The magic of fear in writing

Karalee’s Post #132

fearI was musing the other day, thinking about all the emotions and sensations people go through during their lives. Most of us at some point have felt excitement, joy, peace, terror, pain, sadness, ecstasy, fear, happiness, contentment, anxiety, cold, hot, restless, panicked, relaxed, blissful, etc.

Then, in my writer’s way, I wondered  what underlies all the bad feelings and what can change all the good ones into bad ones. I realized that the common denominator is FEAR.

The definition of fear is:  an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The magic of this definition for writers is the word belief.

Think about that. We can make our characters believe anything we want. We create their lives from inception to death, building their belief system through their experiences, and those experiences can trigger reactions and behaviors throughout their lives.

Why is fear so magical? Fear is a great motivator for action to get away from the danger that is likely to cause pain or threaten the character. The fear can be up front and physical like getting run over by a truck, or a swarm of bees heading your way. Fear can also be perceived in one’s mind. Now that’s magical. It’s also endless in the scenarios that can be conjured by the hand of a writer. Inside one’s mind is where psychological manifestations blossom, where beliefs flourish whether they are true or false.

For example, if a character was bitten by a dog when he was a child, he may panic when he hears a dog bark even if the dog is locked inside and can’t harm him. Even more powerful, the character could panic at the mere thought of a dog being close by even if there is no dog at all. The truth here is that there is no danger at all, but the character can still be in a state of fear.

Fear is a great tension builder. It’s the monster under the bed, the darkness hiding all the bad things in the night, it’s one’s imagination running terrifyingly free in one’s mind. Its a veritable treasure chest for a writer to pull from.

Does happiness or excitement compel characters to flee, or murder, or do other criminal acts? Or is it the fear of losing someone you love that causes you to murder the lover? It certainly isn’t in the moment of happiness that characters do bad things.

I can’t think of another emotion that’s as strong and compelling as fear to make characters engage in extreme actions to get away from danger or the threat of danger whether it’s real or perceived.

Can you?


Perspective Photos:

cypress snow








bird in snow







Happy writing!

Is there a GPS for emotions?

Karalee’s Post #42

I loved Silk’s post about knowing exactly where you are with respect to using GPS. It refers to the physical place on earth, or even in the universe, and the references to where you are can be verified through our senses.

But what about one’s emotions?

There isn’t a GPS system that can (yet) track the path to sorrow, happiness, anger, frustration, love, or any other emotion that we feel through a complex system in our brain that somehow delivers these messages to our awareness (mind and body). Sure, there are predictors such as romantic love that makes one feel euphoric, or the untimely death of a loved one to generate the feeling of anger and sorrow, or the survival of a mass shooting to feel survival guilt and the development of a fear of guns.

But what about creating the more subtle emotions such as disappointment, trust, (or loss of trust), or the reader experiencing like versus love, or discomfort versus fear, etc? To me being able to do this is the magic created by good writing. It is mastery of a writer truly feeling the feelings and being able to recreate them through language.

It’s the magic of being able to make a reader laugh or cry, or to stop and think and remember your story when they have finished reading it.

To me writing on an emotional level is writing what you know. The physical world can be  researched and put to paper as if the writer has experienced it, but can a writer convincingly write about fear if he/she has never experienced it? Or sorrow? Or hatred? Or any of our emotions?

What do you think?

How does a writer describe taste and smell?

How Smell WorksKaralee’s Post #24

I find describing taste and smell a challenge.

I also have an interest in medicine and biology so if you are want an introduction to the mechanism of how we taste and smell you can look at: and

When I think of a taste or a smell I automatically try to describe it through something else that has a similar taste or smell. This is effective when I’m trying to describe a mixture of things such as a cake, a summer day in the woods, walking into a grocery store or a shoe factory, or driving by a dump or going into a gym locker room, etc.

But what if the item I’m trying to describe has its own unique smell and taste, what I think of as a primary smell or taste?  For example many fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, many flowers, or pine trees.

Take coffee.

coffeeHow do you describe how it tastes and smells? Like coffee, right? We can give it adjectives such as its color, temperature, or if it is bitter, nutty, or burnt or moldy, and even what type it is such as a latte, cappuccino, etc.

But the essence of coffee is coffee.

So if our readers have never smelled or tasted coffee I don’t think I could describe it in a way the reader could really experience and understand its taste and smell.

The same goes for bananas. Or apples, or garlic, roses, or onions. And on and on.

When you think about it, much of what we write relies on the reader experiencing something similar to it before. Even in science fiction and fantasy new concepts and special powers can be introduced, but they are generally described through familiar sensory words so the reader can relate to the new worlds and concepts albeit in unique ways.

There are so many sensory words that can be used in multiple combinations to describe our settings that there is no need for readers to ever be bored, but I do believe readers have to have experienced primary tastes and smells in order to understand them in our writing.

What do you think?

Another writer has blogged on this topic and has accumulated many smell words to refer to:

There other ways to use smells and tastes in writing. They are linked to memory and can be used in characterizations. For example, the smell of roses can remind an old woman of her daughter’s wedding many decades ago. Or the taste of burned toast can remind a man of his mother’s cooking.

Verbs are inherently used in the description of smells and tastes. For instance a smell can waft, drift, linger, or permeate. Both taste and smell can also be associated with its source such as baking, frying, rotting, etc.

A person’s reaction to a smell or taste can also add to its description. This includes one’s face puckering if something is bitter, smiling when eating a cookie, running from a burning building, fear at the smell of a gas leak, etc.

 smelling cakesHow do you describe taste and smell in your writing?

Photo by:

Where do you write?


Joe’s Post #22 — So is where you write important at all? Do you have a room set up? A desk? A dungeon?

Do you love to write in a coffee shop? While traveling? In a coffee shop in a dungeon while traveling?

Much to my surprise, I  found that if I have a space set up at home, a place far away from distractions like TV or cleaning or TV or gaming or TV or reading, I can get quite a lot of writing done. So, for me, yes, a dedicated space certainly helps. At least for my novels.

But interestingly enough, word-wise, when I’m on vacation, I write up a storm. Last year, in Vegas, in two weeks, I rewrote 500 pages and posted 3 blogs a day. That’s pretty serious writing. It helped that I had a dedicated space in Vegas, but the truth is, I think the farther away I am from my life and distractions, the more writing I get done.

At home, even with a dedicated space, I find it way too easy to get pulled away from writing. Unlike when I’m traveling, I have to cook for myself. Shop. Take the dog for a walk. Make my bed. Vacuum. Stare at a stack of boxes I’ve yet to unpack.

But it’s more than that. When I’m away from home, it’s like I become a different Joe. Not assless-chaps-and-a-Harley-Joe, but writing can fill my life more completely. It’s easy and so much fun to blog about all the new experiences or new adventures I’m having. (I mean, hey, what would you rather read about, an encounter with a serial killer or how I cleaned the lint out of the dryer?)

And novel-wise, I found it so exciting to be visiting the place where my story was set. As many of you have probably found out, when you’re traveling, your senses are on high alert so if you ever need inspiration, all you need to do is walk out the door and look Lyon - dinner at La Francottearound. Feel how hot a stone can get in 120 degree heat. Smell the salty decay of the Salton Sea. Hear how thunder booms in a valley.

It’s not that you can’t find those experiences closer to home but, at least for me, a change of scenery inspires me to write like a mad man, like there was no such thing as writer’s block, like I was possessed by the spirit of Stephen King.

In the end, away from home, at home, in a fine restaurant in Lyon or a desk in the attic, on a beach on Maui or in front of the TV, what matters is that you find a way to write.

Queries Sent: 0 (took the week off)

Things I learned – if you go looking for dungeon pictures you find some pretty disturbing stuff.

Times I thought my last novel was awesome: 22

Times I thought my last novel was crap, complete and utter crap: 21

Does it make sense?

Xmas tree

Karalee’s Post #15

Yesterday was spectacular.

Christmas day.

If you celebrate this occasion, the above two words conjure as many different memories or expectations as there are people celebrating it, or not celebrating as may be the case. But hands down I’d bet the entire Christmas turkey that my family enjoyed, that a common thread in those memories include an inundation of the senses.


For instance, the turkey.

As a child one of my strongest memories is running into the house after playing outside in the snow for a few hours and smelling the turkey still in the oven and the freshly cooked huckleberry pies cooling on the counter. And I can easily picture the golden brown bird resting on the counter and feel my mouth watering in anticipation of the first mouthful. As writers we have probably learned that the greatest trigger of memory is the sense of smell, but as children we learned that plugging our noses to obstruct the smell decreases the sense of taste of those “special” Brussels sprouts or broccoli passed around the table along with the turkey.

The dinner table is full of bantering as we fill our plates. Then there’s the inevitable exclamation of my mother’s at forgetting the buns warming in the oven or one of the vegetable dishes left on the counter in the kitchen.

All of this busyness is followed by momentary quietness as we eat.

Except it isn’t really quiet if you listen. There’s utensils scraping the plates, the clunk of wine or water glasses being placed back down on the table, the Christmas music in the background, someone coughing or sneezing, the chewing of food, a chair scraping the floor, a vehicle driving by outside, or snow (or rain) being blown against the window in the dining room.

And we smell, taste, and see the food as well as the room with its decorated table and special plates and candles. We look at each other and feel the companionship (unless someone fights over the second turkey leg) and the overheated house from cooking all the food.

It’s all part of the ambiance, the setting, the experience of the moment.

It makes me pause and remember that our writing needs all these senses; the sights, scents, sounds, tastes, and feelings whether emotional or physical.

And the reader needs to experience important moments in the fullest sense.

And of course, the moment must make sense to the plot.

Does your writing have these moments?

Christmas festivities have distracted our 5Writer’s group this week and I can guarantee all of us have had our senses stimulated too, whether dancing and eating on a cruise ship, running after grandchildren, or visiting with friends and family.

I challenge all of us to fill our writing with the five senses. I tend to use mostly sight and sound, but am going to be more cognizant of them all. There’s no time to go back and improve my story at this point as time is flying too fast to even smell the roses (I expect for all of us except for Joe who can have a bouquet in every room or one in all of his character’s hair or even squeeze the rose buds into gallons of perfume).

Wine glassI wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and I raise my glass to all of our senses that make our experiences possible.