In the past twenty plus years of writing fiction, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder why I write about particular topics and revisit particular themes. I grew up a fearful person, something I’ll post about at greater length one of these days. I think I’ve conquered most of my fears (with the exception of wide open spaces–shudder), but I find that I continually write about characters who struggle with their fears and who, by the book’s end, have finally managed to lay them to rest.
That’s certainly the case with my work-in-progress, The Lies We Told, in which Maya, a doctor, has been afraid for her physical well being ever since witnessing the murder of her parents when she was fourteen. It’s also the case with Keith in my current novel, Secrets She Left Behind. Keith has always had a fear of heights, but ever since he was burned in a fire, he’s feared fire as well. Of course, I put him to the test on both fronts during the course of the story.
Back in my days as a therapist, I was trained to view fear as a primary emotion, with other negative emotions being secondary to that fear. Anger is a perfect example. Think of the last time you were angry and dig deep into that emotion to learn what was really going on inside you. I bet you’ll discover that fear was the underlying emotion. A good example is the woman who loses sight of her child in a grocery store. When she finds that child, she shakes him and yells, “Don’t you ever do that again!” She looks angry, but she’s actually terrified. Fear operates under many guises.
I think authors tend to write about the things they need to gain control over, whether that’s loss, anger, betrayal, inadequacy, or simply a tendency to have one unsatisfying relationship after another (all of which, in my opinion, can be tied back to fear). In our stories, we strive to have our characters overcome the things we struggle with ourselves. I love that vicarious thrill of having my characters triumph over their demons.
If you were a writer, what demons would you be trying to lay to rest?