Free book for science fiction or history! GET EITHER OR BOTHFree Books!

Secret Fears: One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison

Use your character's secret fears to create conflict


A novel needs to have conflict, some challenge or obstacle which the hero has to overcome. The more conflict the better. Not just major setbacks, but little things too. Can you introduce a secret fear which isn’t a problem for most people?

We couldn’t afford holidays when I was a child. I remember going to stay with relatives a few times, and the first time I remember was staying with my Dad’s parents in Sussex when I was 4 or 5. Two teenage boy cousins stayed as well, which was not a good idea, since they teased me. They christened me ‘waterworks’ because I cried so much. They did teach me to gamble at cards though, much to my mother’s annoyance!

Grandparents Stoner

Nanna and Grandad had the great idea of taking us to Brighton for the day, a seaside resort on the south coast of England. The train journey was exciting and the beach was a new adventure. I grew up in London and had never seen the sea. Nanna and Grandad settled themselves in deckchairs and sent us off to play, with the instruction to stay in sight. The boys disappeared and I played in the sand.

After a while I was encouraged to go down to the water. After all, a visit to the seaside isn’t complete without at least a paddle in the sea. I went down to the water’s edge and duly got my feet wet, but the moving water unnerved me. My most vivid memory of that day is standing in the water screaming at the top of my voice every time a wave came in. My grandparents had to come and get me as I was paralysed with fear. They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enjoying myself. They couldn’t see it from my point of view.

This is a device you may find useful in fiction writing. You can introduce peril for your hero or heroine without dangling them off a cliff or having them chased by evil men. Remember Indiana Jones in the film series, who was afraid of snakes? He faced all manner of dangers, but fell apart when faced with a snake. And of course, in the middle of the action he found himself in a room full of snakes!

Indiana Jones snakes

So what are your characters’ secret fears? They can be used against them, but they also make them more human.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at