Find Your Fear and Strengthen Your Story by Wyatt G. Bessing

moonToday we welcome a returning guest columnist to Writer’s Fun Zone, Wyatt G. Bessing who is stopping by to chat with us today about “Find Your Fear and Strengthen Your Story.”  Enjoy!


As Halloween nears, I consider the origins of the holiday. Many scholars believe the idea of wearing masks originated in the fear of lost souls roaming the earth this time of year, when the veil between living and dead thins and the world grows darker.  The masks allowed revelers to imitate or hide from their fearful foes.

What masks do your characters wear? How does fear transform them?

Fear transforms us all. I still can’t walk by a mirror without cringing. Nor can I walk straight away from the sun as my shadow stretches out before me, without feeling repulsed. The image greeting me is myself, yet it still shocks me. After forty years you’d think I’d have grown used to my own wobbling gait, my unsteady legs. But the vision doesn’t match how I feel inside, how I want to see myself, so it creates discord and fear.

Some of my most powerful writing comes from that fear, as I discovered in graduate school when I started writing about my disability and my feelings of abjection. Now I always dredge up my fears to deepen and complicate my characters’ lives. After all, all these characters we create are facets of ourselves. Why not use our own insecurities, worries, our downright fears, embodying them in characters to make those characters more human and interesting to our readers?

The Game

For this game, you’ll need a six-sided die and a copy of a Work-in-Progress, short story or novel.

  • First, make a list of six of your own fears.  You may find this the most challenging part; facing and naming our fears is a kind of truth telling to which we are often unaccustomed. But it will also help you see yourself more honestly, releasing hidden pressure within you as it did for me when I acknowledged my fears.  And perceiving your own inner demons will surely help you find some inner ones with which to torment your character.
  1. Writing (yes, my greatest joy is also my greatest fear)
  2. Rejection
  3. Failure
  4. Disability
  5. Aging
  6. Heights
  • Next you’re going to imbue your protagonist with some fears of his or her own. You may already know a couple for your character; use those if you wish, or use your own list from above, or use a combination of the two lists. For my character, a physical therapist who finds himself overwhelmed by sensations:
  1. Disability
  2. Writing
  3. Failure
  4. Aging
  5. Women
  6. Rejection
  • Then, reread a draft of your Work-in-Progress until you find a scene that feels emotionally flat. It doesn’t raise the stakes enough, or it doesn’t adequately demonstrate the emotional qualities of your protagonist. You’re going to revise that scene by adding fear.
  • Finally, roll twice, noting each result. Write a scene that exploits and draws out your protagonist’s fears. For a first draft use a free writing approach, writing as much as you can for ten minutes, without thinking too much or editing, just letting your protagonist feel the fear. The idea here is to ratchet up tension in your plot, deepen your character, and engage the reader with universal emotions. Remember to use specific details as much as possible.

I rolled a 4 (aging), and a 6 (rejection).

Ryan trudged to Maureen’s window and peered in. Though it was dark inside, he thought he caught a glimmer of her soft blonde hair falling over the arm of the couch in the living room. He had to know where his brother had disappeared to, but he couldn’t stand the thought of talking to her, not after the way she’d smirked at him when he pulled into the driveway yesterday morning. It was a pitying look that said she knew she held power over him. He felt like an old fool already at thirty years of age, best suited to office life and prescribed exercises, not to coming out to this wild, creative countryside where his brother lived.

He saw his reflection in the glass – hair receding, crows’ feet slicing his face from eyes to ears. She must think I’m so old, practically old enough to be her father, he thought. He tried to summon the wisdom and stability of age, but felt at any moment that the cold air, the sharp wind and the darkness of the window all might slip under his skin and make him explode or run crying back to his car.


Wyatt BessingWyatt G. Bessing, MFA is a learning specialist, writer, and writing coach. His work has appeared in Outsider Ink,, national Common Core assessment material, and in the anthology Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion. By day he helps students in 1st-12th grade develop writing and language skills. In the dark of early mornings and late nights, he steals time to write and teach writing workshops.


Wyatt uses games to motivate his writing. Games are subversive. Seemingly innocent and fun, they create a resting space in the midst of routine, a moment to reflect. Yet they also subvert reality, allowing us to invent new rules and play with the structure of normal thought. Naturally ironic, games allow us to go undercover and investigate normal life from a different vantage point, from a new model that shows how we’ve actually invented the reality we take for granted.

He lives in Santa Rosa with his wonderful wife Sarah and a few magical, mystical animals. Visit his website at

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