Using My Fears in Writing, by Laura Pauling

I’ve got TWO exciting somethings for you all today. First off, I just recently discovered an awesome resource: the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), an organization dedicated to promoting, supporting, advocating for and advancing the interests of independent, self-publishing authors. Their blog is just stuffed with helpful information for anyone interested in indie publishing and I’m contributing today with a post on Conveying Emotion Effectively via The Emotion Thesaurus. I’d love for you to stop by and see what nuggets you can glean at their blog.

Secondly, and even MORE amazing: Laura Pauling’s here today to tell you a little bit about her book and how she was able to use her fear while writing it.

When Bianca and Melvin brave the jungle to rescue their grandfather, they stumble upon the ancient Maya city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. They must learn to work together as they face loincloth-wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy that says in three days the city will be destroyed.

No problem. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.


Using my fears in my writing

We are often told to write what we know. One problem. I’ve never lived with the Ancient Maya and I’ve never visited the temples. I’d love to! Believe me. But I had to rely on research and others’ first hand experiences.

But I did use fear in this story.

When Bianca, the main character, faces the stone of sacrifice and the king who wants to offer her up to the gods, I channeled my fear of squirrels and hornets. Sounds silly but it worked.

Yes, I’m the girl who screams and jerks and runs away at the sight of the brown insects with hanging legs and a buzz that strikes terror in my heart.

Last year, my family was gone. I was home alone and it happened to be the first really warm spring day. So, of course, as usual, a hornet buzzed up in the sky light in my bedroom.

I was by myself. And I had to take care of it because no way would I be able to sleep at night.

I’d like to say that I was brave and killed it with the end of a broomstick like my husband does, but no, I came out with the big guns. Raid. I know. Bad. Chemicals. Emergencies only!

I hovered by the entrance to my room, Raid in hand. The buzzing was constant. I had to do this. But seriously. My legs were shaking. And I realized that shaking legs in extreme fear is not a cliché. It’s very real. I could barely breathe. Sweat broke out all over my body.

I sprayed and down it fell. Except there was more angry buzzing! Meaning there was one half alive on the floor and another one in the window. Two! I started crying because it wasn’t over.

I sprayed the second and smashed them both. Then I crashed, my body weak from the adrenaline rush.

So when I had to write about Bianca facing death, I used my experiences. Okay, I agree. Facing death by having your heart ripped out is not the same as killing two hornets. But it felt like it to me!

Thanks Angela and Becca for having me today!

How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings released in November. Pugalicious Press did a fantastic job, and I’m extremely happy with the results. This book would make a fantastic gift for boys or girls who enjoy adventure stories with lots of excitement! You can purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read the first chapter here.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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7 years ago

This is a GREAT point – especially for genre fiction writers who aren’t going to be able to write about things they’ve actually experienced. (And that being said, not sure I want to be in a space battle anyway, given the chance…) Writing about impossible experiences makes it all the more important to focus on the elements of the scene we DO know – namely, the emotional impact of those situations. I think this is where a lot of science fiction and fantasy falls flat, actually.

Leslie S. Rose
7 years ago

ALLi – going to check it out. Thanks for the rec. Congrats to Laura. Her blog has always been an inspiration and a fab learning experience. Sending good vibes for How to Survive… Great title.

Old Kitty
7 years ago

Awwww I’m sorry for the hornet experience! But it’s great that you are able to utilise the emotions felt!!

All the best Laura! Take care

7 years ago

After reading this content the know the value of emotions, Thanks for this wonderful experience

Angela Brown
7 years ago

Loved this! You used what you knew first hand to add emotional depth to scenes that called for it. Very cool!

Kathy Johnson
7 years ago

Very interesting post about the emotion of fear. If I could visit any place in the world it would be Italy.

Ansha Kotyk
7 years ago

Laura, I’ll kill hornets for you if you can help me with my fear of heights! Vertigo is an awful thing… I wonder if that’s a part of intense fear or just a height thing… 🙂 Hitchcock played that vertigo into a whole story… hmmmm ideas ideas.

Medeia Sharif
7 years ago

This reminds me of the insect phobia I had when I was younger, which has disappeared now. Facing and killing insects were tumultuous experiences. I’ve used those emotions in my writing.

Angela Ackerman
7 years ago

Really great post, Laura!

I don’t have a fear like yours, but I have others, and using those real flesh-and-blood catalysts for deep emotion is exactly the way to build authentic emotion into our writing, just as you have done here!

Looking forward to reading your new book–congrats again!


7 years ago

The book looks like it will be really fun. Thanks for an interesting post.

Jennifer Snyder
7 years ago

They always say to write about what you know…this is a prime example of that as well as how writing what you “feel” can work. Your novels look fun! My little boy is all about the adventure book right now!

7 years ago

It’s funny how we take the time to notice things like this when we’re in the middle of something that should be very important, isn’t it? I find myself detaching and watching/observing things all the time, for later use.

Linda A.
7 years ago

Wishing you all the best. I loved your comments about facing your fears. I was attacked by carpenter bees once. I had disturbed their home in an old abandoned telephone pole on the ground. Yikes! Using what you know works for me. I will remember my own experience next time I’m writing about fear.

Kath Marsh
7 years ago

I’ve heard the ‘use your fears’ advice before, but Thank you for giving me a clue on HOW to.

Great blog!

Una Mariah
7 years ago

Hmm, that’s a good idea. The only thing I’m really afraid of is spiders, and it’s really more of a ‘I’m not going to get within five feet of you and you are going to crawl away’ type fear than an actual ‘FREAK OUT’ fear. XD

Natalie Aguirre
7 years ago

Becca, that sounds like a great resource. Thanks for sharing.

Laura, that’s a great idea to use our own fears. We all have them. Thanks for sharing yours. I’d have a heart attack if we had a mouse in the house and no one was here. I’d be screaming on my bed.