Why Being a Scaredy-Cat Improves Your Writing

(sighs) Here we go:

story time with melissa

I’ve always been a scaredy-cat. Trust me, I was not the friend luring the rest to go on the intimidating roller-coasters. My friends had to do a lot of arm-pulling before I agreed to go on one of those murderous rides.

Now, that’s an understandable fear. I realize that. But do you want to know a few more of my fears? Because let me tell you this—some are far too ridiculous.

1) bugs

When I was five I loved bugs. I would play with them, name them, and store them in jars. Now? They scare me to death. I have yet to be stung by a bee. No matter how many times people tell me it doesn’t hurt, I still can’t help but run and scream when I spot one ten feet away.

And spiders? Don’t even mention them.

2) Scary stories

I know. Scary stories are supposed to be scary. But I’m pretty sure they aren’t meant to haunt you for years and years. When I was six years old a mean preteen told me that there was a girl living in the toilet. She said that if you didn’t believe she existed, she would flush you down the drain and rip your face off.

Whenever I remembered the story, I was too afraid to use the bathroom. Even today, it occasionally pops into my mind and I say, “There’s no way that’s true.” But then I end up doubting myself.

But hey, that stuff isn’t real.

Right?

3) Escalators

Go ahead and laugh. Do it. And yes, I’m talking about the moving stairs.

You know how some people are afraid of elevators? Lucky them. It’s not too often (at least where I live) that you have to ride in an elevator. But escalators are everywhere. Airports. Movie theaters. Amusement parks. Everywhere. The thought of going to the mall gives me chills as I think of having to go to the second or—God forbid—the third floor.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten over most of this, and the phobia is slowly drifting away with more exposure!

4) social events

I communicate fine online. I can get by introducing myself and making new friends because I’m not standing face-to-face with them. They’re on a screen in the other side of the world. And thanks to technology, I can revise my messages multiple times before sending them.

But in real life, conversations are spontaneous. You don’t get to stand and pick out the smartest words (or most casual, if that’s what you’re going for) for several minutes before finally saying something back. They say something, and you have to reply right on the spot! For some reason, the thought of this makes me slightly uncomfortable.

5) public speaking

I think I’ve gotten a bit better over the years, but it still scares me.

Standing there with all eyes on you. The rowdy room suddenly silent. I’ll rehearse a presentation for hours and then end up stuttering my way through to the end, saying information for the wrong slides and forgetting to mention important points.

How do these fears aid my writing?

Think of the normal fears. Heights. Bugs. Those kinds of things. Personally, I think these fears have become stereotypical, therefore I stray from using them in my novels.

The characters I connect with the most are those who have fears that are relatable, but strange at the same time. If someone is afraid of heights (which I feel we all are, to some degree), then I don’t find it as personal or surprising when they overcome it.

Another plus is that strange fears add humor to your novel. One of my characters has a fear of cameras, while another is afraid of their parents.

make it reasonable

There’s a difference between making a fear ridiculous and relatable, and ridiculous and unrealistic. One way to fix this is to show why your character is afraid of these things. In my book, every fear has a reason. Even if your protagonist doesn’t know why they are afraid of something, you should at least acknowledge that there was a root to it.

I believe everyone’s fears were formed from some kind of conditioning. If I never knew spiders bite and bees sting, they probably wouldn’t freak me out. If I didn’t hear the story of the girl who fell down an escalator and got her hair ripped out, maybe I wouldn’t embarrass myself by shrieking and running through crowd to the nearest elevator (trust me, it happened a lot when I was younger).

Here’s a three-step outline so you can create reasonable fears for your characters:

  1. Give them an interesting, uncommon fear.
  2. Create a root to the fear.
  3. Have them demolish the fear (or never overcome it, if you’re going for a comedic aspect).
Make sure more than one character has a fear

I’ve read books where everyone but the protagonist is fearless. Trust me, it gets boring over time. There is nothing more rewarding than discovering that the buff athlete has a fear of female teachers, or that the smartest kid in class is afraid of libraries. This adds so much depth to your characters.

Make them interesting! Think of fears like a miniature antagonist within the characters.


I hope this helped you! Let me know what silly things you’re afraid of in the comments below. Does your protagonist have any interesting fears?

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MelTorrefranca

MelTorrefranca

Hello writers of the world! I'm Melissa, the founder / designer of Teen Authors Journal. Although I create blog posts every Tuesday at 4 p.m. (Pacific Time), I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing! I'd love to learn more about all of you, so please don't hesitate to shoot me a message! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Why Being a Scaredy-Cat Improves Your Writing

  1. One of my protagonists is afraid of taking his shirt off, even to go swimming. It’s more of a comedic fear, because he’s super buff and handsome, but very shy. I have a hilarious scene where he gets hurt really badly and his sister has to change his bandages. So yeah. I can totally relate to this post! Thanks Melissa!

  2. There are a lot of TV shows with brave characters that have really crippling fears that are alluded to, or outright shown (-coughARCHER!cough-). I know it’s starting to become a stereotype, but I like it a lot. Thanks for sharing, and getting personal with us here. Helps make *this* post more relatable haha.

    P.S. My mom is also afraid of escalators (she feels like they’ll suck her in), and bee stings *hurt*. So do wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets. All painful.

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