Episode 215: Getting More Depth out of Fear

On January 21, 2023, Kasie and Rex took on those creeping fears that doom characters. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Character Month: Characters’ Fears and Flaws


  • Why a character needs fears
  • Realistic examples of fears
  • How to not beat us over the head with fears
  • How to write characters that seem real enough
Photo by A Koolshooter on Pexels.com

We’ve been working on characters this month, first with the basic types and then with the characters who have to die – which, by the way, has now become a thing in my house. Last night while watching Empire Strikes Back, I asked H and C why Dak (Luke’s co-pilot) has to die. It complicates the battle scene if Luke is without a cable guy. Raise the stakes!

So today we’re going to dive into characters fears and flaws because 1) they’re not the same thing (usually) and 2) we’ve never gone deep on this topic before.

What we have done is talk about why a character needs flaws in an episode we called “The Mary Sue” (Episode 44) and we did the Tragic Flaw (Episode 111). We haven’t done Byronic heroes or any other real derivations on flaws. So today we’ll work flaws and fears and maybe down the way we’ll isolate a particular one.

So, why does a character need fears?

  • To humanize them – make them seem real, fragile, breakable
  • To change their decisions – not all characters charge into the fire to save the baby, some cower and hope someone else will do it, still others are so afraid of the flames, they have to look away.
  • To determine who they see as enemies and how they treat those characters (link)
  • To determine what they’re willing to do (and not willing to do) to achieve their goal
  • To enable an antagonist who embodies or at least capitalizes on that fear
  • To raise the stakes

This blog calls it the Compelling Triangle of Motivation: Wants, Needs, and Fears.

Characters who fear something behave irrationally, they see dangers where they don’t exist, they imagine dire circumstances and exaggerate risk.

If you were listening, you know we spent so much time on the “fears” part of the show that we tables the flaws conversation to next week. I’ve added those notes to a new bog for Episode 216.

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