Why is Fear Important?
The question posted above has been constantly in my mind for the past week. I love horror because it presses the buttons of fear, creating an emotional response. On my last post, I wrote about the creative power of fear. When I write or direct anything that has a deep connection to my own emotions and beliefs, the result has soul. It resonates with other people, because the feeling behind it is true. So, the importance of fear for creativity, at least my own, is clear to me. But… why is fear important to my audience?
To best understand this point, I need to think about the things that rattle me as a viewer/reader. I have a deep respect for other people’s religions and beliefs, but I don’t subscribe to any as I’m a skeptic. There are things around me I can’t explain, but ghosts don’t truly scare me. I can get a jolt, like with the old lady scene from The Others, but it is momentary.
The films that have shook me to my core have mostly been psychological thrillers. Real people transforming into true monsters. Like Hanecke’s Funny Games; or Red, White and Blue by Simon Rumley; or We are what we are, by Jorge Michel Grau; or Irreversible, by Gaspar Noé; or Audition, by Takashi Miike. All those films have scared me so much I’d never see them again. I saw some of them many years ago, but I can still recall the story and the images, which burnt into my mind’s eye. These are all wonderful pictures that I’d recommend anyone who loves the horror genre, but I’d never go through that again.
I know all those films touch a deep fear: people around us can be profoundly evil… and hide in plain sight.
Creating by Fear
As a writer, fear is a wonderful prime source of material. For any genre. If you write Romantic Comedies, the fear is to lose your love, or be alone. In horror, the fear is most times a palpable thing or entity: a ghost, a monster, a mad-man with a chainsaw chasing after the main character. The truth is that fear compels us to move. To take action. And movies are about people acting; or reacting. Understanding this has helped me a great deal as an alchemist of words.
I recently saw a documentary about a photographer who decided to tackle his fear of death using his own medium: photography. It was very interesting to me, as I tend to do the same things: expunge my fears by writing about them. The best you can do about anything that rattles you, is try to understand it. Here’s the documentary, produced by the New York Times and directed by Joshua Seftel, which is fascinating:
Fear as a Motivator
When I’m creating a character, if I understand what moves him or her, it is a lot easier to craft the story from there. Knowing this character’s biggest fear is a great starting point. You can confront and throw at him/her different challenges, obstacles and conflicts, and that character is going to react, overcome, grow… that is what gives the movement and thorough-line to the story. As a director understanding the psyche of my characters is essential, as that is what gives me the tools to guide the actors that will embody these fictitious people.
I use my own fears to search for material that resonates with me whenever I start a new project. Things that strike a chord with my own emotions and live experience. Then I use fear to create three-dimensional characters that act and react like real people… regardless on how sick and twisted those people might be. It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of introspection and soul-searching to be true to what I write. Then I just have to hope that the end result rings true and produces an experience for my viewer/reader.
What compels you to write? Is fear what motivates you too?