Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 9, 2013

Writing: The New Fear Factor Game?

Orly Konig-Lopez

Orly Konig-Lopez

I’ll say it right up front – I don’t watch Fear Factor. It gives me the willies. But that’s not the point of this blog. Well, not entirely.

I’ve been noodling a new book idea for a while now. Noodling is all I’ve done. For a while. And every time I think I’m ready to start, I try to think of a different angle to take the story. Why? Because I’m scared to go there.

I’m not overly superstitious, I don’t have a problem with ladders or black cats or salt spilling. But I don’t do well talking about certain fears. Because if you talk about them, they might actually come true.

So, back to noodling.

The other day I was chatting with Laura Drake and she asked, “What’s the next book about?” I blurted, “Horses,” and hoped she wouldn’t ask more. Yeah, you guys are laughing. We all know Laura won’t leave it at that. Especially not when there’s a horse in the story.

That not-so-innocent word led to a full-blown brainstorming session. At one point we were both sniffling into tissues. By the end of the discussion, Laura left me with one bit of advice (or was it a warning?) – “You have to write THAT.”

I hemmed and hawed. She wasn’t buying. Instead, she pointed me to a blog she’d recently written for It’s Only A Novel about writing through your fear (if you guys haven’t read it, you really should).

I kept going back to a recent Facebook post. An author I follow was poking at her track record for writing things for her main character that then happened to her. See, it can happen.

Yeah, Laura wasn’t buying it either. She volleyed a Donald Maass quote at me: “Take your protagonist’s greatest fear and go there.”

But it’s not my character’s greatest fear. It’s mine.

I got the sharp end of the cowboy boot for that attempt.

So I started cooking the noodles for this story, writing down plot points, cowering from others (shh, don’t tell Laura). Then the other day I was talking to Kathryn Craft about “going there” with the hard topics. Kathryn, in her infinite wisdom, pointed out that it’s our responsibility as writers to create a world where those events happen.

You guys can hear me whimpering, right?

In a previous book, I gave one of my absolute favorite characters Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease that scares the crap out of me. And yes, I cried while writing those scenes.

There’s a sticky note on my desk with a quote that helped keep me moving forward with that book:

No tears in the writer,
No tears in the reader.
No surprise for the writer,
No surprise for the reader.
- Robert Frost

I moved that sticky note to where I can see it, took off the writer floaties and jumped into this new book. Scary parts and all. I’m still cowering from one plot line and I honestly don’t know if I can go there. But I’m willing to face at least one of the fears that was keeping this book in noodle phase for so long.

What about you – have you ever shied away from a story line because you were afraid of what it would bring? Or is writing your way of facing your fears?

About Orly

After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.

When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

39 comments on “Writing: The New Fear Factor Game?”

  1. Good for you pushing through it! In my first couple of books my CPs, rightfully, called me on avoiding conflict. I've gotten better since those early books.

    The only time I've abandoned a manuscript was one that was based on the worst day of my life. It only took chapter one for me to realize I couldn't go there. There are plenty of other storyline/tragedies I can write about.

    Good luck with the . . . horses. We all want to know now what it's about!

    1. Oh so true, Sylvia! I actually think that's harder to overcome. As writers we can convince ourselves that writing about a character getting sick or being in a car accident won't make those things happen to us or someone we love. But it's much harder to talk yourself through the fear of putting yourself out there.

  2. Great topic, Orly. I'm in the middle of revisions for my book that revolves around a family struggling with the same problems my current family is dealing with. Nothing is really out of the ordinary or terribly dysfunctional, just the usual teenage angst and father/son problems but it's my guts spilling across the page and it can be hard to be "honest" about it all. But I must.

  3. Orly, you know I'll be there to make sure you don't shy from that jump! Not because I love pushing my friends, or because I'm mean (well, not a LOT anyway, Buahahahaha) But because you're a wonderful writer - and you deserve success. And THIS is how you get it.

    Oh, did you think it would be easier?

  4. I think Laura is going to *nudge* use both over the cliff this year, Orly. We can hold hands and scream when we jump! (Me, I'm pretending it's a rollercoaster instead of a pit filled with vipers.)

  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one going through this Orly. That Sci Fi in my head keeps sticking it's tongue out at me. Just starting a new book is tough. Starting a new genre is terrorizing! I've not started the Sci Fi in three different settings. The way I like best isn't my normal start-up chapter so that makes it even harder. Guess I'll have to let my WITS gang take a look. 🙂

  6. Great post, great quote from Frost. Years ago I was privileged to study under Harlan Ellison, and he said when you write you carve out a piece of yourself and leave it on the page. He's right. (If some of you have missed his work, see "City on the Edge of Forever" from Star Trek, TOS.) Thanks, Orly.

  7. For me, writing is about communication of things that matter, regardless of how difficult the subject may be. I haven't yet experienced a fear in the way you were describing, but I have so much more writing ahead (I hope), who knows? Typically, I'm not afraid to "go there," though...at least not in writing. The only thing I'm afraid of writing is a Will 'cause THAT's what I fear would come to be---to soon!

    1. It's that fear of tempting fate that stops a lot of us from pushing the "go there" boundaries. There are some topics I know I can push myself on and there are others that I just know I can't do - doesn't matter how much Laura pokes and prods 🙂

  8. I understand what you're writing about Orly. Alzheimer's is scary; my mother had it. I'm more concerned for my children than for myself. Congratulations for overcoming the fear of writing about scary subjects. Although I still have trouble reading some creepy novels and/or watching TV series like THE WALKING DEAD. The imagined fear can be the worst. I hope your new book is your best. P.S. Joshi

  9. I find that I write about the issues that unsettle me but badly. I touch on them and then fail to imbue them with the detail and emotion they deserve. I was raped when I was eight and, instead of being able to use this experience to write powerful scenes, I find I can't go all the way...which is a shame. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and it would be great if one of those reasons was to make me a better, more believable, writer.

    1. I think our fears come out when they're ready. That experience may come out in a totally unrelated scene when you're least expecting it. I also found that when I stopped trying to force an experience to work for me is when it actually ended up helping.
      Believe in yourself and it will happen!

  10. Oh boy, do I relate to this post. However, I teach creative writing and MAKE my students write stories about their fears and desires and hates and loves, but they give these things to a made-up character. Helps my students write with fierce description and attention to detail, and frees them a bit from the fear.
    But, still, scares me to write about it, even though I know we HAVE to.

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