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From Personal to General

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From Personal to General


Michaelbrent Collings

A lot of writers who attempt to craft fear understand two things:

1) the things they write should be rooted in things that scare THEM, and
2) the things they write then have to scare EVERYONE.

But how does one do this? How do you take what scares you and make it something more than that? This is a good question - meaning it's a tough one.

The line, I think, becomes easier when you view it this way: the thing you write about must FIRST scare you. The idea has to be one that gives you the shivers, that is something frightening to YOU. But because it frightens YOU, it will necessarily be rooted in YOUR experiences, in YOUR past. But these past EXPERIENCES specific to you are not necessarily scary to others, so you next have to broaden it out.

An example might be helpful.

I'm TERRIFIED of the ocean. Two reasons: 1) I sink. I have a very dense bone structure, so if I get out too far I don't have the option of doing a backstroke or a dead man's float. I just swim a few hundred feet until I poop out and then I'm dead. 2) More important, perhaps, I was sitting on a rock on the beach with my sister as a little kid and a huge wave suddenly slammed into us. Knocked both of us silly, and knocked my other sister (who was nearby) face-first into some rocks. Her screams and the whole ordeal in general freaked me out.

Now, no one is going to be afraid of sinking (most people don't) or of the particular experience I had, because they haven't had it.


But most people ARE afraid of drowning, at least a little.
But most people ARE afraid of what's below them in the water, what they can't see, at least a little.
But most people ARE afraid of being shipwrecked (that's why we want to know where the lifeboats are), at least a little.

So do I write a book about MY fear? No. That's either "memoir" or "therapy." But can I write a book about a boat that gets capsized, people trying to stay alive while circling sharks draw closer? Yes. Universal. (PS I just came up with that don't use it it's mine. )

So start with what scares you. Isolate the kernel of universal fear, then broaden it out to terrify everyone.


Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter. You can find him on Facebook at, on Twitter @mbcollings, or you can sign up for his mailing list here.