Saturday, 7 January 2012

Be Afraid - be Very Afraid...

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

This was said by F D Roosevelt and it is never a truer saying.
Fear is one of the strongest emotions and it creates a powerful response; it is a fail safe for humans to alert them to danger and ready their bodies for ‘fight, flight or freeze’. You can see where this comes from in prehistoric man, when faced with a threat they either had to run for their lives, stood and fought, or froze to make themselves invisible to predators (rather like rabbits in the headlights).
The hormone responsible for this mechanism is adrenalin and we produce it whenever we feel scared or afraid. It readies our muscles for action (wobbly legs and shaking), it revs up our heart pump (pounding pulse) and increases our breathing rate ready to supply extra oxygen to the large muscles of the legs. Our eyes open wide ready spot the danger and our brains and senses become extra sharp. Skin tightens and pales as blood is diverted away to the major muscles and our stomachs contract down so as to not interfere with the process. All major organs of survival go on high alert. Adrenalin can even make the bowel and bladder muscles relax involuntarily.
Fear is so powerful that it can be totally disabling in the wrong circumstance i.e when the body is not under threat but nevertheless the emotion is running amok and irrational fears are born.
It is also true that people can become addicted to adrenalin. They love the ‘high’ it produces and search for ways to initiate this response, for example, putting one’s life at risk by participating in dangerous sports.
But for most people, the way they get their thrills is by watching a high action/scary/ movie or reading a book that’s full of jeopardy and danger. They can imagine themselves in the risky situation and that is enough to produce the adrenalin response. This is why people watch and read thrillers – that is the thrill – but in a safe way. In other words people want to be scared!! Then, when they come out of the reading experience, they can feel relief that what they read was not real and return to their everyday world feeling safe and secure.
The fiction writer’s (or thriller writer’s) job is to increase suspense and ratchet up the tension to produce that feeling of fear, usually empathising with the main character. So the reader is in a steady state of fight or flight waiting for…. Whatever!
As Alfred Hitchcock said, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
So, what do you think? Are you scared reading thrillers? Do you feel the fear?


  1. I generally hate being scared, I hate the feeling it evokes. I can't watch horror movies and don't understand why people do. When ready a thriller, I do get engrossed and try to turn the pages as fast as I can, but I'm not sure I feel a fear.

    I do like the "high" you mentioned though. I once did a tandem skydive and absolutely loved it. I would have taken it up regularly if it wasn't for the cost implications. I would absolutely love to do it again and feel that rush as you free fall.

  2. As with Rebecca although I enjoy reading thrillers, I don't feel the fear myself.

    I don't really want to, even though I do enjoy reading about the character's handling of, and escape from, scary situations.

  3. I enjoyed this post. Thank you Pat. Fear is a very powerful emotion. I do agree with Hitchcock and the anticipation of it. I look foward to following your blog :-)

  4. I don't feel the fear so much while I'm actually reading or watching, it's afterwards that I get freaked out :-)

  5. I feel the fear a little bit too easily! :) If I read thrillers, I can't sleep. I do enjoy them, though.

  6. Gave you a shout-out on my post today.

  7. I love me a good thriller. It's the slasher/horror books and movies I can't stomach.

    This is my first visit to your blog and I'm so happy I stopped by!

  8. Thanks everyone for some brilliant comments! I take them all on board...