I was reading through a posting on the Blood Red Pencil regarding your character’s fears. A big question was poised: Are their fears in fact yours?
Well, why not? Will’s fears are most definitely mine. The man has been through gunfights, artillery strikes, knife fights, been assaulted, and been in car wrecks.
Those things don’t scare him.
What does scare him are snakes. He often talks about it. Oddly, his chances of running into a snake just stepping out of his front porch are about the same as when he goes out into the prairie. He’s not afraid of running into one in his backyard, though the odds are about the same.
Put him out of the prairie, and he goes into red alert. He’s absolutely positive there’s a snake under every piece of sagebrush and slithering under every rock. The really strange part is he’s never run into a snake out in the wild. As a result we really don’t know what his response would be.
I have the same fear, and I’ve run into snakes in the wild. I do run at red alert when I out in the wilds because I know they’re around. Will’s response would probably be the same as mine. Once I was hiking across a hill at Ft. Riley. I’d stopped to take a drink and get my bearings when I noticed some motion by my feet. A large rattlesnake had slithered out of the undergrowth, across my combat boot, and went his way. I stayed stock still as he trekked across me.
It was only afterwards that I felt fear and even then it wasn’t to a degree I’d have expected. While the snake was moving, I stayed still and just let it go its way.
I think part of it was I didn’t have time to get scared. The incident occurred and that fast it was over.
Now the single bravest thing I ever did involved a snake. I was in college and I was taking a TV production class. We had three hours a day to broadcast courtesy of our local cable TV station. We were always looking for new and exciting stuff to do, and so one day we went out to a professor’s home. She had all kinds of cool animals. What no one told me was that one of them was a Boa Constrictor. While it wouldn’t have hurt me, the thought of big snake loose within feet of me was intensely unnerving.
And then she took it out of its cage and put it on the floor. I was cameraman and the snake was attracted to the bright lights on the camera. Slowly it crawled my way. Between me and it was my camera case. I guess it seemed like a nice warm place for it so it slithered into the camera case, and somehow managed to get most of itself in there. It sat in the case with its head out, looking at me with curiosity glittering its beady little snake eyes.
I kept an eye on it, holding my ground while every instinct in me screamed to bolt out the back door and keep running till I couldn’t run anymore. Had the snake come out of the case and started moving towards me, there is a real chance I would have given into fear and done what I thought of doing.
I’ve never in my life been so glad to leave a house.
Now one fear Will doesn’t address is a fear of heights. In more than a few scenes, he’s rappelling down cliffs and never once complains. He’s cautious, pays attention to what he’s doing, and is respectful of a force called gravity, but he doesn’t let that stop him.
But in one scene, he’s home working on the chimney of his house. The home he, Jewell, and kids live in was new in 1877. The roof is seriously pitched, and he has on a harness attached to a rope as a safety measure while he’s up there working. He got up to the roof using a work ladder, used the rope to climb up (It’s attached to the other side to the frame of his car), and did his job. Now he’s going to come down.
He can’t do it. He has to aim for the ladder, and just looking for it while trying to climb down is almost impossible. He can’t move and is paralyzed with fright. It’s an hour of agonizing for him. Finally, Jewell climbs the ladder, and ties the rope to the top rung of the ladder.
Only by knowing where he’s going, and not having to look down is tough guy Will Diaz able to get off the roof.
What’s the difference between the two scenarios?
Will won’t quit in front of his troops. Because they’re all in this together, his mind is able to brush aside the fear, and draw on the collective strength of the team.
Alone, his fear of heights put him in a bad position, one where the fear itself could have endangered his life.
So yes, we mine our own fears for our characters.
After all, aren’t they part of us?
Now the million dollar question becomes, “Will fear stop your character?”