Adding a Layer of Fear 

The horror draws the reader closer to the beloved character, and together they walk through a personal nightmare. 


Fear doesn’t have to make sense to the character; it’s present and dangerous. The emotion is not necessarily negative, but an intuitive means of protecting the character from threat of harm. Those threats can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological, and the resulting sensations alert the character to possible danger.  


Whether a fear is real or imagined, the emotion affects character and requires coping skills. The anxiety and pressure can trap a character, causing him/her to do whatever is necessary to avoid the triggered reaction and response. Each fear is unique, depending upon the character’s personality, backstory, culture, education, upbringing, and a host of other variables. The character can feel alone and ashamed or hide from others to avoid ridicule. Whether or not others understand the fear, to the sufferer, the presumed danger is real. Fear manifests itself in paralysis, shock, seeking safety, fleeing, and/or fighting.  


Respecting the outcome of a specific fear doesn’t make a hero or heroine any less a person. The character who respects healthy fears shows wisdom in avoiding—running into a burning building, playing golf in an electrical storm, handling a loaded gun, swimming in shark-infested water, and the list goes on. Motivation fuels the choice to fight or flee. Sometimes it takes more courage to run from a harmful situation than to stay and fight. 



A phobia is a type of fear that is abnormal and irrational. But to the character, the obsessive behavior that accompanies it is real. 


The downside of catering to a phobia: 

  1. Paranoia
  2. Insomnia 
  3. Deteriorating health 
  4. Inability to function mentally or physically 
  5. Destroyed personal and interpersonal relationships. 


The reader who experiences the same type of fear will stay engaged in the story. The horror draws the reader closer to the beloved character, and together they walk through a personal nightmare. 


Readers long to see their beloved protagonist become a better person, but the fear must be processed logically, and the outcome used as a strength in the climax. The character who survives and learns from facing down an emotional handicap is a role model. The tough stand to analyze a situation and take healthy steps to move forward requires a character who values growth and change. He accepts his unhealthy behavior, and his actions coincide with his personality and determination.  


The antagonist can use the fear against the protagonist, allowing the writer to weave a stronger plot. And this character has fears, too. Sometimes these unwanted emotions contribute to his/her motive to commit a crime or do things that are unethical or immoral. A protagonist who discovers an antagonist’s fears discovers ways to trap the character and end the injustice.  


A strong character analyzes the potential fear: 

  1. How powerful is the danger? 
  2. Is the danger immediate or in my future? 
  3. How do I respond to the fear? 


A strong character learns from the experience to help others: 

  1. By empathizing and sympathizing with the emotion. 
  2. By identifying body language, voice inflections, and behaviors that show fear. 
  3. By offering coping tools to help others 


Using fear in our stories, no matter what genre, adds to the character’s arc while pushing ahead in the plot with stress, tension, and conflict. The emotion weaves inner and outer conflict to overcome before the protagonist can achieve a goal. This causes the plot to thicken and adds another layer to the barriers attempting to stop the protagonist. Use any context of fear to confuse the character and create anxiety. Establish plot points that make the character keenly aware of the fear. Intensify it. Culture and social standards also cultivate fear. What resonates in the character’s mind because of the emotionally stunned moment? That’s what readers remember. 


Common writing advice is to write what we know. This includes the heart-pounding, palm-sweating reality of walking through real fears. By creating scenes from personal encounters, the writer transfers credible emotions to the character and thus the reader. Within the writer’s transparency dwells realistic behavior. 


Fear is a powerful emotion in our lives and our characters. The sensation is undeniable. Strive to understand the reality of the emotion according to your carefully crafted character. 

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.  DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. DiAnn continues her passion for helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.  Connect with DiAnn on her various social media platforms here: