Overcoming fear: How writing about things that scare you will improve your writing
|Courtesy of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic|
"...when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche
It started with a fascination. There is a story arc in season 3 of HBO's True Blood regarding witches, both traditional female-led European witchery as well as a specific Central American brand of Brujeria, a distinctively male craft. The contrast between the type of magic practiced was fascinating to me. I hadn't even known at that time there were such a thing as male witches, particularly in Mexico, which has a very strong machismo culture. So, as it often does, the idea took hold in my brain and I got more curious about it. It didn't hurt that the actor portraying the male witch, the brujo, was Kevin Alejandro, who is a delight to the senses.
But then my writer's mind took over. What if the brujo in question wasn't a handsome and kind person? What if he was awful? And what if he decided to specifically be awful to you? Well, that would be mighty scary.
Thus, the concept of Brujo, my upcoming short story was born. So I set about doing research on Central American brujos. Happily, there's a lot out there thanks to the thriving witch culture in Veracruz, Mexico. It's basically the Salem of Central America and they take magic, both white and black, very seriously. Despite the fact that most of the information was in Spanish and automated translating functions are not as good as one would hope, I managed to glean enough information to understand some of the most common spells, how brujos differ from curanderos/curanderas, and what victims of black magic practitioners commonly experience.
So I had the story, the research, the motivation. The problem? Every time I started reading one of the books I'd bought, or went to one of the occult stores for inspiration, I felt an intense stab of fear, one that screamed at me I was in danger. Where did that come from?
Of course we all know where it came from. If you've read anything I've done you've discerned I was raised Catholic. And not one of those cafeteria Catholics either. Straight up, no joke, I can't be your friend if you're pro-choice Catholic. And though my faith has waned (to say the least), there are some things that stick with you. One of them is the fear of studying anything evil, lest it study you in return. Most modern witches practice white magic. But from a writer's perspective, that's no fun. I was researching the dark shit. The stuff that is designed to harm people and more often than not involves hurting and killing animals to do it. Some of it made me sick to my stomach.
And I wrote all of it down. I added the fear of the unknown, the smells and the nausea of seeing the remnants of black magic ceremonies. I wrote about the feelings of being isolated and unprotected because the Church you were told was almighty... turned out to be a bunch of vainglorious charlatans. Tess, the main character of Brujo, is not me. Like all my characters, she has elements of me. But even with the differences that make her unique, it's my fear that brings her terror to life, and hopefully the reader's as well.
Writing about things that frighten you forces you to examine yourself and how you think. What you believe. And then it forces you to infuse all if it into your work. It's very effective. Because if it scares you, it probably scares someone else too.