Monday, March 13, 2017

The Fear Factor: Using Fears and Phobias to excite terror in your story.

"There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment."
- Hunter S. Thompson

There are many things to consider when creating that ominous feeling of dread in your characters and therefore your reader. Setting and sound, for example, play a big role in this, but another device that could be useful is choosing a fear for your character/s. Identifying what your character is afraid of then placing them in those exact situations or making them face that very thing, is a great way to generate high anxiety.

I’m sure you could come up with list of things that scare you, and that would be a great place to start.

I’ve also listed here the top ten fears/phobias, according to has the most extensive lists and descriptions of phobias I’ve found. I recommend checking it out.

Top 10 Fears and Phobias
  1. The fear of Spiders – Arachnophobia
  2. The fear of Snakes – Ophidiophobia
  3. The fear of Heights – Acrophobia
  4. The fear of open or crowded spaces – Agoraphobia
  5. The fear of dogs – Cynophobia
  6. The fear of thunder and lightning – Astraphobia
  7. The fear of small spaces – Claustrophobia
  8. The fear of germs – Mysophobia
  9. The fear of flying – Aerophobia
  10. The fear of holes – Trypophobia

Do you recognize any of these from your list? If you do, it means you are in the majority. It also means that it is most likely something your reader is afraid of, as well. 

I like referring to’s top one hundred fears/phobias to find common fear triggers, because the likelihood that I’ll hit a reader’s nerve with one of these is higher. Note, these don’t necessarily need to be the fears of your character/s they could also be the theme of your story.

Beyond individual fears, there are also fears and phobias a society experiences, which in turn could affect the reader. A good exercise would be to watch the news and see if you can't pick up on some trending societal fears.

Here are a few societal fears I've found to help jump start your own brainstorming.

The Fear of:
  • Domination or Dictatorship
  • Anarchy
  • Loss of identity
  • Loss individuality or Assimilation
  • An epidemic
  • Annihilation
  • Foreigners or Strangers
  • The Lack of Resource
  • Separation
  • The Unknown
  • Industrialism

Let me know what other societal fears you've come up with. If you leave them here in the comments I'll add them to this list and make sure to attribute them to you. 
Are you assigning fears to your characters or are you using a fear as the theme of your story?

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