How to Terrorize Characters: Character Development

Getting to know your character well means being able to write about them in a realistic manner. One question to ask yourself about your character is what scares them. Here are some ideas to help you direct your thinking on this aspect of your character’s development.


Levels of Fear

Not all fear is created equal. Sometimes, we are merely afraid that something will (not) happen. Other times, we would sacrifice our lives to make sure that something did (not) happen. When considering your character’s fears, it can be helpful to come up with a variety of things that scare them along the spectrum of fear.

For example, it might have scared Erika Wogo (Show Her) to have her readership on her blog dip for a week. Her logic being that people were no longer interested in what she had to say, possibly meaning that she no longer knows what she’s talking about regarding how to be an appropriate Handler, meaning she might not be the most desirable Handler in the city, meaning she might lose the interest of her Master, meaning she might be returned by him (the scariest thing of all for her).

Notice how her lower level fears tie into a scenario (being returned by her Master) that truly terrifies her and motivates much of her behavior throughout the novella. The lengths that she will go to in order to keep Khaled’s favor are extreme, as you may have read.

Things That Scare People

Here is a list of fears that I ran across in my practice as a psychotherapist (and life in general). This list is by no means comprehensive, but can help you start thinking more deeply about this aspect of your character’s development.

  • Balloons
  • Clowns
  • Insects
  • A specific gender
  • Sexual contact
  • Vehicular traffic
  • Job loss
  • Dentists
  • Cats
  • Standing out
  • Blending in
  • Having no purpose
  • Working “too much / hard”
  • Mental illness diagnoses
  • Physical illness diagnoses
  • Academic failure
  • Dogs
  • Driving
  • Public transportation
  • Rodents
  • Blood
  • Certain colors
  • Death
  • Religion
  • Parenthood
  • Infertility
  • Being / staying single
  • Being / staying married
  • Prescription drugs
  • Doctors
  • Reptiles
  • Being alone
  • Planes
  • Birds
  • Ghosts
  • Caves
  • Being around other people
  • Basements
  • Silence
  • Public speaking
  • Familiar things
  • Intimate / Serious conversations
  • Sobriety
  • Commitment
  • Intoxication
  • Loss of control
  • Being in charge
  • Inadequacy
  • Embarassment
  • War
  • Peace
  • Unfamiliar things

Track Fears

Creating a trail of motivations for someone’s fears helps you develop their character.

An example would be someone who is afraid of being in a management position. Ask yourself why they would be afraid of this. One track: “If I’m in charge, I could make a mistake.” –> “If I make a mistake, I’ll be fired and I’ll be embarrassed in front of my colleagues.” –> “If I’m embarrassed in front of my colleagues, my friends will find out.” –> “If my friends find out, they won’t want to spend time with me any more.” –> “If my friends don’t want to spend time with me any more, I’ll spend the rest of my life alone–my biggest fear!”


The track could also be more direct, such as: “If I’m in a management position, people could end up dying.” — > “When I was babysitting my 5 siblings one night 15 years ago, a fire took the life of my two youngest sisters.”  –> “I should never be in charge because I’m not a good enough manager to keep people from dying.”


Remember: A character’s rationale for their fears doesn’t have to make sense to you, it just has to make sense to them and fit a logic that is backed up by the world and circumstances you have put them in.


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