Friday, October 30, 2009

Fear is the Mind Killer: or, Don't Worry, this is not a post about the "Dune" Saga

Since today is the day before Halloween, I wanted to talk about fear.

Fears vary so much from person to person. My husband is afraid of spiders, while I'd rather catch and release them into the yard. Riding my scooter makes me fearless, yet fear of failure can make me an emotional train wreck.

The one thing that we all have in common is that our fears will make us do things we might not normally do. Fear is a universal motivator, although what it motivates us to do is as variable as our fears. Concern for ourselves and others will motivate us to act, or even to overcome another fear. As writers, fear is an important tool to convince our characters to do what we want them to do. Of course, the flip side to that, is that these fears must be established early on as a quirk or flaw of the characters. Ah, the joys of characterization!

But the most interesting part about fear is how humanity seems to crave a good scare every once in a while. Scary stories told around the fire pit didn't originate with the Boyscouts of America, they are as old as fire pits themselves. Americans go in droves to scary movies, especially this time of year, wanting to get their blood pumping and endorphins flowing.

I love a good haunted house, but none will ever be as frightening to me as the first one I ever went to-- first grade at my school overseas. I was six, a little gypsy, ironically enough, and I'd never been so frightened in all my young life. Not even when I fell off my trike when I was four and got glass in my knee. I wasn't scared then, because my big strong daddy picked me up and took me to the hospital. But without Mom or Dad to cling to in the haunted house, I'd never felt so vulnerable, even in a familiar place where I knew I was safe. I had nightmares for months of rubbery bats dropping out of the ceiling on me, and tripping over bones trying to get out of the dark. I still draw on that chest constricting fear for my writing, even though my rational adult brain knows that my first haunted house was probably not very scary at all. But the memory freaks me out far more than going to the House of Shock or the Mortuary as an adult.

Scary movies still give me nightmares, which is why I prefer campy horror of the Evil Dead and Cabin Fever persuasion. Only movies, though. I have no problem with reading horror. Something about the vivid imagery of the movies supplants itself indelibly in my subconscious and flashes behind my eyes when I'm trying to sleep. That's why you'll see me at Zombieland before Saw 87 gaziilion.

What scares you? How do you use fear to motivate your characters? And do you remember the first time you went to a haunted house? Does it still chill your blood and keep you up at night?

Or is it just me?


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

When I was a pre-schooler I lived in an apartment house with a basement. Obviously, the kids were forbidden to go down there and we did anyway. So one day we crept down the stairs and something big and black jumped up and flapped it arms and made ghastly noises. We all ran out, little hearts thumping, yelling that the boogeyman was down there. I later learned it was my grandmother under a tarp. But we didn't go into the basement any more. Thanks for the memory, I think...;)

Shannon Messenger said...

Spiders. I have an almost paralyzing fear of them. (No really, it's basically a phobia).

I've always been a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary stuff, so I've never really done the haunted house thing, and I generally avoid scary movies/books. So the scariest moment I can remember was when I was about nine, and having a slumber party and my dad decided to scare us because we were keeping him up. He snuck outside through a window and then made some crank phone calls (at 2am) from the phone in the garage. Then, when we were absolutely convinced someone was coming for us, he pounded on the front door and sent us all fleeing upstairs for our lives.

Traumatizing? Yes. But also effective. After we all calmed down we were so worn out we fell asleep. So, well done Dad, I guess. :)

Tamika: said...

Fear is a tricky thing. It can produce all kinds of mayhem when left unchecked.

This time of year makes me want to confront the fears I harbor. Some are good. Some are not. And it's really important to know the difference.

Lisa and Laura said...

I'm TERRIFIED of Haunted Houses. I'll never forget the first time I went through the Hudson Haunted House. I had my eyes squeezed shut the entire time. I never went through another haunted house again. I'm SUCH a wuss.

Jade said...

I'm intrigued about what you mean by a "haunted house". Is this some American past-time I'm not familar with?
Is it just a creepy house you sneek into as a kid? Or something at an amusement park?

Tere Kirkland said...

OMG, Jade, you would freak! Your typical haunted house usually consists of an ordinary building-- even a porch or shed, or a hallway in a larger building-- that's been temporarily converted into a walk-through spook fest.

There are profesional ones you pay to go in, and I've also been to plenty at schools and neighborhood block parties.

People dressed in masks and costumes jumping at you out of the dark and that sort of thing. Lot of themed sort of vignettes, like a bloody dentist office and then a zombie dentist jumps out at you.

New Orleans has 2 regular Haunted Houses (click the links above for House of Shock and the Mortuary) that are pretty cool but not really especially scary, but the mood, the energy flowing through the waiting line makes you jumpy and ready to be spooked.

At a place near my mom's house, they used to do a haunted hayride, pretty much the same thing, only you sit in a wagon and wait for the creepy guys in costume to come to you.

Everyone else, thanks y'all for sharing your fears. It's fun during the daytime, when it's light and safe, but at night...

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"*

*Night of the Living Dead, of course-- c'mon people, only two more days to make horror movie references and have them be relevant! ;)

Abby said...

I love haunted houses, and I love horror movies, but not the ones like Saw 87 gazillion. That's just gore for the sake of gore and they're not scary, just ew. I love a good psychological thriller. Those are the best. I just saw Paranormal Activity last weekend. Super creepy!

Bugs and spiders don't scare me. I think the thing that scares me the most is losing someone close to me, like my husband or my kids, or someone breaking into my house when I'm alone and not being able to protect my kids. Though my husband has a plan for that. It's a long story, so I won't leave it here.

It's Friday, and it's been a loooooong, annoying day dealing with computer crap at work on my day off, so I can't think of how my characters are motivated by fear. Um, they get scared sometimes and do other stuff as a result? Sorry. That's all I got. ;)

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your zombie adventure! :D

MG Higgins said...

I'm with you, reading horror is fine, but movies? Uh uh. Way too scary. I've never gone to a haunted house but I've been in a couple. It's so much fun jumping out at people and scaring their socks off!

T. Anne said...

OK, Just about everything scares me. I really dislike Halloween and fourth of july but happily get into the spirit of both for the sake of my kids. LOL! I also hate horror movies and wont watch those partly because my big sis use to force me to watch everyone ever made with her when I was a kid. Remember Elvira? I watched tons of those reruns. *sigh*