There are so many ways that fear and courage can crop up in fiction. In a fight, romance, disaster or life choice. Fear is an excellent way to make the reader empathize with a character. Courage can make your readers like them more.
So what is courage?
As a concept, innate courage does not make much sense. Have you ever met a courageous cat? There are aggressive cats, idiotic cats and loyal cats. But why would a cat be brave? From a survival perspective it has no reason to be brave. Still, a cat and a person can act with courage.
It’s less of a thing in itself and more of a process. Courage connects a motovation with an act, against a background of peril. Your character is in a dangerous situation, but they take a risk and act because they want something.
It can help a writer to think about courage like this. You do not need to worry about recreating an abstract concept of “bravery” in a character. The events create the mood. This provides more room to manoeuvre.
The soldier who fights to defend his/her country might still yelp in fear every time they hear a dog bark. A murderer might bravely track down victims during a police manhunt. The most courageous, and dangerous, people are those who have already promised their soul to Hel and seek no place in Valhalla.
Why is fear harder to write?
Fear is an emotion, a variety of feelings. It does not need any excuse or purpose. You could be safe in bed, asleep, and still feel afraid. There are countless different types of fear on a sliding scale of severity.
Fear of violence
In that short second when an obscure figure walks around the corner in front of you, what sort of fear is that? It’s a ball in the bottom of your gut which jolts up and punches your heart. It’s an improbable combination of burning adrenaline and ice-cold panic. Find it between the butterflies of stage-fright and vomiting terror of imminent death.
This is specific. You see whichever thing frightens or revolts you most. It’s no use, you cannot stop yourself from imagining it on you. Your skin crawls, itches. Terror sets in and you want to slap your arms, set fire to your hair and jump in a river to get it off. Are you scared of insects? Have you ever asked yourself why we do not kill all insects and make the world a better place? Fear can become disgust, anger or degradation.
Fear of emotional loss
Most of you will have experienced this type of fear. It’s hollow. You feel like a passenger trying to climb the Titanic’s hull while it founders. Whatever you try, however desperate, there is no hope in clinging to a sinking ship. It drags something out of you.
Fear has many guises. It creeps up on you with least warning when you have a vital choice to make. Experts say most (if not all) of our decisions are subconscious, with only the illusion of conscious thought. Indecision is a war between the silent mega-computer of your mind and an alert fear of the consequences. Stress, fear’s favourite outfit. The shriek of internal gears grinding against each other and a roadblock inside your head.
Fear of the unknown
Here is the most abstract form of fear. Your character stands on a small island of knowledge in a vast sea of the empty and unfamiliar. The void grows around them until it presses inwards, an irresistible force. Your character’s only choice is to bury their head in the sand or attack, burning through the shadows with their desire to understand.
Let me know in the comments if this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?