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
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159 phobias to enrich your characters

Huh? phobias are enriching? Since when? Since you had fictional characters to feed.

159 phobias to enrich your characters, where do you get your ideas?
Photo credit: SlowTek

 

Phobias – overwhelming fear or hatred of things – can affect someone’s entire life and lifestyle, or can disrupt it disastrously. Both of these things are brilliant for fiction, creating the all-important conflict. 

Phobias can be funny, tragic, creepy, surreal, horrific, even quite charming – and can work in any context and any genre, depending how you handle them, of course. You need a light touch – if every character is neurotically obsessed with something, it won’t work. Now and then, though, a touch of phobia is a very handy device.

A romantic hero, terrified of chickens, could inspire a great scene with the girl of his dreams having to rescue him from a feathery fate – a turning point in the story, perhaps.

A crime fiction villain could be trapped by his fear of heights or of closed-in spaces; a detective could be forced to break through his fear of the same in order to save a potential victim or catch the murderer.

The possibilities are endless, and the available phobias are too. It’s amazing what people can be frightened of, and you have to wonder what sparked the apparently irrational fear in the first place. Rich pickings for writers!

I’ve listed 159 of my favourite phobias here, so have a rootle around and see what rings a bell for you. 

Do you have a phobia? Tell me how it makes you feel, or how it makes you act?

Better still – have you found a way to conquer it?