The sky is the color of pewter and the forecast calls for more rain. While the blooms continue, yesterday I was running an errand in a small town at about 500 feet and it was snowing. In January when I was visiting
But back to fear. Saturday I mailed the final draft of my manuscript for my upcoming book to my editor at Writer’s Digest. It will be published in July and is called Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction. I wrote an introduction that describes the physiological wiring involved in fear and why we capitalize on readers’ fears as writers. It’s something I also talked about in Between the Lines, particularly in chapters on suspense and tension: "Fiction isn’t written to make readers happy. Its purpose is to jangle their nerves, make their hearts race, give them goose bumps, and disturb their sleep. A happy reader is a complacent reader, and a complacent reader is one who nods off instead of turning the pages until dawn. The urge to keep reading comes from many factors, but mostly from suspense. And suspense is a technique that requires sleight of hand and is tied to our reader’s primal instincts and fears. Your job is to unsettle your reader even if you’re uncomfortable being sneaky or sly or if such traits come naturally."
In childhood we also first meet real-life bad guys and learn that cruelty is an inescapable reality. These harsh lessons come in the form of the neighborhood or classroom bully, a sadistic cousin, a teacher who seemed to have it in for you, and creepy strangers at the mall. So at an early age we learn distrust and unease because life holds dangers and we realize that it takes resilience and courage to navigate through our days.
This particular legacy of childhood lingers into adulthood and fiction writers can capitalize on this fact, remembering fear’s potent hold on us as children and how difficult it was to feel vulnerable. In fact, it’s a fiction writer’s job to remember childhood’s hard lessons about vulnerability and dangers and stir up those memories and fears in readers. You see, readers are consciously or unconsciously drawn to vulnerable characters in precarious circumstances that are the heart of fiction. We enjoy reading about menace threatening a character in fiction since it’s safely removed from us, yet we can still enjoy the thrill ride because we’re well acquainted with fear and feelings of vulnerability. So in essence, readers tell authors bring on the baddest of the bad guys, the scariest monster, the freakiest sociopath, the most depraved killer—and we’ll flip through the pages, attention focused on the carnage."
In fact, I researched extensively while writing this book, especially when it came to writing about horror and sociopaths. I particularly enjoyed Martha Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door as a resource along with the research of Robert Hare. Stout, who until recently taught at the Harvard Medical School has written a practical examination of what terror and fear politics have done to our minds and to the very biology of our brains. In this timely book, The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage. Stout explains "how terror rewires our brains and reshapes our behavior--and how we can reclaim our courage." It’s exciting to find professionals who can draw the line around fear—who realize that it works in fiction and drama, but should not be the means that politicians use to control a populace.
Here is an excerpt Stouts book posted on the Huffington Post: “When the president of the
Imagine for a moment that somehow the American presidency falls to you, instead of to George Bush, and that, for reasons known only to you and your conscience, you accept the position. Not long after you move into the Oval Office, the
I believe that, as you looked out on millions of your countrymen lost in fear and grief, you would experience an overwhelming desire to help them. You would earnestly want to bring them some comfort and peace, so they could protect themselves, heal, and rebuild. And--exiting this little fantasy exercise and returning to the reality of the last six years--perhaps, like me, you've been repeatedly saddened to witness that not everyone in such a rare and influential position experiences a desire to assist his own nation in recovery and real self-protection.
That some of our leaders didn't display this sort of heartfelt reaction has been understandably difficult for Americans to acknowledge out loud.”