F is for Fear – 6 Tips on How to Evoke Fear in Your Writing

Lana PecherczykWriting1 Comment

Thank you Michelle Somers for writing this post as part of my A to Z of Romance Writing Series. Michelle is the author of award winning, Lethal in Love. Read more about Michelle at the end of the article. I’m lucky to host her today, her tips on creating fear in your writing are priceless! Without further ado, here is her article. 

Tips on Evoking Fear in your writingFear is such a complex emotion, yet at the same time so subjective. So personal, even. What is one person’s fear, or even phobia, is another person’s… nothing. 

So, how do we evoke fear in our writing?
Great question.

To do this – to evoke any emotion – we must dig deep. Deep into our story, deep into our characters, deep into ourselves.

What is your deepest fear? Why?

It’s the why that’s important. Why do we feel afraid?

Most fears stem from experience. From some deep, dark tucked away memory that surfaces when an external force triggers emotion and drags it out from the barricades it hides behind.

As writers, we must draw on that type of emotion, draw on our own personal experiences and feel every heart hammering moment as we add words to a page. Do this and we will inject fear into the hearts of our readers.

So where to begin?
Another great question.
I’ve formulated a kind of checklist that’s a great starting point when writing from a place of fear:

  1. Use the senses to drag the reader into the character’s world

Our characters experience their world through sensation, so it stands to reason that to drag our readers into our characters’ world, we must use the senses to do this.

Fear is so sensorially linked. What we see, what we touch, what we smell, hear and taste all play a huge role in influencing our reactions and emotions. Find something we associate with the sinister or scary, plant us into that situation using the senses, and we won’t have any choice but to feel the fear of your characters.

Example from Lethal in Love:

The air around her was damp, a spring-like freshness that should have skipped through her sinuses with a heady summer is coming kind of rush. Instead it curdled with the sour smack of diesel and exhaust, razing the back of her throat with every shallow, tortuous breath.

  1. Use visceral reactions to draw the reader into the character’s emotions

A visceral reaction is the body’s involuntary response to an emotional trigger. In simpler terms, it’s how our body reacts in an emotional situation.

Make us feel what your characters are feeling. Make our throat dry, our heart pump, our chest constrict until we’re so dizzy we might just pass out. Make us live through what your characters are living through, and make us fear for their safety, their lives as if they are our own.

Example from Lethal in Love:

Every pound of her heart drove the copper taste of blood to the back of her throat.

  1. Lead the reader to identify with the character before getting them to connect emotionally

This point follows on well from the last.

If you don’t care about a character, their danger will have little or no effect on your heartrate or your fear-levels.

So, making your reader identify with your character is really REALLY important in the set-up of your story. Draw the reader into your character’s world early. Give them an understanding – empathy – then land them in the midst of peril. It’s then, and only then, that they’ll feel and experience what your character feels and experiences.

Example from Lethal in Love:

Fan-bloody-tastic. The force’s ‘non-fraternising in the ranks’ policy may have been loose to the point of non-existence, but she’d learned the hard way how rumours – no matter how false – could turn a career into compost. Georgie was a friend, but others in the squad would be far quicker to comment. And judge.

Jayda’s hand dropped to her hip, devoid now of her badge. It didn’t matter that life outside the precinct had barely existed for the past seven years. She’d matched her father’s success, made detective before her thirtieth birthday. And she’d done it by keeping her head down and the fly of her pants securely fastened.

Thank you, Liam.

There he was again. Elbowing his way into her thoughts.

After seven years, the anger still lingered, a reminder of her promise never to compromise herself again.

This is an excerpt from chapter one of Lethal in Love.

What do we learn about my protagonist Jayda here? Quite a lot.

Being a homicide detective is Jayda’s everything, as is living up to her father’s legacy. She’s been burned in the past, and the man who lit the match, Liam, almost cost her career. Since then she’s steered clear of men and relationships, and in the future she’ll be reticent to trust a man and compromise herself again.

Great set-up for when we put her in the path of a sexy reporter called Seth.

  1. Use an active voice and action words to show your character actively reacting to their situation

If your characters are actively engaged in their environment and in the plot, if they are acting and reacting to their world, then the reader is more easily swept along with them.

If your characters – and therefore, your language – is passive, then reading will be a passive exercise. Your readers will remain passive to the emotions of your characters and it’s doubtful they will experience anything, let alone fear.

Example from Lethal in Love:

They scrambled for the door, their panic tangible, a fist-punch to Jayda’s heart. Behind them, black smoke billowed out from the closet, swallowing the room, them, everything in sight. Debris scattered through the haze, then fire captured the cloud with a burst of bright, burning gold.

  1. Use metaphors/similes and imagery

These tools are a great way of injecting visuals into your writing. Of evoking emotion and tension and all-out suspense.

Give the reader a benchmark against which to measure their emotions. Give them something that quantifies, that gives depth to your character’s situation, and they are more likely to relate and therefore react in the way your scene prescribes.

Example from Murder Most Unusual:

Black clouds growled across a churning sea, dusk having long-since tumbled into dark. The air grumbled, fierce, furious, like a wild boar barrelling toward its prey.

  1. Show rather than tell

How many times have we heard this? Yet I believe we can never hear it enough.

Showing is intrinsic to evocative, emotive writing. Tell me a character is scared and I’ll nod my head, think ‘sure, okay’, but it’s unlikely I’ll be 100% convinced with almost zero chance that I’ll actually feel scared for them.

But make me feel his fear – make his heart race, his palms sweat, his mind imagine any number of terrifying outcomes – then you’ll draw me in. Show your character’s reaction and what that reaction does to them, and I’ll experience the same.

Just remember, I can’t feel it if you haven’t shown me what and how I’m supposed to feel.

Example from Murder Most Unusual:

A plastic bag skidded across the sand, the wind giving it wings and the twirling grace of a dancer. Sand eddied and swirled, and she squinted against the onslaught.

Renaldo stared up at her, his blank, dispassionate gaze suddenly mocking. Menacing.

Newspaper wrapped around her leg, whipping angrily. She kicked, wriggled, stamped, but it wouldn’t budge. Breath constricted in her chest.

She let go of the line and clawed at her leg. The paper caught and clung to her wet skin until it wrenched free, flying from her fingers and into the dark beyond the lamppost.

Her heart thundered.

The wind howled.

Again she shivered, unable to stop.

Just remember, the rules of writing are guidelines. Don’t let them stifle your creativity.

Draw on your experiences, your own fears and phobias, write with spirit and from the heart. Make every sentence, every word, count.

If you don’t feel the fear as you’re writing, then your readers won’t feel it when they’re reading.

So feel the fear, draw on the emotion, and give your readers something to remember late at night when the lights are out and they’re alone with only their thoughts and memories and the remnants of your story to keep them company.


Michelle SomersMichelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.

Michelle lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY), the 2013 Valerie Parv Award and 2013 Indiana Golden Opportunities Award.

She loves hearing from her readers, so please visit her website, or chat with her on twitter, facebook or Instagram. You can find Michelle at www.michelle-somers.com or on social media: Facebook,  Twitter, PinterestInstagramAnd the Random House Australia’s website.


leathal-in-loveHomicide detective Jayda Thomasz never lets her emotions get in the way of a case. So when a serial killer re-emerges after 25 years, the last thing she expects is to catch herself fantasising over the hot, smooth-talking stranger who crosses the path of her investigation.

Reporter Seth Friedin is chasing the story that’ll make his career. When he enters the world of swinging for research, he never imagines he’ll be distracted by a hard-talking female detective whose kiss plagues his mind long after she’s gone.

Past experience has shown Jayda that reporters are ruthless and unscrupulous. But when the murders get personal, will she make a deal with the devil to catch the killer? How far will she and Seth have to go? And do you ever really know who you can trust?

It’s gritty, it’s sexy and it kept me reading long past my bedtime two nights in a row!

Helene Young, award-winning romantic suspense author

View all articles in the A to Z of Romance series.

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