I am pretty confident that I can describe your greatest fear.
Not only that, but I can prescribe a formula to squash it flat.
And at no charge either!
(though I’m not responsible either if you fail to squash it right, and then it just becomes agitated and even scarier and haunts you forever, or something like that… okay?)
Okay, but seriously, I probably can describe your greatest fear.
Remember when you were a kid, and you would play games that had this big surprise?
“What Time is it Mister Wolf?”, where “the Wolf” would keep answering your questions with the time 3 o’clock or 12 o’clock or 8 o’clock, until LUNCHTIME!
Scared me every time… I knew it was coming, but still…
Or take for example the scenes from The Shining, where the boy Danny is cycling aimlessly by himself throughout the hotel, and you, the viewer, know that something awful is lurking around one of those turns or behind a door, but you are unsure where or when that shit is going to show up. *shivers*
And that dynamic is what scares just about all of us.
Because at the core of most horror, suspense and thrillers (whether in book or movie format), the true essence of what unsettles us all equally is … not knowing.
It is the moment before the reveal, the lurking threat out of sight, the stalking predator who is moments from attacking, the terrible doom that is impending on you.
What is not yet to befall, even if you know for sure it is coming, is what is really scary.
What we fear is the unknown.
And no, I don’t mean the unknown as in the Others of LOST, or the uncharted depths of our seas or illogically immense and black galaxies of space (okay, kinda scary…). No, no, by the “unknown”, I am meaning the uncertain, the unconfirmed, the undefined, which to scare us really fucking bad will take on the necessary characteristics for as it relates to your own fears and insecurities, contextualized by your life and circumstances.
Think about it.
What most of us are afraid of, even if you are afraid of rabid animals or killer clowns, while I am afraid of dying in a plane crash or catching some rare disgusting internal bacteria, the common denominator for any and all of that is that grey zone where we can fill in the gap with our own plethora of nightmarish imaginations of what might happen. It makes sense, right, because the danger on paper or screen is able to work in unison with your own subconscious imaginations to colour it with what you fear. The moment of holding your breath, tension building and hope fading – that is always scary.
Whether it is for writers wanting to write some good psychological horror, or for everyone trying to cope with the fears that haunt you every day, the key is in understanding that your biggest fear is hiding in the dark places of your mind, where it can stay unnoticed, can remain indescribable, and so, can exist as something unspeakable – something we therefore assume is too traumatic, too obscene to acknowledge or address or communicate aloud.
But the moment the villain, the monster, the serial killer, the random antagonist becomes more defined, seen in the light of day, is given a chance to have their story told and their motives understood (even if still deeply rejected by us the non-murdering readers or audience), then either instantly or gradually, that fear becomes less, well, fearful.
And so that is the key to its own undoing.
Write down your fears.
Capture them in a net and label them with words.
Draw pictures of them.
Speak them aloud, in whispers if necessary.
Repeat it back to yourself.
Tell a friend you trust.
Whatever you prefer, the point is that the more you can expose your fears to your conscious mind, the less terrifying it becomes and the less alone you feel with it.
Let’s go worst-case scenario even, and see how well this holds up, shall we?
Say me, as a writer, an expected fear of mine would be fearing rejection and humiliation in response to the work I put out there. Worse yet, creative droughts or related scenarios that would clog my capacity for self-expression, perhaps triggered by the aforementioned rejection?
Maybe a book review of this calibre would be pretty terrible (even as it is hilarious)…?
Sure, that would be pretty rough going.
I am not denying that.
But – my point here is that this experience, a shitty review, is far far far less excruciating than what my subconscious mind would produce, tapping into old memories of mine and pestering me when I am feeling most insecure with hints and threats about some vague fate of rejection.
Experience rejection, and then it passes. You move on if you allow yourself to do so.
Imagine rejection, and it can bully you all your life. How do you move on from something that never quite happens but always taunts you like it will any moment?
So remember that – our biggest fear is not knowing.
Thus, our solution to our fears is knowing more and more about what and why we fear.
- What’s your homework?
- Define your fear(s) – use details for how you feel – so that it gets that less daunting…
- Write about your fear(s) – when did it show up? – so it gets more understandable…
- Act on your fear(s) – check your bed for monsters – until it becomes your strength…
As always, thanks for reading!