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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Remembering Fear

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 2 Sep 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 8 Sep 2002

This is the second exercise in the "Remembering" category.

One of the most insidious traps in writing is falling into abstractions. 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 we've all had scary experiences.

This exercise is about remembering. If we can't remember being scared, 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 an 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, how 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 not 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 writing, 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 person 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 your character.

Well done, folks. Now on to the next exercise.


Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.