Fear Forces Your Characters to Make Choices

Have you been working with your characters as we’ve analyzed different aspects of what makes them come alive on the page?  I hope you discovered intriguing possibilities for torturing and rewarding the people populating your latest manuscript.

In the first week, you learned how to use body awareness to flesh out your characters.  Then we took a look at how the Inner Critic shapes each character’s mental and emotional life.

I bet you thought there was nothing left to learn about your characters by now.  Not so.  Today we’re going to dive deep into their darkest fear to see how it affects the choices they make.


Fear can be rational or irrational.  It doesn’t matter which it is, because we perceive its mental and emotional message through the filters of our experiences and knowledge.


Take a couple of slow deep breaths and allow your mind to empty.  Ask yourself, “What is my greatest fear at this moment?”

I’d wager everyone reading this has a least one fear—big or small—that came instantly to mind.

It could be fear about the quality of your writing.  Or that you can’t finish the novel you started.  Maybe you’re afraid you will never get your work published.  It could be as simple as “I’m afraid I won’t get home in time for supper.”


Now that we’ve acknowledged we all live with some measure of fear every day, let’s invite our cast of characters to sit down and talk about what keeps them awake at night.


Our Cast of Characters Remains the Same

Nothing has changed about who they are and what they’re doing.  They don’t want to admit to any fear right away.  But we keep asking, and finally, they whisper the thoughts that make them cringe in the revealing.


Carolina:  She’s hot, she knows it, and she works it.

Carolina’s Fear: “Don’t be absurd.  I don’t have anything to fear.  If you want to talk about that, you’d better chase down that dowdy girl who waits tables in the Country Club dining room.  I’m sure she’s afraid she’ll never find someone who will want to marry her and rescue her from poverty.  She’d have to have some major work done on her looks and lose a lot of weight, before she’d be attractive to the kind of man who could do her any good.

That’s what they look for, you know.  Men, that is.  Beauty and youth.  And once you lose your youth, it’s much harder to maintain the body and face they expect.  Not that I’d know anything about that of course . . . getting older and losing my looks . . . I work on myself constantly, you know.  The next pretty face could be the one that turns his head.

I don’t know what I’d do if he didn’t find me attractive anymore.  It’s so hard to keep up sometimes . . . will it even make any difference?  I’m afraid to think about it.  About getting older.  About not being the most beautiful thing he sees each day.  Who will I be if I’m not the prettiest girl at the party?”

Carolina’s Choice: “I’m not worried.  Really. That’s why God invented plastic surgery.  It’s not going to be a problem.  I’ll just get a bit of a nip and a tiny tuck here or there every year.  No one will know.  No one will be able to tell.  I refuse to grow old.”


Caleb:  His body serves him, he respects what it can and can’t do, and he takes for granted that it will do what he needs.

Caleb’s Fear talks: “Ask me a hard question.  That one’s easy.  I’m afraid I’ll be the man who finally loses the land my ancestors fought to settle.  They scratched out a living here for over seven generations, come drought or flood, good crops or bad, sick herds or fruitful.  How will I live with myself if, with all the modern tools and inventions they never had, I can’t hold onto my heritage?  I think about it every damn day.  And I have nightmares every night.  So your question is easy.  My fear is making the struggles and honor of my ancestors by losing my heritage.”

Caleb’s Choice: “I just have to work harder and longer each day.  If I have to move a mountain with a garden trowel to hold onto this land, that’s what I’ll do.  This ranch will be my son’s heritage one day, just as it was mine.”


MarySue:  Her body is her temple, and if she has to kill herself with exercise and diet to be healthy that’s just what she’s going to do. 

MarySue’s Fear: “If I don’t watch every bite I eat I’ll end up like my mother—two hundred pounds overweight and dead of a heart attack before my kids are out of grade school.”

MarySue’s Choice: “I’ll add another exercise program to my schedule.  And when I eat with my husband and kids I’ll tell them I’m not hungry because I tasted while I cooked.  That way no one will say anything if I just have a salad every day. 

Maybe I’ll get a training coach this year.  I intend to be here to see my great-grandchildren get married!”


Howard:  His body is giving out on him, but he’s not giving up on it, just giving a lot more thought to every move he makes.

Howard’s Fear: “There’s no one left of my family.  I might end up dying alone.  And who will care that I’m gone?”

Howard’s Choice: “Tomorrow I’m going to meet the new fellow who moved in down the hall.  I’ve seen him playing chess by himself.  Maybe he’d like to play against someone.  We could form a chess club.  That way someone would miss me every time they set up the chessboard.”


Are the choices your characters make from the truth of their fears going to afford better lives for them?  Or will they find themselves creating new obstacles because of their choices?  Which conflicts will be resolved and what new ones will arise as an immediate result of their responses to your question about fear?


Share with us in the comments what you discover about your characters through accessing their deepest Fears.


Thanks once more to Laura Probert and her Writing for Warrior Healing course for the prompts that inspired this series of posts.