Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sit in the Discomfort

This week alum Donna Koppelman talks to us about this frightfully fun time of the year as we inch ever closer towards Halloween.  Read on if you dare to embrace your own darkest fears (insert melodramatic evil laugh).

The scary season is upon us. Not presidential debates. Haunted houses. Fright nights. Scary movie marathons. Ghost walks. Imagineers at theme parks brainstorm new and powerful ways to scare people.

Adults are inclined to squelch this emotion in modern culture, but artists must embrace the intensity and power of fear. People who write for children cannot lose touch with this emotion. Fear plays a critical role in the lives of young people.

When children are very young, good parents and teachers honor their fear. It’s real and valid, and keeps them safe. As children grow more adventurous, fear protects them. Still, small children don’t like fear. The avoidance of fear may drive many aspects of a child’s life.

For teen-agers, it all changes. Fear becomes delicious, scintillating, exciting. Young people seek the heart-pounding, skin-crawling rush of emotion. It tests their mettle, their courage, and their confidence. Adolescents embrace scary situations as long as they happen in a controlled environment. In other words, adolescents often play at being scared because they thrive on the intensity.

Adulthood brings with it routine and responsibility and other logistics that allow people to avoid fear as much as possible. Young couples look for a home in a safe neighborhood. Parents seek out nurturing, safe schools and work environments. Adults instinctively consider ways to protect themselves from horrible tragedies reported in the news. They think their way through fear, explain it away and rationalize it. In this manner, sensible adults isolate themselves from the primal fears of childhood.

Writer friends, we can’t be sensible adults AND effectively write for children!

We must connect with the raw, basic emotions of childhood. The children need us to remember, understand and support them in their fears. We must write characters who experience real, knee-knocking fear and then find their way to courage and strength. In this way, our readers will feel less alone in their fears, our work will ring true, and our characters can offer help and hope.

Young readers try on different identities, environments and experiences by immersing themselves in books. We must provide honest, real writing for readers to connect. We cannot do it if we have grown detached from the intense emotions of childhood.

So do your research. Take a ghost walk. Visit a haunted house. Watch a horror movie. Walk around your house in the dark and listen to its sounds.

Scared yet?


Now, pay attention to your fear. Sit in the discomfort. What does it do to your senses? How does your body respond? What scares you now versus what scared you as a child? What would comfort you? What environment or encounter would push you past rational fear to true terror?

Take notes and put them in a folder marked fear. Add to it whenever you feel afraid or observe a frightened child.  Keep a list of things that frighten you and scary story ideas for the younger set.

Figure out how your own emotions and physical reactions can enrich a children’s story. Then, write one. Or ten.

And every October, get out there and be afraid.

For the children.

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