Use Fear in Your Fiction

Fear is described as an emotion, but really, fear is a primal, negative reaction to something or someone.  More often than not it is driven by the unknown, since humans fear what they don’t understand.  
The sense of fear is something writers can evoke in their writing, especially in horror or psychological stories, but creating and exploiting fear isn’t solely for the horror or psychological/crime genres.  Fear is something all characters will feel, whatever the genre of story, because it’s a real, tangible emotion that the reader will completely understand – it’s the one emotion that affects all of us.
Writers use fear in different ways to provoke their characters, create tension and atmosphere and underpin different moods. Not only that, but a sense of fear can make your descriptions more vivid and realistic.
There are two ways you can create fear. You can do it through your characters and you can create the sense of fear through narrative and description.
A Character’s Fears
Every character has fears – they can be trivial fears, strange phobias, childlike fears or they can be deep-seated emotional fears. They can be rational or irrational.
By exploiting your character’s fears, you can create that sense of immediacy with the reader, because often their fears are very similar to character fears. To do that you need to understand what your main character fears most. Are they afraid of the dark? Do they hate spiders?  Are they scared of dying?  Do they fear losing something or someone?  Are they frightened of someone?  Or are they scared of something else?
Characters should be like real people – they should have deeper issues, anxieties, negative thoughts or sometimes even negative behaviours which form fears that play a part in a character’s personality and motives.
Once you’ve established what fears affect them the most, go in hard and make them face those fears – escalate, exploit and make their life hell. Those fears are the kind of fears the reader will understand; they will feel what it’s like, they will share that experience with your character. It will feel real enough to them.
A Sense of Fear
The other way writers use fear is to develop it within the story to set the tone and create suspense, mood and atmosphere. This is where description becomes invaluable.  It’s how you describe a scene that will give the reader a sense of fear, or even scare them.
Imagery is everything when it comes to description. The sense of fear is the sensation that your reader will feel, through the eyes of your main character – they are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling what your character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. In other words, they will hear the faint noise in the darkness. They will see the flicker of light in the corner of their eyes. They will feel the oppressive atmosphere. They will taste the damp in their air.
How well you create the sense of fear is how well the reader will react to it. So when you have scenes that are dangerous, threatening or scary for your characters; evoke that sense of fear. Set your readers on edge.
Use the senses to your advantage. Use body language and physical reactions, and use vivid descriptions to escalate the atmosphere and tension.
Use a character's fears and a sense of fear in your descriptions and exploit them, because they are the one sure way to connect the reader to your characters and the story, because fear is something that we all feel.


  1. exactly what I need right now. I have a mysterious but very charismatic Professor who is leading a College class in Comparative Religion and taking them on a trip in their imagination to the beginning, setting the stage in the lecture theatre with a total black out, a tribal drum beat and instructions on tantric breathing.. He leads them, many for the first time, on a guided meditation/visualization to a cave during pre-historic times. Sounds of animals snarling and dying outside the cave. lightening and thunder and the sound of someone crying.. the purpose is the create the birth place of animistic and Pagan beliefs and the place where the illusion of danger became an increasing method of control throughout history.


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