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Character Development – What are You so Afraid of!


Welcome to another writerslife Wednesday.

What are you characters afraid of? And I don’t mean they go, “Eek!” at spiders. I mean real fears.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know I have OCD. It’s mild and usually I don’t even notice it, but then I have a flare up.

And my brain stops working properly.

Because that’s what fear does, and OCD is all about fear.

When you’re making characters, look deeper than fears like spiders or heights. Ask yourself, what terrifies them down to their souls? What makes them act completely irrational and against their own self interest?

What makes them feel helpless?

This is easier for me to dig into since I know fear. I’ve tasted it. It’s copper on the tip of your tongue and smells like ozone.

I can put my characters in mortal peril and describe the true fear they feel even though I’ve never been anywhere close to that, because my OCD gives me fear in normal situations.

So look deep. Does your character have something, like OCD? If so, I can tell you, it’s not about being a clean freak; it’s about fear, and trying to control the environment around you to alleviate that fear.

But fear of what?

Now we’re getting into it. If you have OCD, then a traumatic event can set it off, and you focus on controlling things around that traumatic event.

People without OCD specifically do do this too though so you can look up OCD reactions and thought patterns and give those to your character when dealing with a traumatic event.

So what’s your character’s fear? What damage is it rooted in?

Fears are irrational but they can be controlled, that’s when someone is brave. They can’t be brave if they aren’t afraid.

And I mean deep fears. Fear of abandonment, fear of being a drunk like your father, fear of being betrayed, fear of being controlled, fear of not having control, fear of rejection, fear of being alone, fear of failure.

Everyone has something, and if you catch onto it as a person, you can deal with it.

If you catch onto it as a writer, you can craft more compelling characters by having them act out in reaction to their fear, without knowing why they did it. Or with them brushing it off as “the person pissed me off,” when everyone else knows that was an overreaction.

I hate books where the character says their background so you know they’re damaged, but they don’t act irrationally when triggered due to that damage. Because that isn’t real.

Unless of course the character has dealt with the damage but that’s usually not the case.

So, dig into your characters. Give them deep damage, the longer ago it was, the more damaging it is if they never dealt with it, and see what it makes them do.

Happy Writing!

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