Saturday, October 27, 2012

Everyone's afraid of something (by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I used to think I was the only person in the world with fears. When I was growing up, I watched people jump joyfully into events that were fun to them, but terrified me: Driving. Partying. Meeting new people. Playing sports. Eventually I tried all of these things myself, and some of them I got used to and even enjoyed. Others I tried and decided they weren't for me.

But everything seemed more difficult for me than for others. Sometimes my fear was so strong that I got sick to my stomach. I spent my whole first week at college completely nauseated, nibbling small bites of food and fighting to keep them down. I wanted to go to college; I'd planned for it and looked forward to it and I loved being there, but the newness and the excitement made a perfect storm in my stomach.

It took a few days, but my stomach did settle. And what I eventually learned was that other people had fears, too—they just feared different things, some of which don't scare me. I'm not afraid of the dark, or of being alone, or of making my way around a strange city on mass transit. I was never afraid of the academic side of school (only the social side). When I listen to the rhetoric at election time, I realize that the fears that motivate people who are on the other side of the political aisle from me are not the same things that scare me. (Sometimes I think that is even the source of the political divide in our country: we fear different things.)

During my stomach-turning first week of college, and when I see public policy driven by fears that I don't share, I've sometimes wished for a world without fear. But that wish is fleeting, because I know fear also helps us. It protects us from real dangers, makes us cautious where we should be cautious. (Walk carefully along a cliff's edge!)

Fear usually means we have something to lose, something to cherish. Fear functions as our braking system; it teaches us limits. Without fear, we might run heedlessly over one another even more than we do. A person with no fear might be a sociopath.

Writers get to explore fears on the page, a safe place to do so. We get to test our characters, and in doing so, test ourselves. One of the essential questions I ask when drafting a story is: What does this character fear? And how will he or she face it? People often say a story is, "Character wants something; character fights obstacles in pursuit of that something." But another valid blueprint is, "Character fears something; character must face that fear."

5 comments:

  1. Good post! I can realate to the first paragraph so well.

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    1. Thanks! And I hope you also have found fear more manageable over the years, as I have.

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  2. I agree that everyone's afraid of something. I think sociopaths fear getting exposed. I see that a lot when politicians go on TV to say how sorry they are about [insert something they shouldn't have done]. Sometimes I'd just think, no, you're just sorry you got caught.

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    1. So much goes into fear: the avoidance of pain; worry; anxiety; the desire for safety; the desire for wholeness. I suppose even people who seem fearless experience at least some of those.

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  3. Beautifully said. I agree--sometimes, meeting new people can be scary!

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