Guest Post: Fear Fuels Fiction

Today I’m honored to have as a guest blogger PJ Reece, author and writing craft guru. I first discovered PJ through his comments here on The Artist’s Road, which stood out even among the thought-provoking and insightful ones this blog somehow attracts. He is the author of the recently published free e-book Story Structure to Die For, and is a traveler and filmmaker. I’m also partial to the masthead image of his Meaning of Lifeblog, as I have a fetish for antique maps. PJ is helping me out as I transition back from by VCFA MFA residency and into the real world.


Our protagonists—something about them (should) scare us.

While writing my last novel, I called a time-out because for all the sweat on my brow I could see no blood on the page.

  • Where’s the honest emotion?
  • What’s my character’s worst fear?
  • What lurks in the dark heart of my story?

Or, looked at another way…

What scares ME about what I’m writing?

My protagonist’s wife is dying.  He wants to make amends for a lifetime spent in selfish pursuit of Art.  (Good lord—was I was writing about myself?)

I thought about it deeply for a split second—of course!  My own sense of failure as a father and husband—it was gnawing at me.  My failure to love entirely and selflessly—Yikes!


“No tears for the writer; no tears for the reader…” Robert Frost was right.  By tapping into the honest emotion in my own life story, my character began to ring true.

I’m now sweating over my next novel.  What frightens me, this time?  In other words…

Why am I writing this story?

My protagonist, a spy, screwed up big time in Iran.  Major collateral damage.  Vic recedes into his shell, distrusts himself, plays it safe.  Then, a seemingly harmless assignment in Mexico turns treacherous.  He’s on the verge of making another colossal mistake.  More lives are in danger.  Western civilization hangs in the balance.

Vic, still recuperating from the Iran fiasco, must risk career, love and sanity to rise above his limitations …and quickly.  Vic has to leave his old self behind.

This is the heart of the story. 

But can I write it?

Listen to my own heart ka-thump-ka-thumping.  This isn’t about past crimes, this is much worse.  This concerns what might be.

What if I were to transcend my own idea of myself—who would I be?  Wow.  This is the fear of success.  And about leaving my comfort zone.  About letting go.  What if I became superhuman?  Would my friends and loved ones be able to join me in that freedom?  That’s it!

This is the terror of finally being truly free.


I return to the keyboard feeling very much alive and confidant that…

This is why I’m writing.

THEORY: what scares us about our story is nothing less than…

Why we write.

Can you tap into the fear that lurks in the dark heart of your own work-in-progress?

(Isn’t writing fun!)


PJ Reece is an author living on the west coast of British Columbia. Once a well-traveled filmmaker, PJ traded camera for keyboard when his young son told him to “settle down”. In addition to four published books, Reece’s CV features one big screen credit plus hundreds of hours of broadcast documentaries. He is working on a novel that combines the genres of literary fiction and thriller. (He has no idea if the twain will ever meet.) His blog is dedicated to the “mystical heart of fiction.” Download his free ebook, Story Structure to Die For.

13 thoughts on “Guest Post: Fear Fuels Fiction

  1. Thanks so much. the past couple days–hardly sweat on my brow, let alone blood on the page. I was boring myself with my own writing. Hating myself because I was boring myself with my writing. Sick of myself hating myself because I was boring myself… What scares me is that I’ll won’t live up to my expectations for myself. I have the audacity to expect that I can write and write something that people will want to read.

    And what is this reblogging? I’ve seen this several times lately, but I don’t get it.


    1. pjreece

      “Boring myself”… apparently the worst crime a writer can make is to bore the reader. Who said that? Hemingway? And I can see that it’s a good warning bell and that it’s clangly loudly in your ear. My own “bogus bell” is ringing as well, which is why I paused my writing to consider this question. I hope you soon tap that vein of meaning, Mary. Thanks for your confession.


  2. Very well spoken, PJ! As a horror writer, I tap into these fears every single day that I’m writing, and I love the idea of expanding that practice to include writers of other genres, as well. It’s said that all human emotions stem from two major ones: fear and love. So it make sense that both would need to be tapped to write truly and deeply. Very nice post.


    1. pjreece

      Thanks, Annie… of course, horror! I don’t read much horror, myself, but of course of course it’s all about fear. “No screams from the writer, no screams from the reader.” I’ve noticed even in insular novels such as those by Anita Brookner, that the protagonist is held captive by their fears. She has milked these trepidations for years, and built a huge following in the process.


    1. pjreece

      Lisa… “fear of opening up to others…” — yikes, there could be a whole world in in there. Fuel for years of great writing! Good luck!


  3. “Listen to my own heart ka-thump-ka-thumping.” Love the way you aptly describe it, P.J. Thankfully mine is not a ‘Telltale’ heart, but I’m sometimes just as distracted by the rhythm of my fear pounding in my temples as I try and write! Thanks for this encouragement and all the best with helping Vic on his transcendental journey 🙂


    1. pjreece

      Carole… you know, it’s by writing posts like this that I find myself going deeper into this mystery. Thank you for your encouragement.


  4. “THEORY: what scares us about our story is nothing less than…
    Why we write.” PJ, this rings so true for this writer! Whether I’m writing essay or fiction, I always say “you (I) have to go there.” “There” being where the tension is, where the fear is, where the unmet and the unfulfilled and the unresolved are. I think it’s in Bill Johnson’s A Story is a Promise, wherein he advises something along the lines of: create a world where a character risks losing everything … and throw the character into that world. Of course, as our character’s creators, they can only come to life through our facing how it would feel (or has felt) to lose everything. And maybe, just maybe, in the process … we learn, along with our characters, how to transcend some of the fear.


    1. pjreece

      Terri… you’ve nailed it. “We learn…how to transcend…” — that’s a pretty big upside to the acts of reading and writing. I’ll have to read Johnson’s “A Story is a Promise”. Thanks for that.


  5. Pingback: Kudos to the Artist’s Road Commenters of 2012 | The Artist's Road

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