There are writers who can tap into everyone’s common fears and deeply understand what is terrifying. They write to grip, to compel, to lay bare. I think of Stephen King, Peter Straub, John Saul, and Dean Koontz.
A story doesn’t have to be horror to tap into the author’s fears, though.
In Holly Lisle’s courses (which I took last year), identifying the things that terrify us is part of her “sweet spot” technique. Using her technique, I learned that I could add tension, interest and conflict by writing about the things that scare me the most.
One of the biographical notes that you’ll often read about J.R.R. Tolkien is that he was bitten by a “baboon spider” (a kind of tarantula) when he was a child. Those gigantic, hobbit-eating spiders show up in both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.
I’m afraid of loss of control.
You can see this in most of my fiction. In my story Maaneshin (which I’m turning into a graphic novel script), the characters have to surrender control completely in order to overcome. In Salvaged, Careen has to deal with the consequences of losing control, and has to rein in her impulses.
The other way this fear appears in Salvaged is the spread of pandemic and epidemic diseases. Sickness – particularly lethal kinds of sickness – scares the bejeezus out of me. There is nothing that makes a person feel more helpless than a loved one being sick with something that might kill them.
That fear, that helplessness (and then perhaps the rage): those emotions are powerful fuel for writing.
I already mentioned that I write down my nightmares. I write down my daily fears as well.
Comment if you write about your fears. Do you find it a powerful tool?