Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
The mantra is from the Dune books by Frank Herbert. A treatise on the environment, as a teenager I interpreted Dune as the danger of politicians who view themselves as gods, for good and bad, Atreides and Harkonnen. We’ve seen a lot of this in recent history.
Fear is primal and constant. Cowardice is the fear of injury or death (emotional or physical). Prejudice is the irrational fear of other people and their beliefs. Nervousness is the fear of unknown consequences. Stress can be the fear of failure or being discovered for our true selves. These and other emotions may not be something we can easily talk about, perhaps because of the American “cowboy culture” of putting on a brave face in our daily tsunami of woes and troubles. Or the Christian belief that we were born to suffer, yet we must and should carry on, no matter what (or so they say).
Life is not easy, no matter your philosophy, and some of us prioritize “self-sufficiency” over the “helping hand up” when Life hits the fan. After all, grown-ups are supposed to have all the answers, right? But 2020 was a constant struggle with fastballs from every direction. I learned (again) there’s no shame in asking for help, and that there is less shame in making difficult decisions to pull ourselves from the brink of damage. I made one such move recently to leave what I thought was my dream job, but in reality affected my health. The decision was not right or wrong, but what was best for me, I suppose.
For writers, defining on paper that line between courage and fear is our bread and butter. If our characters were consumed by one or the other, they would be two-dimensional creatures not worthy of our readers’ time and energy. We have a mandate to make our people realistic and interesting, and we can do this by exposing their higher angels and inner demons. Putting Life on paper is both our highest calling and our most imperfect task.
My small bit of advice, then: no matter the genre, no matter the time period, no matter the situation, focus first on your characters’ internal struggles as they survive and surpass (if they do). The pauper who would be a prince, the matchstick girl who becomes the queen, or the tadpole who rules an underwater empire. Or the street urchin who finds a safe home every night with their own little nuclear family.
Plot is emotion, both in prose and life, and our fears can inspire us to be more than we are. Be brave enough to ask for help, be fearless in your writing, and you may be surprised by how strong you really are.