Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 2 Sep 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 8 Sep 2002
This is the second exercise in the
One of the most insidious traps in writing
is falling into
Too often, for example, when a character is afraid, we just say "John
was afraid". Or we try to dress that up, "John felt fear seeping
through his veins", which isn't a big improvement. Neither of those
sentences will make the reader share the fear.
How can we share the reality of that
experience, in that particular
piece of writing? We have to draw, first of all, on our own
experiences. We have all experienced fear, or beauty, or hope. Can we
remember that experience, and use it to fuel the scene? Now, we haven't
all faced a tornado, or stared at a loaded gun pointed as us - but
all had scary experiences.
This exercise is about remembering. If we
can't remember being
or hungry, or optimistic, how can we hope to describe those experiences
in our writing? So let's forget about characters, plot, fancy phrases,
for a moment. Let's remember, and describe that memory. No
embellishments, no interpretation, just what *we* felt at the moment.
So, the exercise. From your own life, in
300 words or less, describe
experience that embodies the concept of: fear. Be truthful. Don't
make things up, or dress them up to be scarier. Our memories are one of
our most valuable resources, if we treat them with respect. (That
includes the negative aspects of the experience - when I described this
exercise to a friend she said: "you mean, like the first time I gave a
piano recital and almost wet my pants?") The exercise is to get back to
the reality we were living at the time - if we can't draw from that,
can we make others believe us when we try to write something like it?
It's not necessary to write about the most frightening experience in
your life. Make it something you can now look back on comfortably and
write about honestly
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Mon, 10 Sep 2001
This has certainly been an interesting
week. I must confess, I had
thought through what it would mean to have people describe real fears
from their lives. We have seen a full range of fears, ranging all the
way up to paralysing terror: fear of an abusive partner, of strangers,
even vague (but very real) panic attacks with no direct cause.
Obviously, fear has been a factor in
everyone's lives, making this a
valuable exercise. I hope we have all learned something about the
causes, and effects, of fear.
This exercise won't make us experts at
describing fear in our
of course. Looking at the submissions, I see that this is not an easy
topic to deal with. In many cases, the submissions focused on the
events themselves, more than on the effect of those events on the
experiencing them. The submissions that went deeper into the
character's feelings, emotions, and reactions were, to my eye, the more
effective ones in making the fear real to the reader. (That's a point
that applies to any emotion or reaction, of course.)
Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: September 16, 2002
A great week. Lots of subs and critiques.
Just glancing quickly
through them, I see fear of heights, violence, spiders, the dark,
animals - such a variety of things.
This is good to remember: Everyone fears
something. And, generally
speaking, fear registers the same in our bodies and minds. So, if you
need your character to be afraid of anything, remember something you
feared. Remember how you felt, and give those feelings and emotions to
Well done, folks. Now on to the next
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Modified by Gayle Surrette.