Monday, October 8, 2012

Writing Fear

by Lisbeth Eng

As a fiction writer, I look for inspiration from within, as well as from without. If I want real emotions to come through on the page, I try to generate those emotions in my own mind and heart. When the scene requires that a character exhibit fear, I try to imagine a fearful experience — what might make my heart thump in my chest, my breath catch and perhaps a tightness rise in my throat?

An incident happened to me some time ago — I suppose similar experiences have occurred at one time or another to most of us. Lying in bed in my apartment, I heard a noise, and for some reason believed that this time, it was coming from inside my apartment. I often hear things — people arguing, doors slamming — this is common for life in an apartment building. But this time, a semi-conscious, primal fear took hold of my body and mind. It seized and momentarily paralyzed me as my heart pounded in my chest. From time to time I have contemplated what I would do if someone actually broke into my home in the middle of the night. I pictured myself grabbing the phone, diving under the bed, dialing 911, and whispering into the receiver that I had an intruder. But during this terrifying, tangible incident, when I believed the imagined horror was actually occurring, I did not grab the phone or jump under the bed. Instead, I froze. What if he entered my bedroom? I did not allow my mind to dwell on that, but convinced myself instead that this was just another apartment building noise — nothing to worry about. Slowly my body unclenched and normal breathing resumed.

The heroine in my World War II romance, In the Arms of the Enemy, has a similar experience, but she has the presence of mind to act, not to freeze. She succeeds in jumping, not a under a bed but a desk, to hide from a deadly threat:

“For a half-second she froze, but her instinct for survival prevailed. She heard the jingling of a key in the door, then dove under Major Gerhardt’s desk, grabbing the supply log, lock box, dictionary and notebook as quickly and silently as she could.

“Before she could make sense of what was happening, the men were there inside the room. She wanted to scream, to flee, but knew the slightest movement could be her undoing. She shook and her eyes filled with tears. But she discovered that if she concentrated on each breath, her lips tightly sealed, no sounds would escape. She crouched beneath the desk and pressed her hands and feet against the floor to keep them from knocking against anything.”

In order to write this scene from my heroine’s point of view I recalled what I had experienced during my thankfully false home invasion. I gave her my emotions and physical reactions, but with more courage than I had had. If the need should ever arise, I dearly hope that I will be able to channel her spirit and do what is necessary to protect myself. At the very least, she has set a good example for me to follow.

You’ll find this courageous heroine — along with a dashing hero — in Lisbeth Eng’s World War II romance novel, In the Arms of the Enemy, available online at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and The Wild Rose Press. Please visit her at


  1. As an old Method actress, I can totally relate to your anecdote, Lis, because I am now what I call a "Method writer" and very frequently attempt to channel personal experiences, or emotions into my characters and stories. I think it allows an author to heighten the impact when he or she can really "feel" it. Even if it is something mundane, you can tailor it to work with a more extraordinary situation for that "touch". Your personal experience certainly did invest that tense scene!

  2. Great post, Lis! I do this too, channelling real life experiences--the emotions and physical reactions--into my characters. it help me a lot to be able to feel on some level what my characters would feel. Though my characters always seem much braver than me :)