What’s Fun, What’s Not: Responding to Fear

I had a post in mind for today, but my weekend changed those plans. I attended the Wisconsin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual convention in Madison. The  laughter, hugs, insights and inspirations shared there were too many to count. Then Sunday’s wrap up presentation by Pat Schmatz, author of middle grade books, touched me deeply.

Pat’s topic dealt with fear, and her words were too powerful to summarize here. She began, though, by describing various types of fear, which led me directly to the idea for this post.

A natural starting place is RATIONAL fear. That’s the physical and mental reaction you experience when confronted with danger. A second kind is PHOBIC fear, that irrational but very real physical reaction to individual panic triggers. The sources are as diverse as humanity, from snakes to spiders to specific numbers and on and on. A third kind is the FUNHOUSE fear that most people (but not all) actually enjoy. The numbers, variety, and intensity of haunted houses at Halloween season are testimony to the fact that certain types of controllable  fear  are not only welcomed, but are even worth paying for. Hours-long waits for the most extreme roller coaster rides tell the same story.

Finally, and most significantly, we all have HIDDEN fears. To deny it to yourself only shows how deeply fear can be buried in our daily lives. For a room full of creative types, Pat’s insights about identifying and engaging with hidden fears were invaluable.

In Odin’s Promise, fear is a driving force in Mari’s life. After hearing Pat speak I examined Mari’s fears through this lens. When armed uniformed soldiers from a hostile nation occupy your village, your entire country, there can be no question that Mari’s fear was rational.  There’s also no doubt that she lacked the power to eliminate or escape from that danger. Mari dealt with more than enough rational fear throughout the story, so phobias and funhouse fears did not play a role in her life.

Ah, but that hidden fear factor. Mari’s journey took her beyond the external dangers into questions that allow a story with a very specific setting  to resonate with readers across time and space. Her life at eleven and a half years old was dramatically changed by the course of history, it’s true. Family, friends, and her own inner resources provided the stability to confront external dangers and explore  her hidden fears.

Each of us can point to events or experiences that affected us, that shifted our sense of identity or purpose. Often those shifts shake loose our hidden fears, making us more aware of who we truly are. Sometimes a precipitating event can even be reading a book. Or writing one. Or hearing a powerful speaker.

If you’ve ever considered writing for children of any age, what’s holding you back? One way to start, to gain some support on your journey, is to click here and learn about SCBWI at their newly updated website. What have you got to lose, except your fear?

4 Comments on “What’s Fun, What’s Not: Responding to Fear

  1. What wonderful post, Sandy! And Pat Schmatz’s book, Bluefish, is one of my favorites.

    • Hi, Jenny.
      Thanks for the kind words, and for mentioning Pat’s BLUE FISH. She knows how to write into the heart of her characters, and speak into the hearts of her audience, that’s for sure.

  2. You’ve helped send me back to the writing table…. right after I ordered Bluefish on Kindle, that is. Excellent thoughts on something that plagues us all our lives (fears) but sometimes inspires us too. Thanks!

    • Christa,
      It’s so nice to think this may have helped. Your writing is always delightful, worthy, and worth the work. It’s a new year now, so carve out the space, time, and courage to dig in. I can’t wait to read what results.

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