I’m just going to throw this out there, because I’m stymied: what scares you?
Not in general, in books, I mean. You see, I’m trying to ensure that my main antagonist, Sha’daal, isn’t just some cheesy, generic Big Bad whose soul purpose is to provide a force for the heroes to overcome. I know Sha’daal’s not just that. There are aspects to that character I can’t bring out until later in the series. In their stead, I have to ensure that when Sha’daal appears, when he’s even just mentioned, people freak out. Or at least break out in a cold sweat.
And this is difficult because we’re not talking a human character. I could create a terrifying human and make him believable. Probably. But when it comes to something inhuman, something far beyond human, I’m stymied. I’m just not afraid of most of the templates. Satan? Yawn. Most everything that’s ever appeared in fiction or literature has done nasty things, but never struck terror into my heart. And when I tried to analyze the things that terrify me, I came to a realization that I’m just not that scared. Worried sometimes, yeah. But not shitting myself with fear.
Forces of nature don’t terrify me. I’m sure I’d be shit-scared in the midst of, oh, say, a volcanic eruption or a megathrust earthquake or watching a tsunami bear down, but it’s not like I lie awake nights shivering in terror of them. They happen, we’ll deal or we won’t. I’d survive or I wouldn’t. If I die, I won’t care, now, will I? Dead people don’t care. If I survive, then I’ve got a job o’ work to do putting the pieces back together. And it’s impersonal. It doesn’t mean me, specifically, any harm. It’s just the kind of thing that happens on a geologically active planet. So I can’t draw on the fear of forces of nature. Haven’t got enough.
People don’t even scare me that much. Not after what I’ve been through in life. Dictators can be defied (should we ever get one in America, pencil me in for the revolution). Violent people can be avoided or stopped, and if they can’t, I’m either dead (in which case, see “don’t care” above) or I’ve survived (see “job o’ work” above). People concern me a bit more than nature, but only a bit more. I try to mine myself for terror there and can’t find a motherlode. And it’s no good for Sha’daal, anyway. He has a mind, and a form, but he’s not human. He’s not even mortal.
Then I tried going back through books and television and movies, and came up empty. Everything everyone’s ever thrust at me saying, “This will scare you to death!” hasn’t. I watched The Ring and never twitched. Got bored, actually. Horror novels make me yawn. I’ve not yet encountered one with the power to keep me up past my bedtime. Certainly haven’t given me nightmares. Hell, I’ve watched “Blink” twice now, a Doctor Who episode that has one friend of a friend so terrified of stone angels that she screams every time she sees them, and that all of my friends hold up as the scary episode par excellence, and all I got was a brief but delicious case of the creeps. Next time I see a stone weeping angel, I’ll probably thump it and say, “I’ve got your number, you barstard.” But I won’t flee it.
All of this is a long way of saying that soul-deep, gut-wrenching, nightmare-inducing terror is a hard thing for me to achieve. So I need you lot. If there’s something in a book or show or movie that’s terrified you, I’d like to know about it. Who are your favorite Big Bads? Who or what genuinely worried you, do you loathe, do you simultaneously love and hate the author for creating?
Temple Grandin once said she feels like an anthropologist on Mars trying to figure people out. I’m feeling the same way trying to figure out what will truly make Sha’daal a force to be feared. So thanks for guiding me through, my darlings. I’ve never needed you more than now.