As writers we are told to discover or determine our character’s worst fear. Is she afraid of losing someone? Losing a job? Sickness? Losing her life?
I had difficulty pinpointing just one worst fear for the protagonist in my first manuscript. Certainly she was fearful for her daughter’s safety but her daughter was only part of her life. What deeply embedded fear motivated her? It wasn’t until I researched fear in riding students for The Riding Instructor blog that learned about root fears in an article by Karl Albrecht Ph.D.The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share. When I looked at Rylie with these five definitions, her fear became very clear.
Rylie is beautiful and a tad bit naive, two things that were the catalyst for injury in her life. There’s a pain she’ll do almost anything to avoid repeating. She protects this place by developing a strong business persona, which she keeps in place most of the time. Only a few select people get to see parts of who Rylie really is.
She has confidence in her ability with horses and develops a business presence as a horse women who is strong, principled, and doesn’t need other people. This cover is the protection for her fragile and vulnerable self. She has put certain standards and rules in place to help her remain safe.
Rylie’s worst fear is ego-death. She’s afraid of the destruction of her inner person. As Albrecht explains she fears the loss of the integrity of self, and she instinctively knows she lives in a house of cards.
On the other hand, Rylie’s horse, Eskador, has absolutely no worries about ego-death. His worst fear, like all animals who have a basis in the wild, is the fear of extinction. Horse whisperers will tell you that a horse has three goals in life, to eat, reproduce, and stay alive. All three are necessary for survival. Survival defeats extinction. And just like Rylie, Eskador’s fear almost triumphed. He hung breaths away from extinction.
It’s this closeness to ego-death and extinction that is the basis for Rylie and Eskador’s bond.
When a writer wants to be realistic, they’ll look at ‘real’ life for examples. We have lots of examples for fear. It is at the root of most human actions and reactions. Fear drives people, and even animals, to do things they normally wouldn’t. Fear is behind anger, hatred, guilt, manipulation and lying. Fear causes all kinds of bars and chains to be secured both physically and emotionally. Fear is one of the enemy strongest tools. The enemy is a liar.
Jesus said in John 8: 31-32 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We can be free from the enemy’s fear.
I love Zach Williams’ song- Fear is a Liar. I’ve included it below and I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to it.