Fear is a powerful, perhaps the most powerful, driver of people. It can push a person to perform impressive feats.
Think of what continues to drive a highly successful person. Is it fear? Is it the fear of winding up penniless? Is this why a billionaire continues to work, take risks, and make money?
When in the woods and a person see a bear, fear urges caution and retreat. The person will walk the other way, cautiously and quickly.
The person driven by these fears is harnessing them to a positive end.
However, more often than not, fear negatively affects a person. It may keep him from trying for a promotion, going to a new place, or meeting new people. In large doses, he may lead a small life.
Why are some people standoffish? Many think it’s because they’re snobs. It’s an easy answer and possibly even true.
Instead, perhaps, they’re afraid of being rejected by another and are protecting themselves. Perhaps that very situation happened when they were young, and they were greatly hurt. Now, they don’t allow themselves to be placed in that position. It’s completely understandable, but that fear prevents others from discovering a wonderful people.
Why do some people avoid doctors? Perhaps, they are afraid of hearing horrible news. Yet, by waiting, perhaps they’re dooming themselves.
For many, the fears above are nothing. For others, they’re debilitating. Everyone is different, but everyone has fear. Some understand them, manage them, control them; many don’t.
As writers, we say that a character is acting unrealistically, out of character. We try to understand what’s motivating our characters to push them through the story. When we understand it fully, the story comes easy and flows smoothly.
That motivation is expressed in many ways: to right a wrong, to save the day/girl/world/company, to connect with a love. All good motivations with plenty of successfully stories told using them.
What about using fear as a motivation? I recall in Babylon 5, a character referred to Londo as being afraid. He said something like Londo was holding on as tightly as possible to an out of control horse. This was when his star was on the rise and his empire was once again rising. To all outward appearances, life was good for him. But as the viewer knew, for his good fortune and his empire’s good fortune, he cut a deal with a mysterious, powerful, and dangerous group. His greed caused him to make the original deal. His fear of the consequences drove him further into his new allies arms. Honestly, with his fear as the motivation to his actions, the stories got far more interesting. His fear of the consequences, his fear of his allies provided far more story fodder than mere greed ever could.
Fear is a motivating factor, one that I hadn’t considered much as a writer. Going forward, I’ll consider it more.