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? 


Plunder stories from real life

I’m posting some stories from various of my books – stories about real people in history, all connected to Liverpool, since that’s what I was writing about for eight years. Amazing true tales about extraordinary people, or people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. As far I know no books have been written about them so far, but if you’ve come across any, let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing your book about one of these folk. 

These true stories can obviously prompt pure fiction, but the mix of historic fact and fiction makes for a fascinating read. I’m in the middle of Iain Pears‘s book Stone’s Fall, which is all about capitalism, secret politics, and global industry set just before the First World War – a brilliant read even for someone who knows little and cares less about war, banking and politics; the industrialist John Stone reminds one of several possible models, and althogh I don’t know enough history to recognise which names and plot points are genuine, I assume that Pears’s research has been deep and broad.

One of my all-time favourite books is Harry Thompson‘s This Thing of Darkness, about the voyages of The Beagle and the friendship between its captain, Fitzroy, and Charles Darwin. Utterly fascinating – beautifully written, intriguing, very well researched, beguiling and touching.

A third recommendation is Anthony Quinn’s The Rescue Man, inspired by the visionary 19thC architect Peter Ellis and his revolutionary buildings Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook Street in Liverpool. Full of authentic detail, the story is nevertheless pure fiction; Ellis and his buildings are cleverly reinvented and renamed. 

Here are some unsung intrigues, scandals and anecdotes to spark your own fiction or faction. Have fun with them, and give me a nod in your acknowledgements page when it gets published – deal?

Fantastic true story – inspiration for yours?

Where do you get your ideas? Story from Astoria, Oregon, Flavel family
Deserted Flavel family house in Astoria, Oregon

An amazing story in the Daily Astorian, local paper for Astoria in Oregon. It reads like the transcript of a film – all it needs is dialogue: the fall of the house of Flavel.

An influential rich family come to degradation and violence, a deserted mansion full of mysteries, a missing heiress and lots of questions.

Any one chunk of this long story would inspire a novel, a play, a screenplay, a TV series – crime, mystery, thriller, horror, even romance.

If you’re searching for ideas, this story could give you the spur your imagination needs.

Read, be inspired, start writing. Let me know how it goes!