Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Art of Fear

Define love. Pretty hard, right? Something the poets and the romantics have been trying to do for generations now. Most of the time people get vague: “you’ll know it when you feel it” or “you’ll just know.” Gee, thanks for the help.

But fear? Fear can be defined in concrete red and black reality. People might not be willing to share with you what it is they fear, but they know. Oh, they know.

Most people have a crazy irrational fear like needles or rats or heights. Mine personally is giant spiders. I know, or more accurately I hope, they don’t exist. But the idea still freezes my thoughts and prickles my skin.

The older we get most of us also have a very mundane fear. Mine is being a bad parent. It is something that is very real, and something we have to be aware of and work on every single day.

The key point is, more than love, fear is real. It is one of the core primitive feelings that bind us all together, and it is present in everything from driving to work, to raising children to writing all kinds of stories, not just horror.

The art of fear is in every story. Some genres call it tension, or conflict, or some other more acceptable term. But deep down, it’s all fear, it’s all horror.

Pick up any novel, especially a good one. Any one will do. Does every story have a romantic story arc? Nope. Does every story have a mystery that has to be unraveled? Nope.

Does every story put their characters in some degree of peril? Oh yes. In these times of peril, whether it is as simple as the hero missing the last carriage to tell the girl he loves her or it’s jamming a broken piece of pallet in the mutated shark’s mouth to keep it from gnawing your face off the feeling evoked is fear.

Whether its fear of failure, or fear of horrible bloody painful death fear is a constant in good story telling. It is the beating heart of conflict. Stories that delve specifically into fear, horror stories, are often times derided as “genre fiction” or considered lesser. Why? Facing that fear, making it the central pillar of a story is more honest and worthy. Readers and writers of such stories know the stakes are higher, the peril is greater, and that heightens the experience.

When fear is utilized well it truly is art. Everyone can recognize that moment, that sick feeling of fear as it pours acid into our stomachs, dries our mouths, seizes our limbs and chills our bones. Oh, we know fear, and we embrace it.

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