Friday, May 13th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Attack of the Phobias!

Calendar Page with Friday the 13th CircledIn honor of Friday the 13th, I think a writing prompt on phobia is in order.

Fear of this day is so large it’s got TWO Greek names. You may refer to it as either Friggatriskaidekaphobia or Paraskevidekatriaphobia.

A few of my favorites from the wikipedia list of phobias:

  • Halitophobia – fear of bad breath
  • Ablutophobia – fear of bathing, washing, or cleaning
  • Agyrophobia – fear of crossing roads

The wikipedia entry also contains a list of phobias related to animals (such as Ichthyophobia, the fear of fish) and biological instances (such as Hydrophobia, the fear of water, which is a a symptom of rabies). Very informative.

It’s fun to joke about phobias, but for some, they’re true fears which interfere with a way of life, often for the worse.

In college, I had a friend who developed a pervasive fear of social situations (Sociophobia), so bad, that by the end of the semester she could not leave her dorm room. She had to be medicated to be removed, and never completed her degree.

George Lucas’ famous character Indiana Jones has a near-paralyzing fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia) which often hinders his heroic exploits. It’s a great plot device: his fear has a tendency to get in the way of the action, causing tension and raising the stakes, as well as adding depth to the character.

Keep this in mind while you’re working through this exercise.

Here’s Your Prompt: Today’s prompt is an exercise in character building/story planning which is a large part of writing. Choose a plausible phobia from the wikipedia list (or any other resource, or even make up your own) and apply it to a character your currently writing about, or one you’re thinking of starring in your next story or novel.

Think of the possibilities that phobia has for influencing your character’s actions, both within the framework of a tale, and as backstory. Is it possible that an entire story can be created from the fear?

Make a list of how your chosen phobia can interfere with every day life, make is plausible, but stretch.

For example, what if your character, like Indiana, suffers from ophidiophobia, but she lives in New York City?

There aren’t many snakes to be found in the city, so how can her fear affect her? Maybe she walks to her job every day, but the zoo has erected a tremendous billboard on her route with the photo of a large, striking rattle snake. She can’t even look at it.

Her fear is so strong that she needs to find another route. And taking that route starts your story in motion. What happens when she has to find another way to work?

After you’ve made your list, determine which items or situations can be used as scenes. Then, get to work writing them!


* Photo by W.J.Pilsak found at Wikipedia.

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