Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.
One of my favorite writing exercises is super simple. I take a bunch of novelists and ask them:
What is your protagonists more afraid of happening than anything else in the whole freaking universe?
We authors talk a lot about what our characters wants are, their yearnings, their goals, but we often forget about the dark side. Cue scary ominous music.
The fears are linked to a couple of really important things:
Obstacles are easy. As the novel’s hero goes out in search of his goal to get his love, there are things that obstruct him. A terrorist. A snake. His sexy best friend who likes the same person. The obstacles GIVE him fear that he won’t get what he wants—the goal of the story, his perfect result, the yearning. The fear MOTIVATES him to keep trying.
But fear motivates in another way as well. When you make your character imagine the worst thing in the world—the fear can also hold him back from getting what he wants.
When you think about your character’s biggest fear, the deepest fear, the conceptual fear, the root fear, the FEAR OF ALL FEARS, you realize that it’s this fear that MOTIVATES the character. He isn’t just running to something. He’s running away from something.
Is it death? Isolation? Humiliation? Loss of wealth? Actual success? Failure? Humiliation? Aging? The big unknown?
Whatever it is, that root fear pushes your adorable character into the arms of the story, searching and working toward things that take him away from that big scary fear monster.
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