Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh, my!

Dorothy and her friends are traipsing down the Yellow Brick Road when they hear a strange noise. Imagination takes over, and the next thing they know they are fleeing down the path they were enjoying but a few moments before chanting, "Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my!"

Fear is a strong motivator. It releases adreneline into the bloodstream prompting the fight or flight response. Heart rate increases, breathing escalates, muscles tense ready for action.

Fear is also a great deterrant. It keeps doors, and minds, closed and locked. It can be immobilizing, freezing a man in place while he watches the bus, train, horse, tank, dragon, or whatever will injure, maim, mutilate, kill, or devour him approach.

None of us are immune to fear--as evidenced by a list of phobias longer than a man's arm. It is what we do about it that either makes us or breaks us.

It does the same for your characters.

Nothing quite like a butt-kicking heroine, dripping slime after annailating a slavering monster that thought her his dinner, cowering, back against the wall, inching toward the door because an arachnid less than an inch long is dangling from the rafters.

Sounds silly, but it can help make her real, accessible, and just like a million other women--sans slime.

Indiana Jones. Intrepid. Heroic. Courageous. Except when it comes to snakes.

Indy finds himself in a pit filled with vipers. He's not a happy man. He wants out. But he doesn't desolve into a quivering, helpless wreck. The fear motivates him, sets his intellect humming, seeking an escape. Fear and all, the man is a worthy hero.

Dorothy, when confronted by a lion, shivers in her ruby slippers. She's frightened. The lion is large, growling, maybe hungry. Then it threatens Toto. Dorothy's love for her pet overcomes her fear. She slaps the lion--and discovers she's stronger than that which she feared.

What fears lurk in the hearts of your hero and heroine? Will it motivate or immobilize? Is it based on experience? Awareness? Or is it a 'monsters under the bed' fear? How can you use it to help your reader connect, empathize, cheer?

How about your antagonist? Because, for the story to work, the reader must connect there as well.

Every world, real or imagined, has its own lions and tigers and bears. Which ones stalk your characters?

3 comments:

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Wolves...at least in To Tempt the Wolf. :) Great post, Pat!! And sooo very true. It's the confronting of the fear that makes the characters heroic. One time I read where a man who saves a kid struggling in a lake is not a hero. But one who is terrified of the water who swims out to rescue the kid, is.

KELLY FITZPATRICK said...

I love a good villain! I mean really, a bad guy/gal who is deliciously bad. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, for example. I loved Alan Rickman in Die Hard and in Robin Hood. Frightening, yet, amusing.

I tend to have a hard time putting my H/H in peril, even though I know it'll all be okay in the end.

Louisa Cornell said...

What is it they say, it isn't the guy who has no fear and rushes in to save the day that is brave. It is the guy shaking in his shoes who goes out there to save the day anyway.

I know how Dorothy felt! I brought my precious dachshund, Sassafras, home after she had surgery. We started down the hill with her on a leash when the neighborhood's scariest dog, a pit bull with NO social skills, came running after us. I am really good with dogs and normally can face down any of them. However, I KNEW he would go for Sassafras and I would not be able to stop him. I scooped her up and ran like a deer down the hill and into the house with the pit bull right behind me. Most frightened I'd been in a long time.

I think that is what quirks and fears can do in our writing. They can allow us to test our character's reactions and ability to rise to the occasion under circumstances from the silly to the serious.