Who’s afraid of the big bad clown?

People are afraid of the strangest things. Pick a thing, any thing, and someone will be terrified of it. 

Clowns terrify some people [photo credit Abbs Pepper]
Coulrophobia: fear of clowns
For fiction writers, this is pure bliss. As a device to make any of your characters behave out of, er, character, a phobia can come in very handy. If you need to stop a character in mid-action, throw in something to scare them witless or give them a shock.

If you need a new idea for a sub-plot, a crisis, an ending or a beginning, pick a phobia. They’re great. Mind you, it’s not something you can use too often, but it doesn’t have to be a major thing. You could, however, build a whole novel around a serious phobia.

Oh, such fun. For the author, anyway. If you suffer from any phobia it’s anything but. If you are phobic, on the other hand, you will know exactly how it feels to be confronted by the thing you fear most. You can write very convincingly about the physical feelings, the mental paralysis, the compulsion to run, or to destroy, or to freeze.

For each of the phobias illustrated, answer these questions without thinking – just write anything down. Let your subconscious do the work, not your conscious mind

Saints reduce some people to terror
Hagiophobia: fear of saints

Which character is scared of this?

Where and when does the encounter take place?

What does this character do instinctively and immediately?

How long does it take till the terror wears off?

Who else gets hurt in the panic?

What does the character lose, or fail to do as a result?

What is the consequence of this?

I’d love to see some of your responses – do please leave an example (or three) in the comments box.

Being ignored or forgotten is a real phobia for some
Athazagoraphobia: fear of being forgotten or ignored

5 thoughts on “Who’s afraid of the big bad clown?

  1. I use this technique to develop my characters :),
    Its a very good tip, Adds a sense of realism and if used correction can add a spout of comedy to your story.
    In my current project i have a character called Margaret, Who has Anthropophobia, A fear of people and social situations, This has brought her to have an attachment to a certain house hold item, Which she takes around with her.

    Phobias add a “Cause” for your characters personality also, Allowing you to instantly decide there actions in certain situations.
    When Margaret is forced into social situations, she’s cold and unforgiving. She’s one of my favourite characters to right, and due to this has been given a bigger part in the story.

    Nice post, And thank you for the back link 🙂


    1. Thanks for a great post. Your point about a bit of comedy is sport on – I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right – there’s great potential for comic moments with a phobia. ; )


  2. This is fantastic! What a great idea. I didn’t know about Athazagoraphobia – and I guess a lot of children’s stories use this because it seems to be an underlying theme in a lot of them!
    I’ve only used a phobia for one of my characters – flying.
    I used to have a phobia of storms until I went through a cyclone and I haven’t been afraid of them since 🙂


    1. Thanks, Dianne – good point about children’s stories, which do rather take abandonment as a starting point…
      It’s unfortunate to have a storm phobia living where I do – we get some fierce thunderstorms, but a cyclone would make a thunderstorm look like pretend. ; )


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