One thing is a certainty when writing fiction: be sure your character has a fear, whether or not he acknowledges it on the inside or shows it on the outside. In life, we all are afraid of something coming from a personal experience we may or may not remember. Your character is no different. A fear, or the resulting belief your character has stemming from the fear, drives your protagonist and therefore, the story. Because of this, fear makes for a powerful writing prompt.
Fear has its use but cowardice has none.
Many times the crux of a story is the moment a character faces his fear. The outcome can be either tragic (the fear wins by paralyzing him or he turns away) or happy (he is able to overcome his worst fear to save the day) or somewhere in between.
There are many ways to find out a character’s fear, but one fun way to approach it (fear can be fun? Yes!) is to use it as a motivation to write and discover what sort of story you can develop with a fear at the core of your idea. I’m betting Rod Serling and Stephen King have used this technique a time or two.
Gandhi was right…fear has its use, so use it as a creative writing prompt. Look through the following fears, choose one for your character, then begin answering the questions following the fear list (steps two and three) and let your story flow.
Fear Writing Prompt, Step One: Choose a fear from the list below
Write a story about someone who is afraid of:
- Anger (or becoming angry)
- Being laughed at
- Being forgotten (or ignored)
- Being hated
- Being touched
- Being useless
- The dark (actual or figurative? Spiritual?)
- Disorder or chaos
- Falling in love
- Ideas or anything new
- Leaving the house
- Loss of control
- Loss of functionality
- Making decisions
- Making a mistake
Physical Fear Writing Prompt
Write a story about someone who is afraid of:
- Animals (in general or a specific one)
- Being a victim
- Being buried alive
- Clowns (had to include that one)
- Confined spaces
- Crossing bridges
- Dead things
- Disease or germs
- Dolls (or puppets)
- Extreme cold (snow, freezing temperatures, ice)
- Falling asleep
- Ghosts or spirits
- Growing old
- The night
- Public speaking (who isn’t?)
- Saints, priests, nuns or holy icons
- Storms (thunder and lightning)
- Water (bodies of, moving, or bathing)
Fear Writing Prompt, Step Two: Ask the following questions:
- What happened in his childhood for the character to learn this fear?
- Did the fear come from an actual event or was it learned from another person?
- Is his fear real or is it irrational?
- Is his fear physical, and if so are there emotional reasons behind it?
- Is his fear emotional, and if so is there a real reason behind it?
- Does he recognize or acknowledge his fear, or is he in denial?
- How does this fear manifest and outwardly affect him?
- What does he do to hide this fear from others?
- Do others know about his fear or is he able to hide it?
- How does it change his life?
- How far will he go to avoid facing this fear?
- Does he seek treatment or help?
In first person, let the character describe the fear and tell you what is so terrifying about it. Let him say it in his own words.
Fear Writing Prompt, Step Three: Ask these questions to start your story
- In light of this fear, what is the worst thing that can happen to this character?
- Does he face his fear? How?
- Or does he turn away and hide from it?
- What will he lose if he can’t face it?
- What will he lose if he does face it?
Fear Writing Prompt, Step Four: Keep writing
Use fear as a positive force in your writing. Start with a character with a fear, follow him, and watch your story develop.
Read more on how to use fear as a writing prompt.
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere. Check out more at www.kathysteffen.com
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Just found this and I love it. A multi-purpose prompt! What a great way to round out characters, develop backstory and come up with a few ideas for conflict in scenes.
Thanks Melanie! I appreciate that. I always try and trick myself into writing and love to share:)
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