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The Main Character's Greatest Fear as a Character


Before I started my WIP, I did a lot of thinking about my main character’s greatest fear. My WIP is a gothic novel, so I decided I wanted a fear that would be particularly pervasive in that sort of story—you know, genre expectations and all that stuff.


I also decided to take my main character’s fear one step further. I’m trying to make the fear active, not in the literal form of a flesh and blood antagonist, but in the way setting can be treated as a character.


My main character’s fear is of the dark. It’s not a small fear, like I had as a child. Her fear is depilating. She has created coping mechanisms, but she also has come to the point where she’s angry with herself because of the fear. In other words, her character is ripe for change. And, of course, she will have to face this fear as part of the climax.


I know this is not some new wondrous idea. Lots of writers use it.  But this is the first time I’ve consciously focused on it as a writing tool. Have you used this technique?


How do you choose your main character’s greatest fear? Do you uncover it organically as you write or do you pick a fear which will challenge your character within the context of the story?


I usually sort of do both, I plan the character and when planning it usually comes to me the greatest fear, sometimes when I start writing the greatest fear changes.

Edited at 2012-01-11 06:12 pm (UTC)
That's how I've always done it before and it worked well. But it's interesting how picking a fear which works particularly well for the genre and making it active has help make the character's growth happen more organically.

Or, more likely, it's just that I got the right mix in this story ;)
I love that his fear effected his personality at such a deep level. I guess when the challenges are directly related to the character's fear, then that makes the fear active in the story. Or it certainly braids everything tighter.

In ATNL, it wasn't a specific fear I focused on, but my character's method of handling that fear. She counts to thirty--it was the highest number she could count to when the device first manifested. Thirty is her magic number.
Cool. It's actually facinating how people use counting this way. I'll admit I've done it, lots.
And it makes the ticking clock pretty literal.

In MH it's flashlights, of all kinds. But she's also aware of darkness all the time, that it's present even in bright places. Hmm-mm this gives me an idea I'll have to slid in when I revise.

My character's fears usually challenge them within the context of the story. That's just what I'm better at doing. Good luck with this fear of the dark. I hope you are able to channel your character's emotions and make readers curl up under the blankets at night. :)
Thanks. It's fun figuring out how to make the fear as overpowering as possible :)
Cool. I don't usually think about my character's greatest fear before writing. Actually, as a mostly pantser, I don't usually think about my characters at all, just plunge right in.

But I've been having some trouble getting started on my new book, and I think this question is a useful one for her, since it's a paranormal book...

Thanks for the idea.

Yeah, it would be fun to see what fear was the most challenging, given the paranormal elements your using.

What's happen to me is that my MC's growth is happening more organically, at least I think it is ;)