Fear and the Ordinary

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

The end of this week marks the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 and I still vividly recall where I was when the news came that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I was sitting in my office in Oakland, early that morning (I worked for a UK company at the time so I would start pretty much as soon as I got up). I saw the news on AOL and then quickly turned on CNN. My husband had already left for work and I called him in the car. He had no idea what I was talking about or why I was worried about news reports that there were still planes in the air unaccounted for. I had only my old dog Benjamin for company as I watched the towers fall on CNN and heard reports of the plane crashing into the Pentagon and, later, flight 93 which plowed into a field in Pennsylvania. Since I had just finished some legal work relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the World Trade Center attacks seemed to be a further, horrifically poignant reminder of how the ordinary can turn to tragedy in a matter of minutes.

I think it was Stephen King who said that he wrote to try and confront his fears and I believe at the heart of every great thriller is the sudden overturning of everything that is mundane and ordinary – the world literally turned upside down. On the weekend we saw the televised account of flight 93 – now, I am not usually into watching that kind of thing, but I was struck by just how ordinary that morning was and just how familiar it seemed too (having waited for many an early morning flight to San Francisco). That made the events of that day all the more chilling.

So when you write, do you try and confront some of your own fears? Do you try and create a world that is familiar and ordinary before turning everything on its head?

PS: Apologies, this post is abbreviated as my beloved puppy, Hamish, went missing a few hours ago – he got frightened and bolted (with his lead on and everything). I am very much afraid he has dashed into the bush – so I need some collective good thoughts/prayers that he will be found.

PPS: Just in! I retrieved Hamish from a very kind neighbor who found him – some 5 hours after he went missing – so all’s well that ends well! Though I think I’ve had enough angst and upset for one day….

11 thoughts on “Fear and the Ordinary

  1. One reason for the popularity of thrillers is that they help the community “manage” fear. Like the myths of old that were meant to inspire courage. I like holding out the lamp of justice in a dark world in my books, even (maybe especially) those involving zombie lawyers.

    Glad you found Hamish safe and sound!

  2. For myself, Clare, I could never write about spiders or missing children. Heights and enclosed spaces, maybe.

    Speaking of missing children, I am glad you retrieved Hamish. We go into Adam mode when one of our pets goes on walkabout.

  3. I write for the opposite reason, to delve into a world far from my fears and everyday life. Thus I write stories that take place on other planets and have happy ever after endings, or funny mysteries where justice is always served. Call it fantasy or escapism either way, but I want to escape from reality when I read and when I write.

  4. A missing well-loved dog is fear indeed. Dovetails with your post very well. Demonstrated for me what may be the key element of writers who favor TKZ genres – suspense.
    Without fear can we have suspense?
    We fear that something might happen to Scout with spooky Boo Radley in the neighborhood. Fear that Stephen King’s whatever will somehow destroy characters we sympathize with and our world with evil. Fear Dave Robisheaux’s family or Clete will be harmed and/or he will slide into a heart-broken, alcoholic vortex.

    Your post brings home to me that fear may be the strongest engine of emotion in reading/writing. Without fear there is no suspense. Right?
    Love is more desirable and ‘nicer’ but fear’s impact can not be denied.
    I am glad the suspense involving Hamish was resolved successfuly.

  5. I certainly hadn’t planned on having the Hamish element of suspense but it did seem eerily appropriate given my post. I think most writers confront some kind of fear in their work – even if it is the fear of writing! It takes courage to put your words ‘out there’ but I think the element of the ordinary suddenly gone awry is compelling. That’s why I avoid some thrillers about children – Joe, I can’t read about missing children either! Jim, I totally agree, being able to explore these kind of fears in a book gives the reader a chance to see those fears managed…and hopefully see justice done (which doesn’t always happen in real life)

  6. I just read a book for a review blog and that is what it is missing. There is no fear. The premise is scary, it is an apoc, but somehow the story just isn’t scary. I never doubted the main guy would complete his goal and never really feared anything. That’s why it is on the flat side.

    It’s one of the reasons King, is, well, king. He is willing to go there and mess up a main character. There is never a comfort of knowing that the hero will prevail. In King-world, he may end up with his head on a spike.

  7. Making the reader believe anything might happen is key. There’s no suspense if you don’t believe the characters are really in jeopardy. Nothing is more suspenseful than a main character’s head suddenly on a spike:)

  8. Confronting fears of losing Hamish . . .I’ll be that’s what sparked the blog! LOL!

    Honestly, I really have to bludgeon myself into address fears in my writing. I HATE to go there, but know how important it is to hook the story. So, it’s always a project for me to work with fear and writing.

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