Me, I was convinced that a swarm of bats lived under my bed. Night after night I lay awake as a child, waiting for them to burst out of the crack between the wall and my bedframe.
Batman-addled night terrors aside, what’s important is that we all have our own unique fears. It’s the downside to being a special snowflake. It also makes it very hard to write something that’s universally frightening.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that pretty much everyone is afraid of. Death is a popular one. Even people who aren’t afraid of heights themselves are usually sympathetic to those who are because it’s such a well-known one. And don’t forget those creepy crawlies that evolution has wired us to fear (because the ones who didn’t never lived to pass their “Ha! Centipedes aren’t scary!” genes along).
But there’s something special about having your own personal demon. Like a first love or early friendship, it’s formative. It says something about who you were. It guides where you’re going.
The monster under the bed—or in the closet or the cellar or down that alley or, or, or—doesn’t exist. Sorry. Spoiler alert. But, like I talked about in last week’s post, the monster you don’t see is often the scariest monster of all, because it’s your brain filling in the blanks.
You created this monster. It’s the imaginary friend you couldn’t look in the eye.
You might laugh to think about it now—after all, you were young. Inexperienced. You’ve learned so many things about the world since then. You’ve overcome so many fears.
The monsters you face now are much more terrifying.
Fear is a poweful force. I’m not talking about jump scares and Halloween. I mean the fear that stops us from applying for that job or asking that person for their number.
The fear that stops us from being who we are.
That fear can control us. Unchecked, it can even ruin us. The monster that we carry from childhood into our adult lives may change shape, but it never really leaves us. As long as we have a single thing in the world left to lose, we will always have a reason to be afraid.
That is okay. That’s good.
Because like every monster, it becomes a lot less scary when you know what you’re looking at. Look under the bed. Don’t get too close, now—just a peek. That’s not so bad, is it?
Know your monsters. Own your fear.
The first step to conquering your fear is accepting it.
But if you happen to be a writer or GM looking for the best way to keep that fear around?
Don’t let your audience see what they’re up against. Don’t let them accept their fear—make them fight it, tooth and nail, until they’re desperate and afraid and far past denial.
And whatever you do—
Don’t look under the bed.
Prompt: Think about your own personal fears. Write about your reaction to the thing that scares you. Now remove all references to that specific thing and find a way to keep the scenario just as frightening when the “monster” is not described.