Today I watched Karen Thompson Walker: What fear can teach us. I wanted to watch this video because Walker is a novelist. She was going to talk about fear as a kind of storytelling. I learned that she writes speculative fiction, and I hoped I would learn something that would fuel my own writing.
Opening with the story of the whale ship Essex, a story I knew from Nathan Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, I was drawn into the talk immediately. It took a while, though, for me to truly see what she was trying to say about fear. Rather than trying to abandon or overcome our fears, Walker encourages us to think about them scientifically. She wants us to think about the likelihood of different fears coming to pass. Then we can determine which course to take, which situations to try to avoid and which to not waste time on.
But I watched this video because I wanted to learn something about writing. And I had to think about it a while before I really found what I was looking for.
The little blurb about the talk says that Walker
shows how fear propels imagination, as it forces us to imagine the possible futures and how to cope with them.
Fear is … a kind of unintentional storytelling that we are all born knowing how to do.
OK… Now we are getting somewhere!
But since I don’t write or even read horror stories, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to apply her ideas. But as I have thought more about the talk, I can see possibilities. For one thing, exploring the fears of my characters will help me write their stories more fully even if I don’t talk a lot about those fears. Currently, I am focusing on the main character’s sense of duty as his motivation. But surely he would be afraid of what might happen if his quest is not successful. That can and should inform my writing. It should affect the story.
I don’t think that Walker intended the talk to be advice to writers, and judging from the comments, I am the only person who looked at it this way. But that’s OK. I am doing this to learn things that I want to learn, things that apply to me and my life. I am content.