Here’s a fun thing: I was GOING to write about some author-experiences to prepare you for what’s coming down the road as you put your writing out in the world. Then my tooth went bad, and my plans changed. So today, you’re getting a characterization prompt: what is your character’s most irrational fear?

This Frightful Characterization Tip Will Transform Your Stories

Fear Is Not Logical

People are complicated. I know, that’s like saying, “Hey, fire is hot!” but when it comes to characterization, this needs to be said. Our tendency as authors is to stick imaginary people into tiny two-dimensional categories, forgetting that no human being fits into tiny two-dimensional categories.

One of the things that makes humans so confounded complicated is we are not logical.

This kitty is scared

This kitty is scared

Really. We’re not. Take me, for example: I have an insane fear of spiders. This makes no sense. I don’t live in a place with spiders that can actually hurt me. Nevertheless, they freak me out to the point that I will call for help (or maybe throw things from a safe distance) if I spot one.

But worse than that is my fear of needles. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. (Did I mention I’m going to the dentist today?) This fear informs how I’m behaving today. It’s made me distracted and a little irritable. I can’t stop worrying about it, though I know how dumb that is. It’s one prick, then no pain—and yet I am stomach-twistingly afraid.

The Power of Fear

This fear is illogical, yet it has dictated much of my day, and if I had an option that didn’t involve needles, I’d take it. That right there is why you need to know your character’s irrational fear.

That fear can change your character’s entire direction. It affects the plot. It changes their decisions. It can even alter how they handle change, enemies, or whatever. And that makes it a powerful tool for characterization.

So here’s your writing assignment for today: figure out your character’s most illogical fear. Then take fifteen minutes, write, and make them face it.

This can be silly or serious. Your character can have a life-changing revelation, or just hide under a pillow going “La la la!” until it goes away. Write the response the way your character wants to respond.

This is very much a gut-exercise, not a thinking-exercise. Don’t let yourself think too much. Trust the illogical nature of emotion and just write. I can’t wait to see your responses.

How do your characters handle illogical fear? Let us know in the comments.


Have fun with this one! Take fifteen minutes and write a scene in which your character encounters their illogical fear, then post your practice in the comments. If you post, don’t forget to respond to your fellow writers!

Ruthanne Reid
Ruthanne Reid
Story-herder, plot-bunny curator, and weird humor connoisseur, Ruthanne is a woman of mystery because most of her hobbies are done in the dark.

She’s ventured out to teach classes on world-building and writer’s voice, and she’s taken some nifty pictures, which she posts on Instagram when no one is looking.

Ruthanne is simply herself, and herself is a professional dealer of cat pictures. Currently, she lives in Long Island City, happily married to the IT programmer of her dreams.