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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

Your Character’s 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 in Characterization

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. Fear affects the plot. Fear can change your character’s decisions (which is the strongest form of characterization). 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 prompt 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
Would you believe this third-person intro is being written by the very same individual about whom it is written?

I know. Completely blows her mind, too.

Ruthanne Reid is one of those pesky fanfiction authors who made good, and thus eschews most labels. Except for being a Generation X-er (or maybe Xennial, according to some guy’s webpage), a musician who loves music but also carries a ton of baggage about it, a self-taught graphic artist who designs her own covers, a spoonie who wrestles Fibromyalgia not unlike yon Hercules and the Nemean lion, a Christian who hesitates to use the word because too many of them are crazy but Jesus is pretty great, a rabid shipper who’s too smart to lay out precisely which ships because of the wars, and an avid reader when she isn’t busy caretaking for some pretty ill folks.

You know. Unlabelable.

Currently a resident of Long Island City and a loving mom to one current cat and numerous future ones, Ruthanne is happily married to a fellow geek who loves good stories and great games as much as she does. Between the two of them, they own a lot of things that need to be plugged in.
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