Going "There" With Your Writing

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Because it’s National Novel Writing Month (no, not participating this year!) I’ve noticed all the writing trade magazines and websites are chock full of inspirational articles on how to write a great plot twist and craft a page-turning dilemma. One such piece of advice centered on writing what scares you—you know, dig into those deep, dark fears a la Stephen King It style. Here are a few examples:

Fear of Not Fitting In. The fear of not being liked by others can push people to do things they would never have imagined. When I was a teenager, I read the novel Killing Mr. Griffin by author Lois Duncan. One of the main characters is a young woman named Susan, the straight-A student who doesn’t cause her parents any trouble. But she’s lonely, and when the boy she’s always had a crush on starts to pay attention to her, and invites her to spend time with his social circle, she finds herself being pulled into a kidnapping plot that goes against her beliefs and ends in tragic consequences. If Susan hadn’t felt so isolated and invisible in the first place, she may never have been led astray and put it an impossible position.

Fear of Being Watched. I had a stalking experience in college that sticks with me to this day. It was made worse because it was someone I knew—someone I had classes with and who often hung out in my circle of friends. Before I realized what was going on, I told him about an apartment that came up for rent across the hall from mine when he mentioned he was looking for a place. For the next nine months, he showed up everywhere I went. He knocked on my apartment door all hours of the day, and it got so bad that I would literally come home from work, tiptoe up the stairs with my key poised, and try to slip into my apartment as quietly as possible. He would knock on my door seconds later. It took me years to get over that experience and I still look over my shoulder everywhere I go. When I decided to write a young adult novel for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, I honed in on the paranoia one feels after an experience like that, especially when you’re a teenage girl already in a vulnerable state. Toss in that the stalking is coming from the most popular boy in high school and you’ve got something to work with.

Fear of a Place That Caused You Heartache. Have you ever been to place where you had such a bad experience it made you never want to visit there again? For Jenny in the novel Forrest Gump it was her family home where she was abused by her father. In Elin Hilderbrand’s novel The Matchmaker, it was the main character Dabney, who had a pathological fear of leaving Nantucket. It stemmed from an experience she had as a child, where her mother took her for an outing in Boston and left in her in a hotel with someone from the maid service after she decided she didn’t want to be a mother any longer. Dabney’s refusal to leave the island of Nantucket causes a strain on the relationships in her life—her high school boyfriend leaves to become a foreign correspondent and she won’t travel with him, she marries a professor at Harvard University but is content with him living and teaching at the campus throughout the weak, and (slight spoiler here) but it keeps her from taking care of herself properly and traveling outside of the island for medical care. Fear of places can overtake our lives, and it is yet another area that is ripe for exploration in our writing.

Have you ever explored a deep, dark fear in your writing, or read a book where someone else executed it beautifully? I’d love to hear about it!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also works in marketing and development at a nonprofit theatre company, where she hears many stories that would make for plays within themselves. Visit her blog at finishedpages.com.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I am trying to dig up a deep, dark fear and am coming up empty. That's doesn't mean I'm not afraid of anything... it just means my brain is Swiss cheese right now.

I now Joe Hill's book, NOS4A2, scared me and creeped me out and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, I love this post! You've given me so many great ideas. One of my exes was a stalker, calling nonstop at all hours of the night, standing outside my art studio in the middle of the night, etc. I finally moved where he couldn't find me. Your experience sounds terrifying, having him live so close. I'm glad you were able to use that for your novel!

Currently, fear of an upcoming surgery is what I'm most scared of. Maybe I should write about that. =/ Recently, I've written about fear of getting caught. That can splinter off into so many different directions and subplots, covering your tracks, keeping track of lies, etc. I've also recently written about the fear of living soberly, aging, loneliness and regret.

I recently finished reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson, a prose poetry/lyric essay-ish book which is unlike anything I've ever read before. It was frightening in a different way, a dark psychological way--a journey of your own mind. It covers grief, loss, loneliness, depression, and the fear of never finding love again.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Yikes, that was a typo. I KNOW Joe Hill's novel scared me...

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