“What creeps you out won’t creep me out”: Characters and their thresholds

Fear: one of the biggest fuels for the antagonist in a plot. Everybody’s afraid of something, and often times what your protagonist – or perhaps the fictional society in general – is afraid of. Conflict between fearsome characters is a common component of fiction – the fire breathing dragon, the abusive uncle, the demonic vampire/undead, the evil genius, internal conflict, loss of identity/sanity – and H.P. Lovecraft once said: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

1. Genres of fear: thriller, gothic and horror

These genres rely on the primitive instincts, thoughts and feelings buried within us. fear, anxiety, dread, suspense and suspicion. What keeps the reader in their toes? Why do we fear certain things like snakes and spiders? What judgements are involved in these fears? Think about the thrill and chill when your blood runs cold and shivers go down your spine.

2. The role of the antagonist

This is a crucial part.The antagonist would know how to push the protagonist’s buttons. Imagine they are the BDSM partner who ignores their partner’s boundaries and safe words; the protagonist secretly enjoys the thrill of adventure that their enemy presents them, and the antagonist takes pleasure in pain.

3. What’s at stake?

What’s at risk here? Will the world end? Will the human race due out? Will humanity be enslaved? Give not only the characters to be worried, but the reader too. Are they biting their nails during the cliffhanger, or worried about the serial killer’s next victim?

4. Character profiles: “is afraid of spiders”

To get to truly know someone – regardless of whether whether they’re a friend, family, etc. – is knowing things such as their hopes and fears. How does fear form our identity? Does it? What role does culture play?

5. Fear and hope are two opposite sides of the same coin

Hope is what we desire/want to happen, and fear is what we dread/don’t want to happen. This will be both a big character and plot drive; character because of the way they act in urgent situations, and plot because of the suspense that builds.

Something to try: character, scenario, location

How about we try putting fear-y into practice? Let’s say we have a small child, at a carnival, and one of the rides breaks down. The place is supposedly haunted by demons. A bunch of eyewitness journalists decide to investigate. Sounds like a plot line off Scooby-doo,right? Well, you could watch an episode of it it you fancy that. Or perhaps you should try reading the paper.

Give it a go, and post in the comments!


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