expose my chapters by sending them to my critique partners and entering contests anonymously.
But the best way to conquer my fear is to face it head on. Put my work – remaining flaws and all – out there. Query an agent. Pitch to an editor. Followup with an email. Expose myself to rejection. Yet, it also means I’ll be ready to step through an open door.
Hmm. If the reward is greater than the fear, does that make it easier to face? I’ve already imagined the worst that could happen. Why don’t I try imagining the best result instead?
What about you? When have you faced your fears? What helped? What happened as a result?