If you could use one word to describe the one single aspect that most stories have, what would it be? If you had to break it down to the one single core element common amongst most stories, what would you say it was?
Love? Sadness? Triumph? No. In my opinion, the single common element that exists in the stories we read, is FEAR. That solitary primal urge that forces our heart to beat faster, plaguing our mind with a thousand different scenarios, leaving you spent. Panic, foreboding, dread, anxiety; however, you want to say it, fear is the common thread.
As a Horror/Dystopian/Thriller reader and as a Horror writer, fear is an element that mimics the treasure deep within the cavern. It is a feeling that I, as a writer, want to haunt my reader’s mind. Also, I as a reader, want every inch of my consciousness reacting, too. Now I know what some of the other genre readers are thinking – as their eyes start skipping words of this article, or contemplate the X with their mouse hovering at the top right-hand corner of the screen. You are thinking “Not all stories have some monster or villain lurking in the dark of which to be afraid.”
…a solitary primal urge that forces our heart to beat faster, plaguing our mind with a thousand different scenarios, leaving you spent.
Sorry, I’m afraid to say you’re wrong. Every story has something to fear. Yes, even our children’s stories.
Let me explain.
Fear, that churning feeling in the pit of your stomach doesn’t necessarily mean there is someone to dread. Take romance novels for example, while I try to avoid them like the plague (sorry romance people, just not my scene) there is an underlying fear within their stories. The panic of being alone. The distress of losing the one you love. The anxiety of rejection.
Fantasy has more evident elements of fear. The same with Crime and Mystery tales. For these genres, it is this foreboding element constantly pulling the reader to turn the page and continue reading.
Even the majority of children’s stories, while to a much less extent, still have an element of fear in their tales. Fear of not having friends, the panic of not being accepted, the terror of school, anxiety of the dark, etc. Some of the popular stories I read to my children, have the undertone of fear rippling just below the surface. Only since I have grown as a writer – learning the craft – I have discovered this very rippling of an underground stream rushing with multiple fears entwined; has revealed itself to me like a vision to which I am awestruck. As a writer, I was in awe, while as a father, was more stunned that the classic tales conveyed this very sense of dread.
In the end, in my humble opinion, all stories have fear. This key element keeps us reading. We become fearful for, and of the characters in the story. We wonder about the cliff edge… Subconsciously, we relate to these fears through our own life experiences, drawn into a state of dreaded anticipation, sweaty palms and a thundering pulse echoing in our ears… while we wait for the final enlightenment.
So, to those who ask me how can I read or write stories that convey fear: I say whether you like it or not, you, my friend, are just as addicted to the adrenaline rush of fear as I am. You too, stand with me at top of the skyscraper peering over the ledge, letting the waves of trepidation flow over as we grapple with the notion of falling… the only difference is, I do it with a knowing grin.
This article is a free and open source. You have permission to republish (The Common Thread of Life) under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the website Dystopia and guest author Michael Huddlestone.