What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Your Character’s Biggest Fear

I read a lot about craft. Books, blogs, articles, websites. I’m always looking to improve my craft. I know you are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

One of my weaknesses is Plotting. I know these amazing characters – like Athena, they are born, fully formed. I’m just not so sure what they’re there to do.

So I got to thinking about what Donald MaassJames Scott Bell and others have written about plotting:

Take your character’s biggest fear, and throw them into a situation where they have to face it.

One of these days, I’m going to remember this before I start writing a book; wow, what a powerful plot that would be! (Hey, there’s a reason it took me 13 years to sell, okay?)

To see how very powerful this is, I started thinking about great stories (either books or movies) to see how often this technique was used. The more I thought, the more I found.

Gone with the Wind – Scarlett is a spoiled, rich, entitled daughter of a landowner. What’s the worst that could happen? To lose her land, her money, her status, her culture. Yep. It happened.

The Hunger Games – Katniss is her Sister’s protector. To her, it would be worse if her Sister was sent to the games than Katniss. So, of course she volunteers.

The Wizard of Oz – OMG, Baum, the masochist, does this to almost every character!

  • Straw Man? Fire – can you say, torch?
  • Tin Man – water.  Several times. Thank God for oil cans.
  • Lion? No courage. Poor thing was terrified the whole movie!

Jaws –  Sheriff of a beach town is afraid of the water. Big fish wants to eat him. Why the heck did he take a job at the beach, anyway?

The King’s Speech – What kind of Karma makes a man with a huge speech impediment King, during a critical time for the Nation?  And this wasn’t fiction! Yikes.

Disney Pixar – They GET this concept. Almost every one of these movies you can name involves this technique. Think about it:

Finding Nemo – The father ‘lost’ is spouse due to a predator’s attack. Now he’s overprotective of his young son. What happens? You can tell from the title.

Lion King  A young lion watches his father die, and thinks it’s his fault. Major Self-esteem issues. What would be hardest for him? To have the responsibility of the entire pride on his shoulders. You guessed it! It happens.

Does every book or movie have to throw the protagonist into their worst nightmare to be successful?

Absolutely not.  But with examples like the above, you might want to look at the possibility of trying it!

So throw them out there – I came up with the above in 15 minutes. What plots can you name?


  1. Pamela Raleigh on April 27, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Article speaks to me right now. I’m always looking to up-the-ante tension-wise and this was a simple reminder how to do it. Found your website watching the webinar from WFWA and sure enough, poked around, read today’s blog and lookie here… I am commenting on your blog. Like you, I struggle with plot. I have a big idea, I know how I want it to end, but coming up with the parts to get there haunt me. Great reminder in this post. (am working on my website now).

    • Laura Drake on April 27, 2020 at 12:10 pm

      Oh Pamela, same here! Thanks for seeking me out. Hope some of the blogs help you.
      This is NOT a commercial for Authorbytes, but they did a bang-up job for me. I did mine myself before this, and I fired my designer 😉 They did a MUCH better job!

      Best to you,

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