Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fear of Crazy

by Kate McMurray

My running theory is that you have to be really crazy to be a writer. For example, I went to two conventions this month, and whenever anyone got talking about the voices in her head, there were a lot of knowing nods. In any other environment, that kind of talk would get you put in a straight jacket, right? Generally, I think some crazy is good for a writer. We’re creative people, after all. A little insanity serves to fuel the fire.

For me personally, a lot of my crazy is tied up with fear. I’m terrified of heights, for example. Like, the act of standing on a step stool has induced panic attacks, that kind of fear. It’s manageable if I stay away from ladders and ledges. The only time I ever really lost it in public was during a hike in the Berkshires with my then-boyfriend, who thought it would be a good idea to take me to the top of this rickety lookout tower at the top of one of the mountains. (It was not a good idea.)

I’m also kind of a Type A, so another of my fears is the loss of control. That’s a tough thing for a writer, because it means a) I’m a plotter, so I make outlines and charts and diagrams and maps and things before I even start to write, and then when my characters do SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY, as is their wont, I tend to freak out... and then make new outlines and charts and diagrams and whatever; and b) I have a tendency to write neurotic characters.

I try to keep the latter in check. I get some credit in reviews for writing “regular guys” and I want my characters to be accessible, be they actors or professional sports stars or ghost-hunting academics or dads with middle-management jobs in the suburbs. But I like thinky characters and smart characters and characters that tend to be all up in their own heads overthinking things. Probably this is because that’s basically how I operate.

Fear can be of scary things or they can be less tangible, and giving a character both kinds of fear rounds them out. Take, for example, Finn and Troy from my paranormal novel Across the East River Bridge. They have real things to fear, namely a pair of ghosts that haunt the museum where Troy is a curator. But they have other fears, too. Troy fears the past. He bulks up at the gym to overcompensate for being taunted as a child for being too frail and girly. Finn is afraid of failure, of never finishing his elusive PhD, of getting stuck in his thankless research assistant job. Finn blames others for his own shortcomings and fears facing responsibility.

Or take, for example, the fears of the characters in my latest book, Four Corners. Jake can’t let go of the past and in part still lives there because it’s safer than facing a future in which he has to move on from his love for his best friend Adam. He fears losing Adam for good. Adam is more savvy, more of a shark, and he fears losing credibility with his clients if they find out he’s gay. He fears letting himself love a man, putting his heart on the line, being left behind.

All of these fears make up these characters, make up their motivations. So be it fear of failure or fear of werewolves, fear is an essential component of a lot of good stories.

Kate McMurray is a Brooklyn-based writer of romance and editor of nonfiction. She’s the author of Out in the Field, a bestselling m/m novel about the romance between two Major League baseball players. In her off hours, she obsesses over baseball and fashion and cute animals. She’s only a little crazy. (...Right?) You can find her on the web at or on Twitter @katemcmwriter.

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